Kool and the Gang - Kool For the Holidays (2013)

Kool and the Gang
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The Temptations, The Jackson 5, New Edition, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Kurtis Blow all had careers that intersected at some point with Kool & the Gang. But unlike those acts, in the 50 year career of Kool & the Gang, but the band had not released a holiday album. That’s pretty amazing considering that Kool & the Gang had two different bites of the crossover fame apple: first as a straight up funk band that hit big with jams such as “Hollywood Swinging,” and then as a R&B and pop outfit that, starting with “Ladies Night” and "Too Hot," became one of the biggest hit makers of the 1980s. Surprisingly, nobody ever green lighted a Kool & the Gang holiday album until now, with the issuance of Kool For the Holidays.

The Temptations, The Jackson 5, New Edition, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Kurtis Blow all had careers that intersected at some point with Kool & the Gang. But unlike those acts, in the 50 year career of Kool & the Gang, but the band had not released a holiday album. That’s pretty amazing considering that Kool & the Gang had two different bites of the crossover fame apple: first as a straight up funk band that hit big with jams such as “Hollywood Swinging,” and then as a R&B and pop outfit that, starting with “Ladies Night” and "Too Hot," became one of the biggest hit makers of the 1980s. Surprisingly, nobody ever green lighted a Kool & the Gang holiday album until now, with the issuance of Kool For the Holidays.

Kool For the Holidays is a mix of six original tunes and eight holiday standards. However, it should not be surprising that a band that started its musical journey in New Jersey playing jazz would have a unique interpretation of many of these standards. They turn “Winter Wonderland” into a pulsating, techno dance number that features a blazing guitar solo, blaring horns and a rather unnecessary rap.  The band’s version of “Little Drummer Boy” is an amalgamation of Caribbean and jazz influences that morph into funky club chant that harkens back to Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” days. The traditionalists will enjoy the band’s straightforward renditions of “The Christmas Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the Vince Guaraldi instrumental classic, “Christmastime is Here.”

Originals such as “Home For the Holidays,” with its smooth bass line and equally smooth vocals, will find a lot of fans among lovers of 1980s era Kool & the Gang fusion of pop and funk. Meanwhile, the instrumental “Peace” finds the band embracing its jazz roots and the soul/funk instrumentals of the classic “Summer Madness.”

Most of the tunes on Kool For the Holidays are not overtly religious. However, the album’s best track, “Do Not Be Afraid,” recounts the story of the angels telling Mary and Joseph of God’s plan to make them Christ’s earthly parents. The lyrics are wonderful and the listener will appreciate an arrangement that employs a sparse keyboard arrangement so that those words can be heard.

Kool & the Gang’s first holiday album not only celebrates Christmas, it also serves as a history of the band’s evolution. Listeners will hear band that managed to anticipate and adapt to changes in musical tastes on a record that honors Christmas and the legacy of one of music’s funkiest and most durable bands. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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