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CD Reviews:
Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams, Los Lobos, Chicago among top new holiday music releases

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2019

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Thanksgiving has come and gone — save for the leftovers in the fridge.

Black Friday is a PTSD memory.

Now it's time to get on to the winter holidays in earnest — and the music that goes with it.

Certain radio stations have been airing nothing but Christmas songs since, oh, Halloween, and the annual parade of Yule-themed releases has been coming since late September. Suffice to say that if you're left wanting for music to accompany your celebrations, you're just not looking. Or listening.

There's a lot to plow through, of course, but here are a dozen notable sounds of the season — the 12 discs of Christmas, if you will — that should help deck the halls, trim the trees — and light the candles...

• Bryan Adams, "Christmas" (UMe): The Canadian rocker delivers a five-song EP of spirited and touching tunes, and the Adams-directed video for "Joe and Mary" is well worth seeking out.

• Mariah Carey, "Merry Christmas (Deluxe Anniversary Edition)" (Columbia/Legacy): Yes, it really has been 25 years, and Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" remains the queen of all holiday songs. This set adds even more songs plus live tracks from a 1994 benefit concert.

• Chicago, "Chicago Christmas" (Rhino): The brassy troupe's fourth holiday release sports eight originals and three staples, included an updated "Sleigh Ride 2019." Horns a'plenty to go with your horns of plenty.

• Judy Collins, "Winter Stories" (Wildflower): Still pure of voice at 80, Collins is joined by Jonas Fjeld and Chatham County Line on this majestic, rootsy set, her first holiday-related release in 25 years.

• Rob Halford, "Celestial" (Sony): Judas Priest's frontman rocks the season for a second time, this time with family members — brother, sister and nephew — and four fresh new tunes in tow.

• Keb' Mo', "Moonlight, Mistletoe & You" (Concord): The singer-songwriter’s first holiday outing is sweet and soulful, adding seven new songs to the seasonal oeuvre along with his stylized take on three staples.

• Los Lobos, "Llego Navidad" (Rhino): Great as always, the Grammy Award-winning East L.A. crew offers a pan-American take on the holidays, up to and including the iconic "Feliz Navidad."

• Marc Martel, "The Christmas Collection" (The Fuel): One of the Ultimate Queen Celebration's Freddie Mercury stand-ins, and a contributor to "Bohemian Rhapsody," brings his substantial pipes to this 21-song set, with help from May Grant and Michael W. Smith, Plumb, Ron Block from Alison Krauss & Union Station and others.

• McCrary Sisters, "A Very McCrary Christmas" (Rounder): Sibling harmonies bring a truly sweet sound to this set of 11 favorites and one new song, and the McCrarys are joined by Shirley Caesar, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Keb' Mo' and more.

• Idina Menzel, "Christmas: A Season of Love" (Schoolboy/Decca): The Tony Award winner returns to the holidays for an 18-song celebration that includes a couple nods to Hanukkah, a rendition of "Rent's" "Seasons of Love" and guest appearances by Billy Porter, Josh Gad and Aaron Lohr.

• Pentatonix, "The Best of Pentatonix Christmas" (RCA): The title says it all: A capella comfort and joy from the best quintet doing it nowadays.

• Josh Rouse, "The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse" (Yep Roc): Rouse, who wrote many of these songs while living and celebrating the holidays in Spain, takes a page from Nick Lowe's "Quality Street," presenting slices of life that are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes irreverent but all add a welcome, grounding perspective to the usual madness.

And furthermore ...

"Hanukkah+" (Verve Forecast) delves into the Festival of Lights with Jack Black, HAIM, Flaming Lips, Loudon Wainwright III, Yo La Tengo and others — with a "Passover bonus" from Black.

Other new releases of interest:

Jim Brickman, "A Christmas Celebration" (Gaither Music); Celtic Woman, "The Magic of Christmas" (Craft Recordings/Concord); Natalie Cole, "Holly & Ivy" (Craft/Concord); Bing Crosby, "Bing at Christmas" (Decca/UMe); Dallas String Quartet, "A Very Merry Christmas with..." (DSQ); Danny Gokey, "The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Collection" (Sparrow); Dave Koz, "Gifts of the Season" (Just Koz); Lea Michele, "Christmas in the City" (Sony Masterworks); Oak Ridge Boys, "Down Home Christmas" (Lightning Rod); Puss N Boots, "Dear Santa" (Blue Note); Randy Rainbow, "Hey Gurl, It's Christmas" (Broadway); The Seekers, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (Decca); Various, "Christmas with the Stars and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" (Legacy); Various Artists, "NOW 100 Hits: Christmas" (NOW Music); Various Artists, "NOW That's What I Call Country Christmas" (UMG/Sony); Various Artists, "This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Volume 3" (Brushfire/Universal); Phil Wickham, "Christmas" (Fair Trade Services/Columbia); Robbie Williams, "The Christmas Present" (Columbia)

Stocking Stuffers: New Singles of the Season:

Big Freedia, "Make It Jingle, Part II;" Boyfriend, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch;" Chelsea Cutler, "Mistletoe;" Elevation Worship, "O Come All Ye Faithful;" Tori Kelly, "Angles We Have Heard on High;" Adam Lambert, "Please Come Home for Christmas;" The Lumineers, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home); Ingrid Michaelson and Jason Mraz, "Christmas Valentine;" Liam Payne, "Let It Snow;" Perseveration Hall Jazz Band and Pj Morgan, "Winter Wonderland;" Reik, "Noce de Paz (Silent Night);" Robbie Robertson, "Happy Holidays"; Sting & Shaggy, "Silent Night (Christmas is Coming);" Oliver Wakeman and Rodney Matthews, "In the Bleak Midwinter"

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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