|The Ramsey Lewis Trio|
Though the soulful atmosphere is present throughout, the two sides of the record are markedly different. The five tracks on the first side find Lewis on piano in a trio setting alongside Eldee Young on bass and Redd Holt on drums. They take Johnny Mercer's "Winter Wonderland" at an appropriately bouncy tempo and infuse "Here Comes Santa Claus" with an irresistible R&B beat that makes it one of the highlights of the album. Lewis slows down "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" considerably, and shows that the blues is an important ingredient of his musical recipe on "Merry Christmas, Baby" (another standout) and his own "Christmas Blues." The second side is also comprised of five tunes, but this time the trio is augmented by string arrangements by Riley Hampton. Lewis's "The Sound of Christmas" begins with a semiclassical introduction, but it soon becomes clear that the spotlight is still on the pianist, who occasionally switches to celesta on some tracks, such as a beautiful reading of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." The old traditional carol "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is reinvented from a R&B perspective, and "Sleigh Ride" sounds as festive as it should. Finally, Hampton's strings embellish "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" but stay out of the way as Lewis turns in a wonderful, wistful performance, almost as though he were playing just for himself and being merely overheard by the microphones. The sounds that Lewis creates for Christmas are always surprising and engaging, making this the perfect record to play if one wants to bring a bluesy, soulful strain to the holiday season.