Turning loose the jubilee gospel style of the “Gates” captures the buoyant reverence of the Christmas holiday better than any other music I can imagine. Originally packaged as Gospel Train by Azzurra six years ago, Christmas contains 18 vintage sides from the quartet's late 1930s prime and every single one is a treat.
Although closely linked with the barbershop harmony style, the Gates'form of jubilee is likewise seminal to doo-wop, rhythm & blues and even rap. Check out the hipster flow of Willie Johnson, the Rakim of the Good Book. He lays out the story of Noah in half-century hip-hop cadence on both “Noah” and “Didn't It Rain.” Then there are the mellifluous tenors, Henry Owens and the wide-ranging William Langford, begging Jesus to meet them in the middle of the air on “Daniel Saw the Stone,” heaping scorn on “Jesebel,” and fervently whispering the good news on “I Hear Zion Moan.” There's great vocalese of a locomotive on “Golden Gate Gospel Train,” (their first big hit) and trumpets on “Dipsy Doodle.” Langford climbs the scale on a distinctive “When the Saints Go Marchin'In,” Harold Arlen's “Stormy Weather” is taken with slow solemnity and “Moses Smote the Water,” is murmuring call-and-response that's both comic and agile.
Light years removed from 21st Century “Christmas” and yet vibrating with the very essence of this holy day, this is guaranteed to screw with the resolve of the most die-hard Scrooge.