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CD Reviews:
The 12 Discs of Christmas: This Year's Best Holiday Music

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, December 23, 2017

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You can’t escape holiday music at this time of year.

They’re playing it in restaurants and malls, in ads, at sporting events and even 24-7 on some radio stations. It is the sound of the season, literally.

You’d think there’s already enough holiday music to last a lifetime, but that’s clearly not the case, as each year brings a parade of new albums and fresh tracks to add to the repertoire. 2017 is no exception, and one has to tread carefully to separate the gifts from the lumps of coal. Here, then, is our choice of the 12 Discs of Christmas, as well as a look at what else is out there for those who want to keep the seasonal sounds coming.

• Blackmore’s Night, “Winter Carols” (Minstrel Hall Music): Something good gets even better on his new edition of the Medieval music troupe’s 2006 holiday album, adding more songs, including live recordings, and the 2013 single “Christmas Eve.”

• The Carol Kings, “Christmas Music for a New Generation” (Mindvine Media): Members of Detroit’s Polish Muslims and Redones join forces for an cheerful six-song EP whose romps range from catchy ’60s-vintage pop to a piano instrumental (“No Snow”) and the ambitious, Beach Boysesque “Except On Christmas.”

• Tom Chaplin, “Twelve Tales Of Christmas” (Interscope): The Keane singer wrote mostly new holiday songs for his second solo outing, but his versions of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles” and “Walking In The Air” from “The Snowman” offer extraordinary performances.

• Cheap Trick, “Christmas Christmas” (Big Machine): You’ll truly be rockin’ around the Christmas tree with this one, whether the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame troupe is covering favorites or delivering originals, such as the title track.

• Mavericks, “Christmas Time Is Coming ’Round Again” (Mono Mundo); Just a song, but when you have Raul Malo singing and the group blending swing and Zydeco into a sweet aural pudding, it’s one that’s essential for any good holiday mixtape.

• The Minus 5, “Dear December” (Yep Roc): The collective’s engaging holiday contribution — feature guests from R.E.M., Death Cab For Cutie, the Decemberists and the Posies along with M. Ward, Chuck Prophet and others — provides a bit of musical solace after group leader Scott McCaughey suffered a stroke last month.

• Pentatonix, “A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe” (RCA): A good thing gets better, part deux; The always-clever a capella troupe has added five new songs to last year’s chart-topping, platinum smash, making this the new definitive collection.

• The Piano Guys, “Christmas Together” (Portrait): The irreverent and inventive Utah quartet brings takes on the Yule with a 12-track set whose pairings (“Little Drummer Boy”/”Do You Hear What I Hear?”) freshen even the most tired holiday standards.

• Sia, “Everyday Is Christmas” (Atlantic): Don’t look for any of the old staples here. The Australian singer and longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin have added 10 brand new songs to the holiday canon, a mixed bag of styles and feels that are more nice than naughty but do hit more than miss.

• Gwen Stefani, “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” (Interscope): While it’s filled with big pop production polish, the platinum-plus singer has a lighthearted good time here, though she and boyfriend Blake Shelton should really get under their own mistletoe on the gooey title track.

• Sultans Of String, “Christmas Caravan” (McKhool/Cen/The Orchard): The Toronto world music quintet delivers an eclectic and generous (18 songs) holiday collection with a corps of guest vocalists, including the Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney, Ruben Blades, Sweet Honey in the Rock and more.

• Various Artists, “A Capitol Christmas, Volume Two” (Capitol): The label’s second holiday compilation is just a touch more contemporary than its predecessor, with tracks from the Beach Boys and the late Glen Campbell joining traditional fare from older artists.

Other New Holiday Releases: Alabama, “American Christmas” (BMG); Herb Alpert, “The Christmas Wish” (Herb Alpert Presents); Balsam Range, “It’s Christmas Time” (Mountain Home); Jonathan Cain, “Unsung Noel” (Identity); Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir, “Christmas With Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir” (Decca); Celtic Woman, “The Best Of Christmas” (Manhattan); David Ian Trio, “Vintage Christmas” ((Prescott); Andra Day, “Merry Christmas From Andra Day” (Buskin/Warner Bros.); Patti LaBelle, “Home For The Holidays With Friends” (GPE); Liz McComb, “Merry Christmas” (Capital/GVE); Reba McEntire, “My Kind of Christmas” (Nash Icon); Leslie Odom Jr., “Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition)” (S-Curve); Elvis Presley, “Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” (RCA/Legacy); REO Speedwagon, “Not So Silent Night (Deluxe Edition)” (Rhino/WMG); Scarborough, “A Very Drumpf Christmas” (RED); Sistine Chapel Choir, “Vani Domine: Advent & Christmas At The Sistine Chapel” (Deutsche Grammophon); Lindsey Stirling, “Warmer In The Winter”; Tarja, “From Spirits And Ghosts: Score For A Dark Christmas” (Earmusic); The Tenors, “Christmas Together” (Decca); Us The Duo, “Our Favorite Time Of Year” (Alvarado); Various Artists, “Holidays Rule Vol. 2” (Capitol); Various Artists, “NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas” (NOW); The Wiggles, “Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas” (ABC).

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