Go-go get these Christmas CDs
Music critic Patrick MacDonald recommends a whole stocking-full of Christmas CDs, including releases by Steven Van Zandt, Tony Bennett, Yo-Yo Ma and more.
Seattle Times music critic
The disc kicks off with Keith Richards’ take on “Run Rudolph Run,” followed by Bob Seger’s funky, James Brown-like “Sock It To Me Santa.” The Ramones blast out “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” Darlene Love channels Springsteen on “All Alone on Christmas” (dig the sax solo!) and the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” ends with the old guy getting mugged.
Other highlights: Joe Pesci warns “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas” in menacing Brooklynese, Rufus Thomas gets sexy promising “I’ll Be Your Santa” and the Chesterfield Kings manage to sound like Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones on “Hey, Santa Claus.”
For a more traditional, but still hip, collection, try “The Essential Now That’s What I Call Christmas” (UMG), with Berry’s original “Run Rudolph Run” and other classics, like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” Dean Martin’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The stellar collection is the perfect CD to listen to while wrapping presents.
Other new holiday recordings
“Christmas Duets,” Elvis Presley (Sony BMG). Elvis loved Christmas, and he probably would approve of this album, which pairs him with country artists including Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson. Through overdubbing, they add their voices to his originals, highlighted by the rocking “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” with Wynonna (their voices blend well); a hymnlike “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with Little Big Town; and “White Christmas” with Amy Grant, who plays against type by cooing, “Come on now, big boy!”
“Joy To The World,” Faith Hill (Warner Bros.) Joy is right! The country singer captures the celebration, and contemplation, of the season with spirited, mostly orchestral versions of holiday classics, from “Winter Wonderland” to “What Child Is This?” Her voice is pure and beautiful, and the arrangements are superb.
“What A Night! A Christmas Album,” Harry Connick, Jr. (Columbia). Hip, jazzy, heartfelt and cool, the singer-pianist and his big band do it up right, imbuing holiday classics and originals with energy, originality and passion. There’s lots of fun, too, especially “Zat You Santa Claus?” and a rollicking new one called “Santarrific.”
“A Swingin’ Christmas,” Tony Bennett, featuring the Count Basie Big Band (Columbia). A finger-snapping, toe-tapping, totally satisfying collection by the greatest living male pop singer. “My Favorite Things” is joyous, “Christmas Time Is Here” is majestic and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is top-notch big-band fun. This one will put a smile on your face as big as Tony’s.
“Home For Christmas,” Sheryl Crow (Hallmark). Available only at Hallmark stores, this is another impressive holiday release by the greeting-card company. Crow’s “White Christmas” is a slow-rocking ballad with horns, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is dramatic and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is drenched in sentiment. Her impressive new original song, “There Is A Star That Shines Tonight,” is peaceful and sweet.
“Songs of Joy & Peace,” Yo-Yo Ma & Friends (Sony Classical). Varied, challenging, artful and different, this 22-cut collection ranges from the familiar to the exotic. The wonderful Alison Krauss adds her sweet voice to “The Wexford Carol,” saxman Joshua Redman plays beautifully on “My One And Only Love” and ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro contributes a lovely simple “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” Cellist Ma teams with a variety of musicians for some fascinating jams.
“A Night Before Christmas,” Spyro Gyra (Heads Up). The cutting-edge jazz group is surprisingly traditional on this 11-song set, which features guest vocalists on five songs. Christine Ebersole does a nice job on the “It Won’t Feel Like Christmas” vocal, and Janis Siegel and Bonny B have fun with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “Silent Night” is moody, while “The Christmas Song,” another Bonny B vocal, is unusually cheery.
“Come Darkness, Come Light,” Mary Chapin Carpenter (Zoe). Chapin Carpenter takes a bold leap with her first Christmas album, devoting half of the 12 cuts to new songs, all of them marked by her intelligence, thoughtfulness, passion and songcraft. It’s not a background album; it’s one you have to listen to, with moving songs about the meaning of Christmas and the holidays. The six other songs are obscure seasonal offerings, all thoughtful and touching.
“All Wrapped Up!” (Hollywood). A seven-song stocking-stuffer EP for the youngsters featuring the Jonas Brothers’ “Joyful Kings” and Miley Cyrus’ “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”
“A Midwinter Night’s Dream,” Lorenna McKennitt (QR). Five tracks from her 1995 EP, “A Winter Garden,” and eight new songs from the dramatic, arty singer. Includes a mystical, Celtic “The Holly & The Ivy,” a Middle Eastern-flavored “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Emmanuel” in Latin and “Noel Nouvelet!” in Old French. Interesting and exotic, it adds zest to this season’s offerings.
“We Wish You A Metal Christmas And A Headbanging New Year” (Armoury). A mostly B-list of metal musicians trash familiar carols, with guitars screeching and drums pounding. Leave it to Alice Cooper to show them how it should be done, with a hilarious take on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” “He knows where you live, he knows what’s under your bed,” he sings, before gleefully setting fire to the Christmas tree.
More Christmas releases
“Christmas Spirit,” Los Lonely Boys (Epic). Holiday songs with a slow-rocking “Texican” feel, including “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” “Feliz Navidad” and two new fun and lively songs, “I’ve Longed for Christmas” and “She’ll Be My Everything.”
“This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1” (Brushfire). Jack Johnson, G. Love, Money Mark and other Brushfire label recording artists in simple, mellow, mostly acoustic carols and new songs. Very laid-back.
“A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas,” Kristin Chenoweth (Sony). The actress/singer presents her pop versions of familiar seasonal songs along with two new ones, both dramatic and mellow, “Home on Christmas Day” and “Born On Christmas Day.”
“Caroling, Caroling: Christmas with Natalie Cole” (Elektra/Rhino). Eight-song selection from her two seasonal releases, 1994’s “Holly & Ivy” and 1999’s “The Magic of Christmas.” Includes a duet of “The Christmas Song” with her father, Nat “King” Cole.
“Bishop T.D. Jakes presents The Gift That Remains” (Rhino/Dexterity). Soulful, gospelly collection featuring Mary Mary, Brian McKnight, Kirk Whalum and BeBe & CeCe Winans singing traditional seasonal favorites and new songs, interspersed with musings by Jakes.
“And There Was Christmas!” (Zomba). Gospel versions of carols and some new songs from Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp and others.
“Christmas,” Al Jarreau (Rhino). In his first holiday album, the mellow pop/jazz/R&B vocalist puts his spin on a dozen classics, as well as “Gloria In Excelsis,” from the Roman Catholic Mass.
“The Miracle of Christmas,” Neil Sedaka (Razor & Tie). His first holiday release comes in the sixth decade of his career, available in one- or two-disc sets. The 22-cut double edition includes a dozen originals along with 10 classics. The new ones show that Sedaka still has a gift for writing light, pleasant pop songs.
“Sacred Arias,” Katherine Jenkins (Decca). “Silent Night,” “Ave Maria” and “Agnus Dei,” along with other pieces with a spiritual theme, from the mezzo soprano opera star.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or [email protected]