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CD Reviews:
The 12 Discs Of Christmas

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007

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As the song says, "Christmas Time is Here Again."

And so are the Christmas albums.

They're as much a part of the holiday season as egg nog, holly and pre-dawn lines on Black Friday morning. Record companies like them because they're perennial sellers; artists -- heck, even Jewish artists -- like the fact that it makes them part of a long and legendary lineage of music. And because they're perennial sellers.

So every year old favorites are trucked onto the shelves, joined by a passel of new entries. Perusing this year's list, here's our selection of the 12 discs of Christmas -- and, er, then some...

Josh Groban, "Noel" (143/Reprise): This tenor's hot -- [i]and[/i] he sells a lot of records. Faith Hill and Brian McKnight guest along with -- what says Christmas more -- the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Jars of Clay, "Christmas Songs" (Gray Matters/Nettwerk): The contemporary Christian rockers distinguish their first Yuletide foray with originals and a selection of blessedly under-exposed seasonal material.

Toby Keith, "Classic Christmas Volumes One & Two" (Show Dog Nashville): Country's Big Dog Daddy dons the red stocking ten-gallon hat and delivers two discs of stripped down, acoustic-flavored holiday standards -- courtesy, of course, of the red, white and blue.

Dave Koz, "Memories of a Winter's Night" (Capitol): The always tasteful saxophonist (and radio host) blows a little Yuletide wind with help from Brenda Russell, Kelly Sweet, "American Idol" finalist Kimberly Locke and fellow instrumentalists Rick Braun, Peter White and David Benoit.

Darlene Love, "It's Christmas of Course" (Shout! Factory): The former Phil Spector protege -- of "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home" fame -- raids the songbooks of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Tom Petty, XTC, the Pretenders, James Brown and Billy Squier for her return to the holiday market.

Raul Malo, "Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites" (New Door/UMe): The former Mavericks frontman wraps one of the finest and silkiest voices on the planet around a set of Christmas standards. Keep the mistletoe handy...

Frank Sinatra, "A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra: 50th Anniversary" (Capitol): The landmark holiday set, with arrangements by the great Nelson Riddle, celebrates its golden anniversary with an oddball bonus track -- the Chairman's public service announcement for Christmas Seals.

Mindy Smith, "My Holiday" (Vanguard): It's the singer not the songs (although both are pretty good) that stand out on the Long Island Americana artist's first holiday foray. You've never heard these tunes like this -- and we mean that in a good way.

The Smithereens, "Christmas With the Smithereens" (Koch): A harmony-heavy set of originals and covers of famous rock 'n' roll holiday songs, including the Who's "Christmas" and a killer take on "Auld Lang Syne."

Various Artists, "Monster Ballads Xmas" (Razor & Tie): Face it; there's [i]some[/i] mullet-coveting loved one on your list who really does want to hear the likes of Skid Row, Queensryche, Billy Idol and Dokken rockin' around their Christmas tree.

Various Artists, "Stockings By the Fire" (Starbucks/EMI): This 16-track compilation shoots wide, from crooners (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole) to currents (Sarah McLachlan, Jack Johnson) and most points in-between.

Various Artists, "Ultra Lounge: The Best of Christmas Cocktails" (Capitol): Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Julie London and Bing Crosby are among those who bring the holiday spirit shaken, not stirred on this finger-snapping set.

A few other new holiday releases that are worth checking out: The Chipmunks, "Christmas With the Chipmunks" (Capitol), reissue with one bonus track; The Dan Band, "A Dan Band Christmas" (Reincarnate); Celine Dion, "These Are Special Times (Collector's Edition)" (Columbia); Ella Fitzgerald, "Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas" (Capitol); the Isley Brothers, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (Def Sound/Def Jam); Boney James, "Christmas Present" (Concord); Kidz Bop, "The coolest Kidz Bop Christmas Ever!" (Razor & Tie); Patti LaBelle, "Miss Patti's Christmas" (Def Sound); Lonestar, "My Christmas List" (Cracker Barrel); Barry Manilow, "In the Swing of Christmas" Hallmark); Psychostick, "The Flesh Eating Rollerskate Holiday Joyride" (Rock Ridge Music); Rockabye Baby!, "Lullaby Renditions of Christmas Rock Classics" (Baby Rock); Sister Hazel, "Santa's Playlist" (Rock Ridge Music); Keith Sweat, "A Christmas of Love" (Rhino); Pam Tillis, "Just in Time For Christmas" (Stellar Kat); Randy Travis, "Songs of the Season" (Word/Curb/Warner Bros.); KT Tunstall, "The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection" (Capitol), a Target exclusive; Various Artists, "Country Christmas" (Capitol); Various Artists, "Slow Jams For Christmas" (Capitol); Dionne Warwick, "My Favorite Time of the Year" (dmi/Rhino); Yo Yo Kids, "Yo, It's Christmas!" (Razor & Tie)

Christmas music isn’t just an aural experience these days. Some new holiday DVD releases add a bit of visual luster to the holiday spirit.

A Very Special Christmas (A&M/UMe) collects a dozen videos made for the popular series, which began in 1987 and has raised more than $75 million for the Special Olympics. This set kicks off with Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” and also features clips from U2, Jon Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder with Wyclef Jean. Alas, no footage of Bob Seger’s “Little Drummer Boy.”

“The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976” and “The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1977” (both Shout! Factory) capture two of Cash’s holiday TV specials, which have been in the vaults for 30 years, with guest performances by Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Barbara Mandrell, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando and, of course, Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash.

“A Christmas Celtic Sojourn Live”

(Rounder/Decca) brings public radio host Brian O’Donovan’s popular “A Celtic Sojourn” show to life, with a song and dance repertoire that includes Highland carols such as “Mary’s Boy Child,” “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” and “A West Cork Christmas.”

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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