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CD Reviews:
The 12 Discs Of Christmas

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2006

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Few things are more certain about the holiday weekend than Thanksgiving weekend sales and increased electric bills. But Christmas albums are right up there. Each fall, the music industry releases scores of new titles to add to an already bulging sack of holiday music. From quiet carols to raging rock and everything in between, there’s usually something for everyone among the seasonal offerings — and this year is no exception. But the sheer volume makes it diffi cult to figure out which albums to buy, unless you want to keep the CD player on 24/7.

Here, then, are our recommendations for the 12 discs of Christmas, weeding out the nice from the naughty and the divine from the dreadful:

• Oleta Adams, “Christmas Time With Oleta” (Koch) — Her career never took off quite the way it should have after “Get Here,” but Adams’ rich, gospelflavored soul voice is well-suited to the seasonal material, including a unique rendering of the Peanuts classic “Christmas Time Is Here.”

• Aimee Mann, “One More Drifter in the Snow”

(SuperEgo) — The pensive former ’til Tuesday leader cuts a wide swath on her fi rst holiday outing, offering one original (“Calling on Mary”), covers of husband Michael Penn’s “Christmastime” and Jimmy Webb’s underrecorded “Whatever Happened to Christmas,” and just to show it’s not all bah, humbug, “You’re a Mean One, Mr.


• Aly & AJ, “Acoustics Hearts of Winter” (Hollywood) — The “It” disc for those looking for a way to please the tweens. It’s better than you might think, but adults might want to put an extra shot in the eggnog before subjecting themselves — for the sake of the kids, of course.

• Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Home for Christmas” (UWatch/DKE) — Pop’s best-selling duo step into the season with their own versions of traditional songs, a pair of originals and a new recording of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which they released as a promotional single years ago. Proceeds got to Toys for Tots.

• The Manhattan Transfer, “An Acapella Christmas”

(Rhino) — The title says it all, and you’ll find few groups better suited to pull it off than this longlived quartet.

• Dean Martin, “Christmas With Dino” (Capitol) — He may be dead, but he’s still swingin’. The latest gathering of these fi nger-snappin’ recordings, many of which first appeared on 1959’s “A Winter Romance,” includes three alternate versions and a Ghost of Christmas Past posthumous duet with Martina McBride on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

• Sarah McLachlan, “Wintersong” (Arista) — The Canadian songstress bridges the gap between studio albums with many of the usual standards but also some inspired covers — Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night,” John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” — and one original, the title track.

• Bette Midler, “Cool Yule”

(Columbia) — Midler’s elastic voice and abundant personality make her first Christmas collection a winner, from the “Winter Wonderland”/“Let It Snow!” medley with Johnny Mathis to “What Are You Doing on New Year’s Eve?” and the Hawaiian carol “Mele Kalikimaka.” The new “Christ mas version” of her 1990 hit “From a Distance” is a lump of coal in this song stocking, however.

• James Taylor, “James Taylor at Christmas”

(Columbia) — An expanded edition of the special Hallmark package Taylor put out last year just makes a good thing better. Now 12 songs long, it’s a mellow, middle-of-the-road delight sung so well that even a headbanger can appreciate it.

• Twisted Sister, “A Twisted Christmas” (Razor & Tie) — It’s big, dumb ... and fun. Lita Ford jumps in on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” the “Twelve Days ...” are recast as “Heavy Metal Christmas” and at least Mommy is still only kissing Santa Claus. We’re not gonna take it? Oh yes we are. ...

• Various artists, “Santa Baby” (Hear Music) — Starbucks usually serves up winners when it comes to music, and this is no exception, a 15-song something-for-mosteveryone mix of old (Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett) and contemporary (Diana Krall, Sarah McLachlan and Aimee Mann).

• Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, “Happy Holidays”

(Rykodisc) — The most interesting of the plethora of country Christmas discs out this year comes from this husbandand-wife team. The title is ironic, however, as they get the most heft out of melancholy pieces such as “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Shut in at Christmas.”

A few more holiday albums that merit a spin this year: Robin Gibb, “My Favourite Carols” (Koch) Billy Idol, “Happy Holidays” (self-released) Jana, “American Indian Christmas” (Standing Stone/Soar) Wynonna Judd, “A Classic Christmas” (Curb) Eric Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, “Christmastime Is Here” (Telarc) Ali Lohan, “Lohan Holiday” (YMC) Steve Oliver, “Snowfall” (Koch) Brad Paisley, “Christmas” (Arista) George Strait, “Fresh Cut Christmas” (Hallmark) Carl Tanner, “Hear the Angel Voices” (Timeless) Various artists, “African Christmas” (Higher Octave) Various artists, “Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays” (Telarc) Various artists, “Rachael Ray: How Cool Is That Christmas?” (Epic)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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