Monday, November 16, 2020

Holiday Music Aplenty — 2020 Christmas Collections Roundup

Despite the continuing COVID-19 outbreak, the season will sound much brighter thanks to a slew of spirited holiday music collections.

Buck Owens
Title: A Merry 'Hee Haw' Christmas (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Originally released in 1970, Buck Owens' A Merry 'Hee Haw' Christmas is making its audio CD and digital debut 50 years after its vinyl debut. The wonderful collection  newly remastered from the original analog master tapes by Grammy Award-winning engineer Michael Graves  is stuffed with each and every bona fide Bakersfield country-fried cut from 1965's Christmas With Buck Owens and His Buckaroos and 1968's Christmas Shopping along with both cuts from a promotional 7-inch "Toys for Tots" public service announcements promotional single.  The range of material impresses across the 26-track disc; the uptempo "Christmas Shopping," sweet "All I Want for Christmas is My Daddy," instrumental "The Jolly Christmas Polka" and whimsical "Tomorrow is Christmas Day" are early standouts. The enchanting "Blue Christmas Lights," rollicking instrumental take on "Jingle Bells," tender "All I Want for Christmas is You," jolly "Santa's Gonna Come in a Stage Coach" and affecting "Blue Christmas Tree" keep the magic coming in the last half of the magic set. Information:

Davy Jones
Title: It's Christmas Time Once More (Not Too Late Records)
Tell me more: Fans were wonderfully surprised by the new Monkees' holiday music set Christmas Party in 2018. Fast forward to 2020 and now fans of the '60s-spawned favorites can take in the festive sonic cheer of Davy Jones' It's Christmas Time Once More. Producer Chip Douglas  who also mixed and played a variety of instruments on this unique collection  rounded up classic vocal recordings featuring the late Jones (who passed away in February 2012) and added new musical elements and supporting voices in the creation of the new arrangements featured on this set. There is a mix of rocking uptempo cheer ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"), wistful yuletide offerings ("Silver Bells," "Mele Kalikimaka") and lovely traditional selections (notably "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "This Day in Bethlehem," both featuring the supporting voices of fellow Monkee Micky Dolenz and his sister Coco Dolenz). Davy Jones' youngest daughter, Annabel Jones, shines on a tender version of "White Christmas." Information:

Sweet Lizzy Project
Title: And So This Is Christmas (Mono Mundo/Thirty Tigers)
Tell me more: Rising rock troupe Sweet Lizzy Project is set to release their first-ever Christmas release, the four-song EP And So This Is Christmas on Nov. 20. What a delight! The welcome collection includes two terrific originals, the aptly-pegged "This Christmas I'm Not Coming Home" (the group left their native Havana, Cuba a few years ago and is now based in Nashville) which is a real showcase for lead singer Lisset Diaz and rousing "It's Christmas (Everything Will Be Alright)," the latter co-written with Raul Malo from The Mavericks. Sweet Lizzy Project also delivers deeply affecting takes on The Pretenders' "2000 Miles" and the John Lennon classic "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." And if you love the quintet's And So This Is Christmas make sure to check out their outstanding full-length American debut LP Technicolor that was released earlier this year. Information:

Goo Goo Dolls
Title: Christmas All Over Again (Warner Records)
Tell me more: Goo Goo Dolls bring their signature rock sound to their first-ever holiday music album, delivering a great mix of original and reworked covers to Christmas All Over Again. Kicking things off with a tuneful cover of the spirited Tom Petty favorite "Christmas All Over Again," the 10-song set continues to deliver seasonal cheer. Frontman John Rzenik and company dip headlong into swing revival territory with the fun-filled "Shake Hands With Santa Claus." Other surprises include the shimmering "Let It Snow," heartwarming "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and uplifting "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The two originals are especially strong; the stirring "This Is Christmas" and mischievous jazzy tune "You Ain't Getting Nothin' " are among the disc's highlights. "It's Christmas All Over" is available on audio CD and via vinyl. The band is also offering exclusive merchandise bundles including a red vinyl LP, a Goo Goo Dolls Crosley record player and additional limited run items via the band's official website. Information:

