By Ross and Marc Boissoneau
You better not shout, you better not cry. You better just listen up, as theres new music on the way.
Only thing is, this time of the year, new music doesnt usually mean new new music. Its new old music, as another crop of artists try to bring something of themselves to the sounds of the season.
Sometimes they succeed, sometimes the results are less than holly-jolly. And sometimes you dont even need to listen to know how it will sound. But enough about Mariah Carey. Here are our takes on a dozen of the seasons offerings. On with the show!
Ronnie Spectors Best Christmas Ever (Bad Girl Sounds)
The original rock bad girl, Spectors lost none of her sass since she hit it big with the Ronettes in the 60s. This 5-song EP is brief but enjoyable, expecially Light One Candle.
Various Artists, Tis the Season to Be Gotee (Gotee)
Since Gotee Records, one of the most notable independent labels in Contemporary Christian Music, was started in 1994, its shifted focus from rap and hip-hop to tongue-in-cheek rock. So its no surprise that for the most part, the best tracks here are the campiest, especially House of Heroes power-pop take on Mariah Careys All I Want for Christmas Is You. Unfortunately, the more earnest songs, such as Abandon Kansass rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful and Stephanie Smiths of I Celebrate the Day, fall very flat, though Ayiesha Woodss version of Jingle Bells is good fun. MB
Wilson Phillips, Christmas in Harmony (Sony Masterworks)
The venerable pop trios first holiday album will doubtlessly please the groups fans, but not much of anyone else. Wendy Wilson is in strangely poor voice throughout, and Chynna Phillips isnt at her best either. Their recording of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day(a very hard song to mess up) is good enough, but its pretty generic. The real gem here is Warm Lovin Christmastime, which was first recorded by Carnie Wilson for her (vastly superior) solo Christmas record; its catchy but isnt out of place among the traditionals. MB
Take 6, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Heads Up)
The a capella group has the chops, but while the highs are high, so are the lows. The arrangements may be imaginative, but they often obscure the tune. White Christmas is a great example, enthralling for the most part, but nearly spoiled by the human beatbox rhythm section. That has to go. Ill Be Home For Christmas and a It Came Upon The Midnight Clear may be the albums highlights; The Grinch is the lowlight. Hit and miss throughout.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Christmas Comes Alive! (Surfdog)
Does it ever! Setzer takes his sassy big band on a swinging sleigh ride where they find a boogie-woogie Santa Claus in a winter wonderland. Try to keep your toes from tapping. And the audience for this live disc eats it all up. He throws in a couple ringers, with Stray Cat Strut meeting the Grinch, and Fishnet Stockings, but the rest is a set of seasonal favorites dressed up for the holidays like only Setzer and his 17-piece band can do it.
Ben Rudnick and Friends, Its Santa Claus! (Bartlett Ave.)
Childrens music favorite Ben Rudnick manages the nearly impossible: He leads off this disc with a new holiday song, and its instantly sing-along-able. From there its on to the familiar, with Jingle Bells, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree, Let It Snow and more holiday favorites. Kids will no doubt enjoy these gently twangy, folksy arrangements. It wont change the world, but for kids music (or even adults), there are far worse ways to go. Trust me.
Indigo Girls, Holly Happy Days (Vanguard)
If an Indigo Girls holiday album sounds like a really bad idea, thats because it is. Holly Happy Days comes off not as spirited or festive, but just irritating. MB
Bradley Leighton, Holiday of Lights (Pacific Jazz)
The popular flutist puts a contemporary jazz spin on a dozen tunes. Charlie Browns Christmas Time Is Here is joyously upbeat, filled with percussion and synth backgrounds, while Winter Wonderland gets a bossa nova beat. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town comes off as irritating, but for the rest, the sound palette, arrangements and Leightons brilliant flute playing make this a winner. Add bass and alto flutes to the mix and youre in for a holiday treat indeed.
Point of Grace, Home for the Holidays (Word)
Point of Grace should have stopped while they were ahead, with 1999s standout holiday album A Christmas Story. Instead, this is their third studio Christmas album, fourth including a compilation last year. Although Labor of Love, which explores the myth of a Silent Night at the Nativity, is somewhat interesting, you cant help but come away from the album thinking that they were trying to bridge the gap between hillbilly music and The Andrews Sisters not the best of combinations. (Even at that, its more spirited than their mediocre 2005 release.) Fans of country-pop acts like Taylor Swift may find something to like here, but its not a particularly exciting record (nor, granted, an especially terrible one) for the rest of us. MB
11 Acorn Lane, Happy Holy Days (Wooden Hat)
Each year it seems there is one left-field entry that makes you go, Whoa! Whats that? Happy Holy Days is that album. 11 Acorn Lane is a Swiss/British duo whose approach ranges from edgy exotica to sophisticated lounge and back again. Fun, fizzy music, with saxophone sections opposite swinging singers, bass clarinet and tuba and accordion, oh my! The stop and start sections make for something off the overly-beaten Christmas path, but you can recognize the tunes, and just like the season, its fun!
Celtic Thunder, Christmas (no label)
If youre expecting something along the lines of Celtic Woman, youre in for a surprise. Not necessarily a good one, as this disc sounds more like it was American-made than anything from the old country. Actually, it often sounds like contemporary country. The five male singers range from adequate to pretty good, but it sure isnt Celticy. Not when Winter Wonderland sounds like Trace Adkins, or Let It Snow brings to mind Rod Stewarts homages to the Great American songbook.
Straight No Chaser, All I Want for Christmas (Atlantic)
The 10-member a capella group has put together their two previous seasonal CDs with a DVD, all in a bright shiny holiday package. And its quite the package. Disc ones 14 holiday favorites includes everything from Silent Night to Little Saint Nick, while disc two has another 15 gems, among them Jingle Bells, the always-popular Who Spiked the Eggnog, and their brilliant rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas, incorporating Totos Africa, which became a YouTube sensation. The DVD is from a concert in New York featuring more secular fare, including their takes on Queen, Stevie Wonder, even the Bee Gees. Oh well. Plus a few holiday treats as well. Enjoy!
Of course, theres always more. Among the other new holiday releases this year are Glee: The Music The Christmas Album (Columbia), by the cast of the uber-popular Fox show; Christmas with The Puppini Sisters (Verve), retro-Andrews Sisters stylings; Pink Martinis Joy to the World (Heinz), exotic mini-big band stylings with vocals; Annie Lennoxs A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca) a madrigal/electronica/baroque extravaganza; and The Gift by Susan Boyle (Syco), who does a more than respectable job on holiday favorites, her gaffe on The Viewnotwithstanding.