'Tis the musical season for classic Christmas collections
As an unabashed sucker for Christmas music, I've come to appreciate and look forward to the annual yuletide efforts of Legacy Recordings. Their “Classic Christmas Album” series never disappoints and this year's offering of tasty collections will get you in the holiday spirit.
The country music contingent should be thrilled with sets from Alabama, Johnny Cash, George Jones & Tammy Wynette and Martina McBride; and if you want some jolly old soul, look no further than the entry from Gladys Knight & the Pips. Traditionalists can enjoy releases from Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams, but I recommend scooping up all eight.
Alabama (4 stars out of five) have long been a staple in my house at Christmas and their effort here is as good as expected. “Christmas in Dixie” is the highlight, and the veteran outfit also scores with “Tennessee Christmas,” “Angels Among Us” and “Silent Night.” Minor demerits for excluding “Thistlehair the Christmas Bear.” The late, great Cash (4.5 stars) knocks it out of the park on “That Christmasy Feeling,” “Christmas With You” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”; Jones & Wynette (4 stars) show why they were the First Couple of country music with keepers “Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus,” “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Guest”; and McBride (4 stars) makes hay with “Blue Christmas' (featuring Elvis Presley), “I'll Be Home for Christmas” and “O Holy Night.”
Kudos to Knight & the Pips (5 stars) for offering up the series' best album to date. Among the many standouts are “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, “This Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?” and “The Lord's Prayer.” Diamond (4.5 stars) and Streisand (4.5 stars) are as reliable as ever, with the former scoring on “Joy to the World,” “Silver Bells” and “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” and the latter hitting the right notes on “A Christmas Love Song,” “I Wonder as I Wander” and “Christmas Lullaby.” Williams (4 stars) and his velvety vocals are put to good use on “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” “My Favorite Things” and “Ave Maria.”
Erasure (Andy Bell and Vince Clarke) have been making synth-fueled dance music for almost 30 years and they set their sights on the holidays with “Snow Globe.” A mix of originals and seasonal favorites, Erasure put a unique spin — though not one that always works — on songs both new and familiar. Among the highlights are “Bells of Love (Isabelle's of Love),” “Silent Night,” “Blood on the Snow” and “Silver Bells.” Less effective are “Gaudete,” “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” and their Casio keyboard reading of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”
‘Wrapped in Red'
Kelly Clarkson (RCA)
Kelly Clarkson has one of those big, big voices that can send chills down my spine and she shows a knack for warming the heart on debut Christmas album “Wrapped in Red.” Clarkson puts her stamp on traditional favorites likes “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Baby, It's Cold Outside” (with Ronnie Dunn), “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” (with Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood); and makes a case for creating new holiday staples with the title track and “Underneath the Tree.”
‘Mad Men Christmas'
Various Artists (Concord)
If for no other reason, you should buy “Mad Men Christmas” for the first two songs of the 12-track album inspired by the Emmy-winning drama “Mad Men.” The first is RJD2's “A Beautiful Mine,” the instrumental that has served as the “Mad Man” theme for six seasons, and the second is the (slight lesser) remix of series star Jessica Pare's showstopping Season 5 rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou.” Happily, the rest of the album features a nice sampling of holiday faves, including Darlene Love's “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Rosemary Clooney's “White Christmas,” Johnny Mathis' “I'll Be Home for Christmas” and Teresa Brewer's “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
‘The 25th Day of December'
Bobby Darin (Real Gone)
Available for the first time in stereo, Bobby Darin's 1960 offering “The 25th Day of December” gets a big boost from the Bobby Scott Chorale on gospel-tinged keepers “Child of God,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Jehovah Hallelujah.” Darin also soars on “Poor Little Jesus,” “Holy Holy Holy,” “Mary Where Is Your Baby” and bonus track “Christmas Auld Lang Syne.” Darin dared to do something a little different for a holiday album, and the results are often spectacular.
‘Punk Goes Christmas'
Various Artists (Fearless)
The “Punk Goes” series gets into the holidays with this compilation featuring a dozen tunes from the likes of New Found Glory (“Nothing for Christmas”), All Time Low (“Fool's Holiday”), the Summer Set (“This Christmas”), Yellowcard (“Christmas Lights”), the Ready Set (“I Don't Wanna Spend Another Christmas Without You”) and William Beckett (“Do You Hear what I Hear?”). Holiday music for your teen sons and daughters.
Jeffrey Sisk is a managing editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1952, firstname.lastname@example.org.