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Vince Guaraldi Trio

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Fantasy

"But it's my CHILDHOOD!" I whined at the publicist, and it worked. Never underestimate the value of imminent tears when dealing with the greatest and most guilt-driven of all holidays. It's been a lifetime since this Christmas animated special first aired; that would be back in '65 or thereabouts. The premise was bold, yet risky: Charles Schultz's "Peanuts" gang was the top comic strip in the days when the Sunday Funnies actually meant something, but this TV script was explictly Christian, and the soundtrack, well that was Modern Jazz. Who listened to THAT? Old people? Pretty much everyone had the opportunity to be offended, yet this show's charm was such a big hit it's been aired every year since then.

Like many of us, Charlie Brown was burnt out on the holiday as his friends prepared for the big Christmas pageant. His dog Snoopy decorated his doghouse for money, the Christmas tree was a disaster, and it took the insight of his younger friend Linus Van Pelt to explain what was really important this time of year. The show was charming and fun and the Peanuts Gang was filled with children infused with the insight and understanding you'll never have as an adult. The soundtrack made Guaraldi famous outside the insular jazz world. His covers of "O Tannenbaum" and "The Christmas Song" are holiday standards as is the theme "Linus and Lucy." Guaraldi was the pianist, but he takes a spin on the church organ for "Hark the Herald Angel Sings." The effect is magical -- his laid back sound relaxes, even in the late summer heat of Florida.

Three bonus tracks are included: "Greensleeves," "Great Pumpkin Waltz," and "Thanksgiving Theme." All have been remastered in 24-bit stereo with the sound cleaned up as best we can from those old magnetic tapes, and there's a little booklet with background on the project by Derrick Bang. Unlike the canon of "Holiday Hits" that becomes so grating about the week after Thanksgiving, this collection is softer and easier, never strident, and careful to avoid the cuteness that kids' material so often engenders. This is about the best way to get through the holidays you can buy, short of an airline ticket to Aruba.

Concord Music: concordmusicgroup.com