We’re stepping away a little from the brief (Christmas classics with a twist) with this one. This Time Of Year, June Christy’s only Christmas album was, particularly for the time, unusual in being a collection of original material rather than the same old holiday standards.
All the songs are by husband and wife team Connie Pearce and Arnold Miller. I can find very little information about them except what appears in Todd Everett’s sleeves notes for the CD reissue. They started out as half of a vocal group called the Double Daters and met Christy through her husband Bob Cooper. She recorded one of their songs, Night Time Was My Mother, on 1958’s The Song Is June and This Time of Year came along three years later. The songs are excellent and it’s a mystery as to why this was easily the highest profile gig of their career.
Christy was an underrated singer whose Something Cool is often credited with kick starting the trend for ‘cool’ jazz singing also popularised by the likes of Chris Connor and Helen Merrill. While Connor had peerless intonation and Merrill extraordinary versatility (her recordings include albums of Italian, country and Beatle’s songs) Christy had more passion and colour in her voice than either (at least in their younger days) and, despite a complete lack of histrionics, some of her recordings are almost too heartbreaking to listen to. She struggled with alcoholism for most of her adult life, which also took its toll on her voice, and died at only 64 years of age. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the material on This Time Of Year is bittersweet or downright sad – but here is the (relatively) optimistic closer.
Christy’s secret weapon for much of her career was arranger Pete Rugolo who was as sympathetic to her needs as was Riddle to Sinatra. She had the chops to negotiate his deceptively complex arrangements which, alongside Marty Paich’s work for Mel Tormé, were more obviously jazz based than those of most of the other great arrangers of 50s vocal albums.