The Magic Of Christmas

The Soulful Strings

Real Gone Music, 2015

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soulful_Strings

REVIEW BY: David Bowling

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/24/2015

During the 1960s and 1970s, rock, pop, rhythm & blues, and country music sold tens-of-millions of albums. What is often overlooked is the huge commercial success of what has become known as easy listening music. Artists such as Ray Conniff, Andy Williams, and Percy Faith sold millions of album by appealing to the generation that came to adulthood between the end of the Second World War and the advent of the rock ‘n’ roll era. nbtc__dv_250

This all brings us to the Soulful Strings. This type of music came together when labels and their rock and soul studio musicians would release albums in order to cash in on this easy listening market.

The Cadet label was a subsidiary of Chess and was the home to such artists as Etta James, Ahmad Jamal, The Rotary Connection, Ramsey Lewis, and The Dells. It may not have seemed like fertile territory for an album of laidback, easy listening music, but producer/arranger Richard Evans (1932-2014) formed the Soulful Strings with the labels studio band including guitarist Phil Upchurch, vibraphonist Bobby Christian, organist Ordell Brown, bassist Cleveland Eaton, and an assortment of strong players. They released seven albums from 1966 to 1971, including The Magic of Christmas in 1968. That album has now been rereleased for the first time.

The Soulful Strings had a slightly different sound. Instead of violins, they used violas and cellos, which gave everything a little harder sound. Throw in some funky rhythms and you have easy listening music that was unlike most everything else that was being produced at the time.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is funk meets strings with some improvisational cello being thrown in for good measure. “Jingle Bells” has some improvisational guitar excursions by Upchurch. Harpist Dorothy Ashby plucks the strings in a unique and bluesy direction, while Upchurch adds some jazzy guitar. “Deck The Halls” incorporates a sitar among the lush strings. Christian’s vibes carry a traditional presentation of “The Christmas Song.”

The Soulful Strings created easy listening music but with a few twists. This is not your normal Christmas background fare, but it’s perfect for when the party gets a little raucous.

Rating: B

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