By Don Heckman
“Winter Carols” (Minstrelhall Music)
Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple, along with his partner, singer Candice Night, have created a rich, colorful holiday portrait, using electric guitar, period instruments, soaring vocals and multi-layered instrumental textures. The songs range from classic carols to a new song, “Christmas Eve,” and the Rednex’ “Wish You Were Here.”
“Carla’s Christmas Carols” (WATT)
Leave it to Carla Bley to find an utterly unique way to blend jazz and Christmas. And before the first few bars of “O Tannenbaum” are finished, it is clear that her vision is both humorous and loving. Swallow’s mobile bass often takes the lead, and the Partyka Quintet find both the composed and the improvised aspects of Bley’s idiosyncratic arrangements. Among the many highlights in this memorable collection is a lovely rendering of Bley’s own, “Jesus Maria.”
“A Star Still Shines: The Christmas Album” (Spencertown Records)
The Mohr Chorale’s first Christmas album features the ensemble’s rich, often diverse, vocal sounds in atmospheric renderings of, among others, “Silent Night,” “The First Noel” and a lovely Christmas hymn medley reaching from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
“Hot Club Cool Yule” (Azica Records)
The San Francisco gypsy jazz ensemble apply the irresistible rhythms of Django Reinhardt-styled jazz to the sounds of Christmas. And the results, appropriately, are both cool and hot. Among the many immediately engaging items are a Latin jazz take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (re-titled “Don Rodolfo”) and the accurately re-named “Djingle Bells.”
“Jerry Christmas” (E1 Entertainment)
Here’s one of the more unusual entries in this year’s list of Christmas songs. Dobro master Jerry Douglas applies his superb country/bluegrass technique to a collection of classics – “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” among them in a largely instrumental program. Aside, that is, from Maura O’Connell’s “New Year’s Eve” and Douglas’ whimsical “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Good stuff, all of it.
“A Family Christmas” (Putumayo)
Putumayo never fails to assemble an engaging collection of material for their theme-oriented albums. And this entertaining Christmas line-up is no exception. The many stand-outs include Martin Sexton’s sleigh bell-accompanied “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Leon Redbone’s typically laconic “Let It Snow,” British folky Kate Rusby doing “Here We Come A-Wassailing” and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “Is Zat You Santa Claus?”
“Gift Wrapped” (Warner Bros.)
Another all-star Christmas collection, this time from the Warner Brothers stable – which is filled with musical thoroughbreds. There’s a lot from which to pick, but here are some of my highlights: Micheal Buble (“Let It Snow”), Randy Travis (“Winter Wonderland”), Regina Spektor (“My Dear Acquaintance”), The Brian Setzer Orchestra (“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) and R.E.M. (“Deck the Halls”). But there’s a lot more.
“Hope For the Holidays: Rockin’ Christmas For A Cure” (JDRF)
This impressive collection of Christmas songs is dedicated to spreading awareness and support for Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes via contributions to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The long list of artists includes Weezer (“O Come All Ye Faithful”), Creedence Clearwater Revisited (“Run Rudolph Run”), Mike Love (“Santa’s Going To Kokomo”), Shanti Shanti (“Wassailing Rose”) and much more.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
It’s just a single, but it features the lusciously lovely voice of Fallon, a former star of the “Celtic Woman” show. Hearing her airy, effortless soprano voice, arching through this familiar Christmas melody is surely one of the blessings of the season.
To read about more Songs of the Holidays click here.