Rhonda Thomas - Little Drummer Girl (2012)

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    I’m not a Black Friday guy.  One reason for my resistance is a reaction against the artificiality and crass commercialism of the entire enterprise. I also don’t think that deals on Black Friday are better than the ones retailers will have on, say, Dec. 3. That’s what this Wall Street Journal article said, and it only confirmed my opinion that the whole Black Friday thing is a scam. The ubiquitous holiday music that gets piped through the PA systems in every mall and shopping center in America is part of creating the atmosphere. They started playing holiday music around Halloween and won’t stop until the stores open on Dec. 26 for all those returns. That’s also when artists start releasing their own holiday albums.

    Cynic that I am, I pretty much assumed that singers and musicians approach holiday projects with the same motivations as all the other members of the Christmas industrial complex. Thank goodness that performers like Rhonda Thomas who release holiday albums aren’t anywhere near as cynical as me. 

    Most stores will play wall-to-wall Christmas music through New Year’s Day. Who will they play? You’ll get a steady diet of the classics: Nat King Cole and Elvis and Irving Berlin. You’ll hear stories of how some kid saw mommy canoodling with someone who is St. Nick or his father, and how a reindeer mowed down grandma. Jose Feliciano will teach us how to say Merry Christmas in Espanol and the Tempts will give “Silent Night” a little soul. Every now and then, you’ll hear a new tune, but most songs are either variations of the holiday canon or new stuff by stars - which means you won’t hear anything from Thomas’ Little Drummer Girl. And that’s too bad because even a holiday music Scrooge like me has to admit that Little Drummer Girl is an enjoyable record.

    With Drummer Girl, Rhonda Thomas manages to check all of the essential marks on any Christmas album must-do list: The album features original numbers such as “Mistletoe,” Thomas’s romantic duet with Eric Roberson, along with a traditional take on the sensual and jazzy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It also features the inspirational “Kwanzaa,” a tune in which the lyrics tell stories that touch on each of the holiday’s seven principles.  Thomas puts a new spin on some well-known entries in the holiday canon. Her Stax-influenced version of “My Favorite Things” – complete with electric organs and blues inspired guitar licks – juxtaposes the song’s Alpine imagery with a Memphis sound. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” has a 1980s R&B feel while the simple arrangement on “Oh, Holy Night” endows the number with a reverent aura that allows the tune to fit nicely into a Christmas Eve service.

    Rhonda Thomas may find it difficult to garner attention in what is always a busy holiday music season, but that is radio's loss. In a time when it seems that most holiday albums are by-the-numbers affairs that play to my cynicism, Little Drummer Girl delivers something different and extra.  It is a surprisingly nice "get" for people who are looking for more than simple background music for holiday merry making. Recommended.

    By Howard Dukes

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