Saturday, December 05, 2015

Holiday music releases serve as tuneful stocking stuffers

Sooner or later it seems just about every artist releases a Christmas album. This year there are a wealth of new holiday-minded titles worth discovering.

Artist: Pentatonix
Title: That's Christmas to Me (RCA)
You might like if you enjoy: Pentatonix, Ray Conniff Singers
Tell me more: The 2015 deluxe edition of the Pentatonix collection That's Christmas to Me builds on the joy of the holiday chart-topping October 2014 release with the addition of five all-new tracks. Fans of the Arlington, Texas-spawned a cappella vocal group know full well how talented the five singers are in crafting and performing original arrangements via spot-on harmonies, modern R&B vocal stylings and the inclusion of beat boxing and vocal percussion. They bring their dynamic style to the newly-featured "Joy to the World," "The First Noel," Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and others on the recommended collection. The physical CD version of That's Christmas to Me features a colorful foldout poster too. Information:

Purchase 'That's Christmas to Me' (Deluxe Edition) here

Artist: The dB's & Friends
Title: Christmas Time Again! (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Alex Chilton, Robyn Hitchcock, Whiskeytown, R.E.M.
Tell me more: A little bit of everything goes a long way on the dB's & Friends' Christmas Time Again! Originally released as an EP back in 1986, Christmas Time Again! was re-issued as ever-expanded editions in 1993 and 2006, but is now wonderfully stuffed with a wealth of never-before-included tracks and shines across its new bigger-is-better 22-track run. The truly wide-range of indie styles includes the beautiful piano-anchored "The Sounds of Christmas" (featuring Skylar Gudasz), lively rocker "Christmas Time," a joyous live take of "Jesus Christ" (with R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills  handling lead vocals) and affecting "In the Bleak Midwinter" (helmed by the much-missed Big Star singer-guitarist Alex Chilton). Information:

Get 'Christmas Time Again!' here 

Artist: Mannheim Steamroller
Title: LIVE (American Gramaphone)
You might like if you enjoy: Mannheim Steamroller
Tell me more: For those who love Mannheim Steamroller's distinctive sound that blends classical music, New Age and rock, the Chip Davis-led ensemble's Christmas collections are required listening. In December 2014, Mannheim Steamroller was recorded over two nights in the historic Orpheum Theater in Omaha, Nebraska, the highlights which can be heard on the 18-track LIVE. The performances of traditional carols ("Deck the Halls," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Silent Night" and more) and original material (such as "Pass the Keg (Lia)" and Chocolate Fudge" from the troupe's debut 1974 album "Fresh Aire") have never sounded better. Information:

Get Mannheim Steamroller's 'Live' here

Artist: MercyMe
Title: It's Christmas (Fair Trade Services)
You might like if you enjoy: Jars of Clay, MercyMe's 2005 album "The Christmas Sessions"
Tell me more: Contemporary Christian quintet MercyMe has released a Christmas album that is as polished and heartfelt as any of their Texas-spawned troupe's original music-filled albums. The group has lots of fun too, infusing bits of the Beach Boys and modern country music on their original gem "Christmastime Again" and the original melodic rocker "Hold On Christmas," while reworking seasonal classics including "Sleigh Ride" (now a lovely mid-tempo textured ballad) and "A Holly Jolly Christmas (a jump blues romp that includes a bit of "Jingle Bells") on an 11-track disc sure to be a favorite with MercyMe's loyal audience. Information:

Buy 'MercyMe, It's Christmas' here

Artists: Janiva Magness, Cindy Alexander, Rita Wilson, Gary Hoey, more
Title: A Blue Élan Christmas (Blue Elan Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Janiva Magness, Cindy Alexander, Gary Hoey
Tell me more: A full 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of A Blue Élan Christmas go to benefit the Alliance for Children's Rights, more than enough reason to purchase the wonderful 17-track collection. Highlights on the festive set includes blues singer-songwriter Janiva Magness belting out "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Cindy Alexander delivering the wistful soulful "Christmas ls Here" and a truly gorgeous jazz-styled take of the Mel Torme classic "The Christmas Song" courtesy of vocalist Rita Wilson. There are also impressive selections from Americana singer-songwriter Jack Tempchin (his self-penned "Christmas Calling" and tuneful ballad "Christmas All Year Round") and virtuoso guitar hero Gary Hoey (an amazing instrumental version of "O Holy Night"). Information:

Buy 'A Blue Élan Christmas' here

Artist: Matthew and Gunnar Nelson
Title: This Christmas (Digitally Sound Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Nelson, "Not So Silent Night: Christmas with REO Speedwagon"
Tell me more: There seems to be a trend in 2015 for artists to rekindle the sweet approach to holiday music making that gave rise to '50s and '60s classic recordings from Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis to '70s releases from John Denver and the Carpenters, and that is the definite approach taken by brothers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson on their 12-track This Christmas. Highlights on the duo's first-ever Christmas collection includes a harmonious "Joy To The World" (enhanced by some shining acoustic guitar work), a bluegrass-styled instrumental version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" featuring famed fiddler Molly Cherryholmes, a spirited acoustic romp through "Holly Jolly Christmas" and the lush title track that finds the brothers joining forces with pop singer Alyssa Bonagura. Information:

Pick up 'This Christmas' here

Artist: Maggie McClure and Shane Henry
Title: Happiest of Holidays (independent release)
You might like if you enjoy: She & Him, Sixpence None the Richer
Tell me more: Husband and wife duo Maggie McClure and Shane Henry have just released Happiest of Holidays, a fun-filled five-song EP featuring four original tunes and a version of the romantic "Baby It's Cold Outside." The songs here capture the merriment of the season with the yearning ballad "When I'm Home" and Americana-tinged "First Thing On My Christmas List" both laced with the melancholy that enriches the best of contemporary holiday collections. The title track is particularly infectious and could definitely serve as a title song for an animated or family television special. Information:

Get 'Happiest of Holidays' here 


Artist: The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Title: Rockin' Rudolph (Surfdog)

You might like if you enjoy: The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Tell me more: Things seldom get as fun as spirited as performances from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. On the ensemble's first holiday collection since 2010's Christmas Comes Alive, Setzer and company offer up rousing and joyful takes on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," and other Christmastime faves. Rockin' Rudolph is a must-have set for fans of talented singer-guitar great Setzer (just listen to the former Stray Cat unleash his impressive guitar work on the instrumental "Carol of the Bells"). Information: and

Artist: KC and the Sunshine Band
Title: A Sunshine Christmas (BFD)
You might like if you enjoy: KC and the Sunshine Band; Earth, Wind and Fire
Tell me more: Like Brian Setzer, KC and the Sunshine Band have taken an upbeat approach to making a Christmas music collection. Offering up dance-minded reworkings of holiday favorites and apt originals ("The After Christmas Song," "Jingle Bell Boogie," "A Sunshine Christmas"), this dozen song-set will bring smiles as you move to the infectious beat. Information:

Soak in 'A Sunshine Christmas' today

Robert Kinsler

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