The New Christy Minstrels were the brainchild of Randy Sparks who formed the group in 1961. It was unique as it was a rare folk group consisting of ten members. During its early existence a number of well-known artists passed through its ranks including Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire, Gene Clark, Larry Ramos, and Kim Carnes. They represented the light pop side of the 1960s folk revival and were not received well by the anti-war and counterculture movements of the day. They did find an easy listening type audience as during the 1960s their albums sold tens-of-millions of copies.
The career of The New Christy Minstrels has now spanned over five decades. Real Gone Music has just re-released the two Christmas albums they recorded for the Columbia label complete with five bonus tracks. The included booklet gives a fine history of the band and recording sessions.
Merry Christmas, released during 1963, is the superior of the two albums. The original group was mostly intact and they had created a tight sound due to nearly three years of constant touring and recording.
It was a folk approach that relied on more obscure tunes than the normal Christmas release at the time. Randy Sparks composition, “Parson Brown (Our Christmas Dinner)” may sound a little dated today but it captured the Christmas innocence of the early 1960s well. “Sing Hosanna Hallelujah, a reworking of the folksong “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” and “Beautiful City” are inspiring up-tempo pieces that present the strongest side of the group.
The best of the bonus tracks is a medley of three European carols that was originally released on a Goodyear compilation album. “Joseph Dear Joseph Mine,” “Snow In The Streets,” and “Wassail Wassail All Over The Town” have all the voices combining to bring the album to a fitting conclusion.
Christmas With The Christies is not nearly as strong. All ten members of the 1963 group were gone and their replacements were not as tight vocally. They try to move from their folk roots in a folk/rock, light jazz, and pop direction with mixed results. The group at this point in their career had become more of a variety show act and this was a handicap in the studio.
They relied more on classic Christmas songs and tunes such as “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Silent Night” paled next to many orher versions of the day. They tried to be creative but the bongos on “Do You Hear What I Hear” are quite a stretch.
Merry Christmas: The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings 1963-1966 is an album from a different era. The New Christy Minstrels were little dated even at the height of their career. Their material still has an attractive quality to it even if it is not essential.