Reviewed by Johan Palme on 30th December, 2018
Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine an album being released a different year than it came out, because it’s so much of its time. Like this record, by the rather obscure hymnal singer Jerry Barnes (no, not that other Jerry Barnes), a transitional musical curiosity that lives and breathes the year it came out. It’s completely impossible for it to have been recorded any other year than 1964.
It’s the year that the last great period of Tin Pan Alley, and the greatest period of Christmas records, drew to a close under the combined weight of the British Invasion, the folk revival, Motown and the new sounds of Brill Building. And here’s Ralph Carmichael, arranger and conductor supreme of two of the greatest Tin Pan Alley Christmas records of all time in Stan Kenton’s A Merry Christmas! and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, struggling to find his footing. Musically, with a new language he’s not fully familiar with. Personally, in the middle of a divorce. And spiritually, doing some of his last secular recordings before fully retreating into the Christian music that bookended the start and end of his career.
This album is the result, or rather the work in progress, with one foot in faith-based music, one in traditional pop and an ear that’s desperately trying to catch up. The “Ralph Carmichael Orchestra” here is parts of the legendary Wrecking Crew, including future recording star Glen Campbell, who are certainly used to more youthful music, and it shows. Jerry Barnes’s habile gospel baritone is surrounded by arrangements that teeter between frumpy swing and the latest R&B, half Jerry Butler, half Sinatra. Ralph Carmichael would go on to make much more assured faith-based pop music, giving birth to contemporary christian music in the process, but this is a fascinating step along the way.