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CD Reviews:
The 12 Discs of Christmas: Checking out the season's best

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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Christmas is a time for neckties. Sweaters. Ornaments.

And music.

It's all over -- in the mall and individual stores, on sidewalk speakers, on radio 24-7. Holiday music has exploded as a bona fide music industry segment, bringing scores of new releases every year for a long and perennial annual shelf-life.

This year is no different, and the challenge as always is separating the peppermint sticks from the lumps of coal. Here's our annual guide to the 12 best discs of Christmas, all guaranteed to add a little tuneful cheer to the season...

Asleep At The Wheel, "Lone Star Christmas" (Bismeaux): Ray Benson and company are always a "for a good time call..." proposition, and they don't disappoint on this short (31 minutes) but sweet and (Texas) swingin' set.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, "Christmas Together" (Pearl): OK, there are times when this one gets a little too cute 'n' sweet, but the vocal chemistry they had even before they were married ultimately wins out.

Jimmy Buffett, "'Tis the Season" (Mailboat): Parrotheads will scoop this up before even hearing a note, of course, but Buffett delivers a spirited collection highlighted by a collaboration with ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro on "Mele Kalikimaka" and a "Parrothead version" of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Neil Diamond, "Acoustic Christmas" (Capitol): Diamond strips things down for his fourth holiday release, tastefully produced by Detroiter Don Was and Jacknife Lee and featuring one original track as well as a specially arranged medley.

Brett Eldridge, "Glow" (Atlantic Nashville): Eldridge could have just done the standard country Christmas, of course, but he switches gears for lush, crooner-flavored performances that lets his voice shine in an entirely different way.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "It's a Holiday Soul Party" (Dap-Tone): This was a must-get Even before Jones' death just a week after it was released. It more than lives up to its title, and an opening Hannukah song gives it extra ecumenical points.

The Killers, "Don't Waste Your Wishes" (iTunes): The Las Vegas rockers have compiled their last 10 years of annual holiday singles into one collection, with proceeds going to the (RED) charity's Global Fund.

Loretta Lynn, "White Christmas Blue" (Legacy): It's been 50 years since the country icon's last seasonal offering, and she makes the wait worth it with this heartfelt, down-home dozen that sounds like she's sitting by the fireplace singing just for you.

Jennifer Nettles, "To Celebrate Christmas" (Big Machine): The Sugarland singer keeps her solo career in high gear with 12 holiday favorites and genre-crossing duets with Idina Menzel and Andra Day.

Pentatonix, "A Pentatonix Christmas" (RCA): Can they sing the phone book and make it sound like an a capella symphony? Sure. So just imagine what this quintet can do with this stuff -- including a teaming with the Manhattan Transfer for "White Christmas."

Straight No Chaser, "I'll Have Another...Christmas Album" (Atlantic): The Yule is part of the fabric of this Indiana University-formed a capella troupe, and this is just "Another..." gem, including a guest appearance from country star (and Rochester native) Jana Kramer, in an already outstanding body of holiday work.

Various Artists, "Christmas on the Lam and Other Songs For the Season" (Red House): This year's oddball best sports cheerful irreverence from the likes of the Wailin' Jennys, Dale Watson, Bill Kirchen, John Gorka, Suzzy Roche and more.

But wait, there's more...Other holiday music offerings this year include: Jon Batiste, "Christmas With Jon Batiste" (Naht Jona); John Berry, "Christmas" (Mansion); Celtic Thunder, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Legacy); Ray Coniff, "The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings" (Real Gone); Andra Day, "Merry Christmas From Andra Day" (Warner Bros.); Earth, Wind & Fire, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Legacy); Kurt Elling, etc., "The Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas" (Okeh); Essential Voices USA and Jamie Barton, "Holiday Harmonies -- Songs of Christmas" (Sono Luminus); Jackie Evancho, "Some Day At Christmas" (Portrait); Essential Voices USA and Jamie Barton, "Holiday Harmonies -- Songs of Christmas" (Sono Luminus); Mario Frangoulis, "Tales of Christmas" (Beautiful Things); Amy Grant, "Tennessee Christmas" (self-released); R. Kelly, "12 Nights of Christmas" (RCA); Jane Lynch, "A Swingin' Little Christmas" (KitschTone); Sarah McLachlan, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Legacy); Oak Ridge Boys, "Celebrate Christmas" (Gaither Music Group); Leslie Odom Jr., "Simply Christmas" (S-Curve); Rascal Flatts, "The Greatest Gift Of All" (Big Machine); Matt Redman, "These Christmas Lights" (sixsteprecords);

Jordan Smith, "'Tis The Season" (Republic); The Ten Tenors, "Our Christmas Wish" (DMI); Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve" (Atlantic); Frankie Valli, "Tis The Seasons" (Rhino); Various Artists, "Big City Christmas" (Bear Family); Various Artists, "Blues Christmas" (Cleopatra); Various Artists, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (Epic); Rhonda Vincent, "Christmas Time" (Upper Management); Matthew West, "Unto Us: A Christmas Collection" (Sparrow); Rita Wilson, "The Christmas Sessions" (Sing It Loud); Chris Young, "It Must Be Christmas" (Sony Music Nashville);

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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