The Bird and the Bee
Title: Put Up The Lights (No Expectations / Release Me Records)
Tell me more: Acclaimed Los Angeles-based duo The Bird (Inara George) and the Bee (Greg Kurstin) bring their formidable talents to their first-ever Christmas-minded collection, Put Up The Lights. A timeless touch is displayed across the album, with the mix of lovingly revisited classics and stirring originals hitting their mark. The original "Merry Merry" has a captivating and soulful groove. The original "You And I At Christmas Time" is gorgeous, a jazz-meets-dreampop melodic jewel enhanced by George's incredible soprano. That luxurious approach also works wonder on their take on "The Christmas Song" and "Christmas Time Is Here." A fully original interpretation of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" is an absolute wonder. "Little Drummer Boy" — featuring Dave Grohl on drums — adds a decidedly rock overtone to the duo's sheen. Every selection on the eight-track album is a joy. Information:

Carrie Underwood
Title: My Gift (Capitol Nashville)
Tell me more: Country music singer Carrie Underwood's first-ever Christmas album My Gift is a welcome addition to her winning discography. The seven-time GRAMMY Award winner uses her soprano in a nuanced and artful way across the title to propel a wide range of material on the album. The album begins with a quiet and introspective rendition of the traditional "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." She likewise brings an emotive touch to other oft-visited classics such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away In A Manger" with beautiful vocal performances enhanced by expressive arrangements. Her vocal performance on "O Holy Night" is truly amazing. She brings a more contemporary touch to the season with her piano-anchored duet with John Legend, "Hallelujah," and "Sweet Baby Jesus," the latter a touching song she co-wrote with Brett James and David Garcia. Information:

Grant-Lee Phillips
Title: Yuletide (Yep Roc Records)
Tell me more: Grant-Lee Phillips' four-song EP Yuletide is a wistful and evocative listen that features the original Americana-styled "Winterglow," as well as refined reworkings of Nat King Cole's "Take Me Back to Toyland" and Frank Sinatra's "An Old-Fashioned Christmas." The EP closes out with a sparse "Auld Lang Syne." If you enjoy Yuletide make sure to pick up Phillips' 10th solo album, Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff, released in June 2020. Information:

Tori Kelly
Title: A Tori Kelly Christmas (Capitol Records)
Tell me more: R&B songstress Tori Kelly brings a contemporary touch to traditional and original songs on her first-ever holiday collection A Tori Kelly Christmas. Executive produced by 11-time GRAMMY winner Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Scooter Braun, highlights abound across the album. The gospel-styled "O Holy Night" showcases Kelly's high-soaring vocals. A yearning "Christmas Time Is Here" is magical. Also featured are two originals, the enticing dance track "25th" and joyful "Gift That Keeps On Giving." Elsewhere Kelly joins forces with Edmonds for a cool retro take on "Let It Snow." My favorite selection on the disc is a lovely medley that begins with a touching "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" that builds into a uplifting gospel-seasoned "O Come All Ye Faithful." A Target exclusive version edition includes two exclusive tracks, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and a third original song, "Kid Again On Christmas." Information:

Dolly Parton
Title: A Holly Dolly Christmas (Butterfly Records/12Tone Music)
Tell me more: This year's Christmas music roundup wouldn't be complete without celebrating A Holly Dolly Christmas, legendary singer-songwriter Dolly Parton's first new collection of yuletide songs in 30 years. This is a full-fledged celebration of the season, including several high-profile duets including the lively "Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas" with Michael Bublé, fun "All I Want For Christmas is You" with Jimmy Fallon and soaring "Christmas Is" with Miley Cyrus. "Pretty Paper" is a particularly lovely country track where Parton teams with fellow country music icon Willie Nelson. Of course, Parton can handle things on her own just fine as evidenced by the inviting "Holly Jolly Christmas," Baroque folk pick "Circle of Love" and haunting "Mary, Did You Know?" Information:

Robert Kinsler

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