Sunday, November 27, 2016

Annual Holiday Music Releases Roundup

Thanks to a slew of wonderful new holiday releases it is definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. 

Artist: Gene Autry
Title: A Melody Ranch Christmas Party (Varèse Sarabande)
You might like if you enjoy: Gene Autry & the Pinafores, Roy Rogers, Rosemary Clooney
Tell me more: Gene Autry's A Melody Ranch Christmas album is a wonderful time machine, featuring recordings from the 1940s and early 1950s originally recorded on Autry's long-running "Melody Ranch" radio show aired on the CBS Radio Network. Fans of classic country-western music and Christmas music will love this sentimental set filled with great recordings of "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World," "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snow Man" and many more. The album's great booklet includes insightful liner notes and vintage black & white images of Melody Ranch cast members that add to the magic. Information:

Artist: Neil Diamond
Title: Acoustic Christmas (Capitol)
You might like if you enjoy: Neil Diamond
Tell me more: Neil Diamond brings his rich baritone and signature style to some of the season's most beloved standards and several originals on his Acoustic Christmas. The sparse arrangements bring depth and introspective enchantment to all the performances, from the weighty "O Holy Night" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" to the anthemic "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and delightful Celtic-flavored "Christmas in Killarney." The album features two new shining originals, notably the lovely piano-anchored "Christmas Prayers." Information:

Artist: Tony Hadley
Title: The Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Spandau Ballet, Kim Wilde
Tell me more: Fans of '80s new wave band Spandau Ballet know well the power of singer Tony Hadley. Now the British singer's soulful vocals come in the service of 18 stellar tracks on The Christmas Album. Hadley mines enduring standards ("White Christmas" "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), traditional fair ("Ave Maria," "Silent Night") and several originals ("Every Second I'm Away," "Snowing All Over the World") on a terrific title centered around his top-tier vocals. A duet with Kim Wilde on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is among the treasures on the set. Information:

Artist: Sarah McLachlan
Title: Wonderland (Verve)
You might like if you enjoy: Sarah Brightman, Enya, Sarah McLachlan
Tell me more: Sarah McLachlan brings her beautiful soprano to a number of beloved Yuletide favorites on the aptly-titled Wonderland. There is a nostalgic and yearning tone to this album with "Angels We Have Heard On High," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "O Holy Night" among the adored songs covered with a mix of reflective melancholy and sumptuous beauty. A Barnes & Noble exclusive edition (reviewed here) includes two indispensable bonus tracks "Amazing Grace" and "Snow." Information:

Artist: Kacey Musgraves
Title: A Very Kacey Christmas (Mercury Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson
Tell me more: Alt-country songstress Kacey Musgraves is one of country music's most exciting young artists, and her first full-length holiday music offering (A Very Kacey Christmas) is as superb as her other recent albums for Mercury Nashville (2013's Sam Trailer Different Park and 2015's Pageant Material). In addition to affecting covers of classics such as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Let It Snow" four Musgraves originals sparkle with the magic of the season; this writer's favorites include the beautiful ballad "Christmas Makes Me Cry" and the Hawaiian-styled "A Willie Nice Christmas," the latter a memorable duet with legend Willie Nelson. Information:

Artist: Pentatonix
Title: A Pentatonix Christmas (RCA)
You might like if you enjoy: Pentatonix
Tell me more: Texas-spawned a cappella group Pentatonix has released another holiday set sure to please fans of the vocal quintet. Formed in 2011, Pentatonix has already established a bona fide signature style built atop original arrangements boasting tight and dynamic vocal harmonies, innovative percussion achieved with their voices as well as riffing and beatboxing to boot. The group's latest album release (A Pentatonix Christmas) continues that welcome tradition with impressive versions of "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "White Christmas" (performed with the Manhattan Transfer), "Coventry Carol" and more. Information:

Artist: She & Him
Title: Christmas Party (Columbia)
You might like if you enjoy: Aimee Mann, She & Him
Tell me more: Since bursting on the scene with their first album Volume One in March 2008, She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) have been reviving '60s-styled sunshine pop across a number of winning releases. The duo released the wonderful A Very She & Him Christmas in fall 2011, and have just issued a new holiday collection titled Christmas Party that finds the duo offering up a dozen gems including a spirited "All I Want for Christmas Is You," a dreamy jazz-tinged "Let It Snow" and old-time country take on "Winter Wonderland" that finds Deschanel sharing lead vocals with guest Jenny Lewis. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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