Feeling in need of felicity this fall? Fear not, Festive Fridays are here! I’m starting my annual Christmas album weekly recommendations early this year because, frankly, we all need a little Christmas cheer. Let’s begin with something most of you will know and already love, but which won’t fail to put you in a good mood and seeing sparkles of snow out of the corners of your eyes—Christmas by The Singers Unlimited.
No amount of global warming can ruin the cool of this vocal jazz supergroup. Chanticleer’s music director emeritus, Joseph Jennings, was a huge fan of The Singers Unlimited and their founder, Gene Puerling. We sang several Puerling arrangements while I was in that ensemble, and I too fell in love with the layered, breezy, crisp sound of the quartet, as well as Puerling’s uniquely crunchy chords. How did he know such musical weirdness would sound so awesome?
The Singers Unlimited formed in 1971, comprising Puerling, Don Shelton (from Puerling’s previous vocal quartet, The Hi-Los), Len Dresslar (the bass voice of the Jolly Green Giant), and Bonnie Herman (singer of the original “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” jingle). Christmas was actually the first album they recorded, although it was released as their second.
Every track on this album is excellent, but make sure to check out the wacky harmonization of the second verse of Silent Night, the more-major-than-major starting chords of each verse of Joy to the World, and the incredible tuning of fast-moving chords in Night Bethlehem, a lesser-known gem. In the solo accompaniment sections of Good King Wenceslas, you can also hear a textbook example of The Open-Mouthed Hum—a combination of ‘mm’ and ‘oo’ used by many choirs to get that perfect accompanimental palate. My beloved Clerestory will be using it a bit in our own Christmas concerts this year (shameless plug!).
This was a long post—future Festive Fridays will be shorter (and less alliterative, I promise). Hopefully, you think The Singers Unlimited are worth the attention. They’ve certainly got me open-mouthed humming along this morning. May these weekly posts give you a little joy and some musical inspiration in this wonderful time of year. Merry Christmas!
The Singers Unlimited