Another year, another slew of Christmas and holiday-themed albums. This year brings the “gift” of internet sensation Susan Boyle for a second time, while TV stars like “American Idol’s” Katharine McPhee, the cast from “Glee” and featured crooners from “The Sing Off” have their own crop.
Look for unusual takes on classics from ilk like Pink Martini and 11 Acorn Lane, and for Mariah Carey trying to top her own classic material.
Most Adult Contemporary and Adult Album stations that flip to Christmas music start around Thanksgiving: see if you can name songs from these artists as they come on.
“Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album” – Last Christmas, the shiny-faced kids from “Glee” brought us, well, “Last Christmas.” Considering the cast has released some of the best-selling songs this year from its second season, it only makes sense they cash in on some Christmas spirit. That previous song is on there, as is a k.d. lang-enhance “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and takes on classics from “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to “god Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Several of these songs will be featured in – you guessed it – the “Glee” Christmas episode, to air on Dec. 5.
Mariah Carey, “Merry Christmas II You” – One of the singing diva’s biggest and most enduring tracks of all time is “All I Want For Christmas,” so we don’t blame her for trying to top it. With a different version of it. There’s a nicer, slower-burning version on here, plus four other originals co-penned by newly preggers Carey. “Oh Santa!” has been pushed as the single, with some traditional carols and cold-weather tunes buttressing it. There’s even a cute Vince Guiraldi “Charlie Brown Christmas” medley thrown in. Think more contemporary R&B than the sizzling Carey of late.
Susan Boyle, “The Gift” – This “Britain’s Got Talent” viral star made it onto airwaves and into stockings with her serene take on “Silent Night” last year. This year, she’s got a whole album devoted to inspirational and holiday tunes. It’s kind of rinky-dink, antiqued takes on the usual classics, with covers of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” thrown on there because why the hell not.
Jackie Evancho, “O Holy Night” -- To call Evancho a soprano is a little bit of a farce; guys, she's ten years old. She came to fame similarly to Boyle’s entry, that is, she was a mini-star on “America’s Got Talent,” back in August (she also released an album last year). “Night” sounds just how the cover looks.
The Priests, “Noel” – Your mom is gonna love this, and I don’t mean that entirely facetiously. The Priests are an opera/classical “crossover” like her pretend boyfriend Josh Groban only, like, three dudes. And their takes on these carols are actually very inspired and easy to listen to, with exception “Little Drummer Boy,” which is hilariously crafted after the Bing Crosby and David Bowie version.
Bryn Terfel, “Bryn’s Christmas” – Wagner, Mozart… “White Christmas.” This classical baritone is used to playing the villain in his operas, but gets tender for the holidays with only a couple tracks in German.
Pink Martini, “Joy to the World” – This is one big “duh” for a Christmas music matchup, as this jazz and pop music mini-big-band does it up classically and campy in eight different languages, with help from J-Pop star Saori Yuki and Ari Shapiro from NPR (?!). And the CD looks like a dang Christmas card, so cute. This reminds me – why hasn’t Nouvelle Vague or Brazilian Girls jumped on the Christmas Choo-choo?
Annie Lennox, “A Christmas Cornucopia” – Like Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox can’t help but to bad-ass up anything she touches, and has done so for decades. Her tenor-alto brings little jagged edges to songs like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and other, streaming on her site. And, hey, just today, Lennox premiered her video for “God Rest Ye Maerry Gentlemen,” which looks like an old-timey moving Christmas card.
Jessica Simpson, “Happy Christmas” – This is Simpson’s second try at a successful Christmas set, with 2004’s “Rejoyce: The Christmas Album” barely ringing any bells with its glitzy takes on holiday favorites. Willie Nelson shows up to help out on “Merry Christmas Baby,” the Simpson camp trying to further the impression she’s a country artist. Even if you don’t get the record, she’ll be unavoidable at this year’s televised Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony on NBC and at Macy’s stores everywhere.
“The Sing Off: Harmonies for the Holidays” – The second season of this NBC singing competition show starts in the first week of December, and thus comes with it a full set of all 10 competing groups taking on, y’know, harmonies. Get it? Thks for the mmrs, Straight No Chaser.
11 Acorn Lane, “Happy Holy Days” – There’s a lot of instruments on here. And a lot of styles. It’s very modern, and kind of a mess. But it’s a good change of pace if you’re tired of Bing, Manheim Steamroller and the rest.
Wilson Phillips, “Christmas in Harmony” – In some ways, this is just as much a kids’ Christmas Album. Very straightforward, upbeat, high-register, Christmas-lovin’ smiley-ness. Opening track “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” could sell some Walmart crap or some Radioshack stuff.
Train, “Shake Up Christmas” [Single] – Speaking of selling of stuff, this will be touting Coca-cola all season long.
Katharine McPhee, “Christmas Is the Time… (To Say I Love You)” – Thank you, Katharine McPhee for keeping it classy. This collection is mostly piano-led, with only a few modern flourishes on tracks like the title song and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”
Indigo Girls, “Holly Happy Days” - Amy Ray and Emily Saliers gracefully include a Hanukkah song and three originals in this 12-song recording, which is signature Indigo Girls top to finish. Another set that could have used “Harmony” in the title.
“Now That’s What I Call Christmas 4” – The mix of the usual pop artists (Britney, Rihanna, Lady Gaga) with the old classics (Frank, Bing, Elvis). Some new, mostly old, only if you’ve run out of your own ideas for a mix.
Lady Antebellum, “A Merry Little Christmas” [EP] – This year’s hottest country group put out this six-song set out exclusively via Target, and included one original “On This Winter’s Night” in the group. And wouldn’t you know? “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is on there too.
Take 6, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Sorry, “Glee,” Take 6 has been doing the vocal group thing for way longer. And “The Sing Off” better watch its tail. This Christian group gets creative, though it may be more cerebral than celebratory.
Celtic Thunder, “Celtic Thunder Christmas” – Yet another TV-bolstered, jazz-inflected vocal group, though this Irish group tackles more secular Christmas tunes than sacred. And, yes, they added a chick for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
Aliqua, “All I Want” – Aaaaand this one’s all-female. This is far more choral-based than Glee club, but expect smooth takes with orchestral backings.
The Irreconcilables, “Merry Ex-Mas: Holiday Songs for the Divorced and Soon to Be” – “Frosty My Ex-Wife,” “Santa Claus Is Foolin’ Around,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas (My True Love Took From Me).” Sounds just how you think something like this would sound.