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Part of Hip-O Select's exhaustive and terrific James Brown reissue series, 2010’s The Complete James Brown Christmas is a double-disc set that rounds up his three seasonal albums for King -- 1966’s Christmas Songs, 1968’s A Soulful Christmas, 1970’s Hey America -- and a handful of non-LP singles and single edits. Unlike most artists who bend themselves to fit the standards of the season, Brown didn’t abandon his carefully crafted style for Christmas: he made records that sounded like his hits, they just happened to be about Santa Claus and Christmastime. And his three holiday LPs were not interchangeable, either. Each reflected the sound of the year, so Christmas Songs was steeped in dramatic, string-laden uptown soul; A Soulful Christmas dug deep into the grooves, going so far as to include “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the thick of the proceedings; and Hey America was powered by deep, heavy funk. Because so much emphasis is on the grooves, it doesn’t take long for the Christmas themes to become incidental, but that’s fine; these three albums were recorded while James Brown & the JB’s were at a peak so it’s a pleasure just to hear them play anything. This may be a disappointment for some looking for more JB that is as clearly Christmas as “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” but the entirety of The Complete James Brown Christmas is a joy that could be shared at any time of the year. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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