The Phantom Tollbooth
The Broken Christmas
Artist: Various
Label:  Broken Records, 1988
Time: 47:24 / 11 tracks

Once upon a time long ago (about ten years ago), in a land far away (California), there was a label run by and for artists called Broken Records. While this special label was alive it put out several great records and one great Christmas collection. These days, you'd be very lucky to find anything on the Broken label, yet The Broken Christmas was one of the coolest Christmas records ever when it was first released in 1988. Although this collection is next to impossible to locate, should you happen across one, grab it!

With all time greats like Ojo Taylor and Gene Eugene guiding the recording and music, the result is an almost dark Christmas in minor keys. An excellent example, Adam Again does a wailing "Angels We Have Heard On High," with Eugene and Riki Michele (his wife at the time) moaning the gloria's over screaming guitars. With his brother and mother as guest musicians, Ojo takes "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to a cooler, jazzier place then we are used to hearing. In several spots on this album, the choruses are effectively slowed down for a more serious impact, such as The Reign's "O Holy Night," Riki Michele's memorable "The First Noel," which features Gene Eugene on all instruments and opens the record, and 411's "What Child Is This."

There are lighter moments as well, mostly in the form of upbeat and fun originals such as:  "Born In a Stable" by the Level Heads, the bouncy "Follow the Star" by House Party (which is Rob Watson and Brian Ray),  and "Rudy Red" by rappers J.C. & The Boys, which is down right giddy. The great Undercover with Gym playing a howling guitar, Gary Olson on drums, Sim Wilson on vocals, and Ojo playing keyboards, rocks through their version of "O Come All Ye Faithful." The only low spot is The Holidays' wrecked version of "Silent Night" with its bar room beat and bellowing vocal.

The record closes with the aforementioned "Follow The Star," featuring a terrific bass line and smokey blues guitar leads at every break by Chris Brigandi. That song leads nicely into the last and most haunting arrangement on the collection, in which Gene Eugene and Riki Michele's voices lament Israel's waiting for the Christ child's coming on "O Come, O Come Immanuel." With Ojo on keyboards, Marcus Carman on guitar and Gary Olson on drums, it is a moody masterpiece.

A mix of up and down, light and dark, broken and fixed, The Broken Christmas celebrates Christmas from a couple of directions and successfully leads the listener along these different paths to a manager in a cave stable, covering a Savior who has left glorious places to come to humble people's hearts. From the dark cover painting by Michael Knott, to the music inside this CD, one would be hard pressed to find a cooler Christmas collection.

By Tony LaFianza (11/9/98)

Bing Crosby this ain't. Prior to this album, Christmas never sounded this eclectic while still sounding like it had something to do with God. Broken Records was the really cool (but now sadly defunct) label credited with the ingenious idea of gathering together its rooster of artists and then some in a Christmas collection that is as wide as it is compelling.  Not all the songs are hits, the rap song "Rudy Red" seems ripe for the skip button at times, yet still proves a worthy contrast to the more reflective material that is most noteworthy on the album. Taken as a whole this album is a surprisingly quirky anthology, but there are three songs in particular that makes it worth hunting down for your personal collection. Adam Again's melancholy take on "Angels We Have Heard on High;" Ojo Taylor's unique presentation of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing;" and the album closer, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which beautifully cries out for a savior. An entire album could have been made out of such material, but you'll have to content yourself with these stand-out tracks among the other holiday notables.

In my memory, this was the first album that showed Christmas in all its fullness, and created something of such artistic integrity that reflection on the true meaning of Christ's coming was not only mandatory, but possible. That's a powerful testimony to the power of well played music, and this album's particularly potent legacy. Not only that, The Broken Christmas is just plain fun for your brain, your heart, and your yuletide singing voice.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin (11/11/98)