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CD Reviews:
The 12 Discs of Christmas -- 2012

For Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012

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Every year, starting in September, scores of special albums come out to provide a musical soundtrack for the winter holidays.

The irony, of course, is that they're often recorded during the spring and summer, months and many temperature degrees away from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, snow and Salvation Army Santas.

So while Colbie Caillat's producer father Ken Caillat strung up some "twinkle lights" to put the musicians in the mood while they were recording their parts for her "Christmas in the Sand," she didn't even try to pretend. "A lot of the songs I wrote for it are about how not every holiday I spent has been in the snow," she notes. "It's also been in the sun and at the beach and in a different kind of lifestyle. I wanted to tap into that.

"So we had the shades open and beautiful, sunny days, and in-between songs I'd go swimming with my mom and our dogs, then come back and sing (Christmas) songs."

Rod Stewart, meanwhile, recorded his "Merry Christmas, Baby" at producer David Foster's house in Malibu. "You're looking out over the ocean and the sky and the beach and the sun's shining, and then there's Christmas trees in the living room," Stewart remembers. "I knew it was going to be odd, but it was more odd than I thought it would be."

Despite the unusual settings, however, their albums fully capture the seasonal spirit -- the reason they're among our annual list of the 12 Discs of Christmas (a baker's dozen this year, actually). Read on for a selection of the best of this year's holiday offerings...

Colbie Caillat, "Christmas in the Sand" (Republic): She hails from California and spends a lot of time in Hawaii, so this singer-songwriter's take on the Yule isn't exactly sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting on an open fire -- and she acknowledges as much in the title track, which she wrote especially for the album. Brad Paisley, Gavin DeGraw, Jason Reeves and Justin Young play elves to Caillat's bikini'd version of Santa.

Glee Cast, "Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album Vol. 3" (Columbia): Yes, it's getting to be not a holiday season if there isn't a new "Glee" Christmas album for the stockings. This year's set includes a Hanukkah tune by Jake and Puck as well as four songs recorded only for the album and not part of any episode.

Cee-Lo Green, "Cee-Lo's Magic Moment" (Elektra): With a cover that makes him look like the North Pole's resident pimp, Green delivers the season's most soulful offering -- with a whole lotta help. Fellow "The Voice" judge Christina Aguilera is on board for "Baby It's Cold Outside," while Rod Stewart, Straight No Chaser and Trombone Shorty join the party, too. But nothing makes the "Moment" more magical than the Muppets on the original "All I Need is Love"

Kem, "What Christmas Means" (Motown): The Detroit R&B singer, whose charitable ways show that he definitely knows what the holiday means, wrote a formidable five originals for this foray, including the lively album closer "Doo Wop Christmas (That's What Christmas is All About)." Motown veteran Paul Reiser contributes string arrangements, and Ledisi duets on "Be Mine For Christmas."

Lady Antebellum, "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol): The harmonious multi-platinum country trio keeps things on a romantic tip here (two of the band members have gotten married during the past couple of years) with the title track (the album's sole original song) and a quiet version of "All I Want For Christmas is You." If the neighborhood carolers sang this well you wouldn't have enough money left over for presents.

Christina Perri, "A Very Merry Perri Christmas" (Atlantic): The Philadelphia-born singer made famous by the "Glee" and "The Twilight Saga" keeps it short but very sweet on this six-song EP, which sports the enjoyable original "Something About December" and stylized takes on John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling."

Rod Stewart, "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Verve): The Rodster stays on the "Great American Songbook" path for his first-ever holiday outing, teaming with David Foster and a variety of guests -- Michael Buble, Cee-Lo Green, Dave Koz, Mary J. Blige, Chris Botti and, posthumously, Ella Fitzgerald. "Red-Suited Super Man" with Trombone Shorty is an upbeat new addition to the Christmas canon, and the trademark husk and scratch of Stewart's vocals works well on these 13 tracks.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)" (Lava/Republic): Unapologetically bombastic after all these years, TSO's first holiday release in eight years is a five-song EP whose title track rocks up Vivaldi's "Winter." And don't forget TSO's annual visit with two shows Dec. 29 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Various Artists, "A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years" (Big Machine), "A Very Special Christmas: "Bringing Peace on Earth" (Curb/Word): The Special Olympics benefit series celebrates its quarter century with a pair of releases this year. "25 Years" boasts Train, Michael Buble, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, a live cut from the Dave Matthews Band and Cheap Trick's "I Want You For Christmas," which revamps its hit "I Want You to Want Me." "Bringing Peace on Earth's" roster of Christian artists -- needtobreathe, Jason Castro, Point of Grace and more -- keep things on a more reverent tip.

Various Artists, "Holidays Rule" (Hear Music): Paul McCartney is in jazzy "Kisses on the Bottom" mode for "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" here, and the rest of this hip 17-song set includes first-rate and joyfully idiosyncratic contributions by fun., the Civil Wars, Calexico, the Punch Brothers, Andrew Bird and others.

Various Artists, "NOW [cq] That's What I Call Today's Christmas" (EMI/Capitol): This 18-song set takes a big swing through the pop world, headlined by the likes of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Carly Rae Jepsen and Train but still has a few moments of cool (Coldplay, Grace Potter) and country (Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood) and the hymn-like "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Various Artists, " 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah" (Idelsohn Society): This "musical battle" covers two discs, one of Christmas standards sung by Bob Dylan, Mel Torme, the Ramones, Lou Reed and more and the other featuring Woody Guthrie, Don McLean and an assortment of cantors giving the Festival of Lights a little love. Peace on Earth and plenty of goodwill for all.


Also worth considering in this year's pile are: Edie Adams, "The Edie Adams Christmas Album featuring Ernie Kovacs" (Omnivore); Alvin & the Chipmunks, "Chipmunks Christmas" (Capitol); The Beach Boys, "Christmas Harmonies (Stereo Remaster)" (Capitol); Gary U.S. Bonds, "Christmas is On!" (G.I.A.); Jeremy Camp, "Christmas: God With Us" (CMG/EMI); Celtic Woman, "Home For Christmas" (Angel); Rita Coolidge, "A Rita Coolidge Christmas" (429); John Denver, "The Classic Christmas Album" (RCA/Legacy); Kenny G, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Arista/Legacy); Vince Guaraldi Trio, "A Charlie Brown Christmas (2012)" (Fantasy); Katherine Jenkins, "My Christmas" (Decca); "Kidz Bop Christmas!" (Razor & Tie); Barry Manilow, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Arista/Legacy); Scotty McCreery, "Christmas With Scotty McCreery" (19/Mercury Nashville); Willie Nelson, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Columbia/Legacy); Oak Ridge Boys, "Christmas Time's A-Coming" (Spring House); Elvis Presley, "The Classic Christmas Album" (RCA/Legacy); The Rat Pack, "Christmas With the Rat Pack" (Capitol); Andre Rieu, "Home For the Holidays" (Hip-O); Kenny Rogers, "Amazing Grace: Christmas Live!" (Spring House); Blake Shelton, "Cheers, It's Christmas" (Warner Bros.); James Taylor, "James Taylor at Christmas" (UMe); Tracey Thorn, "Tinsel and Lights" (Merge); The Jay Unger & Molly Mason Family Band, "A Fiddler's Holiday" (Rounder); Luther Vandross, "The Classic Christmas Album (Epic/Legacy); Various Artists, "All-Star Salute to Christmas" (Cleopatra); Various Artists, "Merry Nickmas!" (Nickelodeon/Columbia)

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