Here’s an inspirational holiday story for the kids: How the Gramaphone Stole Christmas. It’s the tale of Omaha-based entrepreneur Chip Davis (once best known for cowriting C.W. McCall’s ‘75 smash, ”Convoy”), who built a fabulously successful indie label, American Gramaphone, largely on the phenomena of five million-selling Christmas albums recorded by his proto—New Age flagship ensemble, Mannheim Steamroller. Not since Perry Como has any artist steamrollered into such a season-specific place in the middle-American heart.
Latest of the Mannheim megasellers is Christmas in the Aire (American Gramaphone), 12 pre-Bing perennials and obscurities that sound like a cross between a Renaissance Pleasure Faire and Keith Emerson gone disco. Producer-arranger Davis’ love for the melodies and instruments of antiquity comes through in liner notes and the more acoustically anchored selections, like the German ”Gagliarda.” But a far less appealing nostalgia, Davis’ affection for Moogs of the early ’70s and — worse — cheesy electronic drums of the early ’80s, becomes evident in the mortifyingly syncopated ”Joy to the World.” The notion that any classical piece can be updated into chugging rock is, well, dated—and a presumption nearly worthy of a grinch. C-