Think Global: World Christmas (World Music Network, 2007)

As some of you probably remember, I was a bit of a grinch concerning Christmas music last year. So when I saw that Oxfam had compiled a CD of Christmas music from around the world, I figured that there was enough of a chance that this would be more to my liking to justify giving it a listen. At the very least, I'd get a review out of it, and hopefully present a viable alternative to the standard Christmas musical fare currently polluting the airwaves just like it does every (November and) December.

Think Global: World Christmas is more or less what it's advertised to be. The CD starts with salsa music from the Dominican Republic, heads to Africa, visits Canada for a Native American Christmas song, covers most of Europe, and makes a few stops in America for good measure. All of the music here would qualify as folk music of some sort. Only a few of the songs included here are standards, like "O Holy Night" performed by the Irish-American ensemble Cherish the Ladies and a bluegrass rendition of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" by The Cox Family.

On one hand, Think Global is an interesting mix of musical styles, and for that reason alone it makes a welcome respite from the usual fluff you hear this time of year. The problem, though, is that there wasn't a whole lot of music on here that really grabbed my attention. The Breton choir Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde does a nice song called "Nedeleg," and "Zamuchi Se Bozha Majka" is an exquisitely beautiful song by Kitka, an American female vocal group who specialize in Bulgarian women's songs. But that was it, and I already have the Kitka song on their own CD Wintersongs, which I'd recommend above this one. I was particularly disappointed with one song, "Betlehem, Betlehem" by the Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen. Sebestyen is a singer that I generally like, but she's backed up here by a really cheesy new age arrangement that does not suit her singing style at all.

The wild card on this disc is a rather bizarre version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" done by the late Joseph Spence, a venerated musical figure from the Bahamas. Spence plays a jarringly out of tune guitar, and gets very few of the lyrics right as he slurs in a style that sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and a particularly inebriated Shane MacGowan. This will send a lot of people running for cover, but I found it a distinct improvement over more conventional interpretations of the song.

Think Global: World Christmas is a generally decent, if not distinctive, break from the usual assortment of holiday music. If you have to have Christmas music at this time of year, you could certainly do a lot worse. Oxfam is an organization worth supporting as well. Beyond that, the album is not really anything special, or the kind of music I'd come back to year after year.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

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