September 19, 2020


By Kristi Kates | Dec. 17, 2016

Pentatonix — “A Pentatonix Christmas” — RCA

Pentatonix's brand of a cappella pop is not just distinctive, but also remarkably successful, having sent the quintet from “The Sing-Off” and YouTube to the big time. The group’s second full-length holiday set perfectly captures a unique balance of confident vocal ability and a penchant for twisting tracks around to its own audio aesthetic, which includes adding heavy beatboxing and an island feel to the traditional carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” There’s also a catchy original, “Christmas Sing-Along,” and PTX’s take on Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter,” which becomes more festive than you might expect. ***

Various Artists — “NOW! That’s What I Call Merry Christmas” — NOW

Famed for its never-ending collections of pop hits that surface with remarkable frequency, the “NOW! That’s What I Call Music” album series started in 1998, with the most recent being this November’s No. 60, so it’s safe to say that “NOW!” has a handle on putting together compilation albums. This latest may seem a bit generic, but it does collect many of your favas in one place, so it’s an easy no-brainer for any holiday gathering, with tunes including Wham’s modern ’80s classic “Last Christmas,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe.” **1/2

Sarah McLachlan — “Wonderland” — Verve

McLachlan’s previous Christmas album, “Wintersong,” featured songs by Joni Mitchell and John Lennon as well as a darker, more melancholy ambiance. This is pretty much the polar opposite of that effort, with McLachlan’s delicate vocals and prettier instrumental arrangements being more suited to the cheerful, lighter, more traditional side of the holidays. Highlights include her take on the unusual old Canadian hymn “Huron Carol” as well as her graceful version of “Silver Bells”; a special Barnes & Noble edition includes two bonus tracks, “Amazing Grace” and “Snow.” ***

Trans-Siberian Orchestra — “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” — Rhino/Atlantic

And now for something completely different, we bring you Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s contribution to the holidays, which probably leans far more toward rock-opera than Santa can handle. These are themed holiday tracks from the band’s long-time PBS extravaganza of the same name, and like much of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this is something of an acquired listen, best suited to those who appreciate vintage prog-rock ’70s acts like Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer. It’s well-performed music, but the melodrama may not quite be what you’re after at Christmastime. **

Kristi Kates is a contributing editor and freelance writer.


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