With the holiday season now in full swing, it’s time to load up the old CD changer, iPod or SmartPhone with new holiday music! There’s plenty of diversity in this year’s offerings, ranging from traditional to country to punk, and even some in the “particularly tacky” department. While this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, to help make your season a little brighter, here is a quick overview of seven of this year’s more notable Christmas album releases.
Wrapped In Red—Kelly Clarkson
This one has topped many lists already, not just because Kelly Clarkson is probably the highest-profile artist to release a Christmas record this year, but also because it’s just plain good. Wrapped In Red has a great blend of standard favorites and originals (including one or two new classics that we just might keep hearing on holiday radio for years to come). Take particular note of Clarkson’s sizzling rendition of “Run Run Rudolph.” I love it when her voice opens up this-a-way.
A Mary Christmas—Mary J. Blige
This is the first holiday release by R&B veteran Mary J. Blige, and while there is definitely an R&B flavor to it, that term actually does the album a disservice, because it’s much more than that. Blige shows an incredible amount of range on this collection of Christmas classics, from her jazzy rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” to holding her own next to Barbra Streisand on “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and even doing respect to the French classic “Petit Papa Noël” in a way that would make Josh Groban proud. Beyond just making a great holiday recording, Blige has given us one of the classiest recordings of her career.
Christmas Songs—Bad Religion
A perfect example of a record that shouldn’t work but does, Bad Religion covers Christmas old-school punk style with a collection of songs that is surprisingly good amid its own irony. (Consider a band named “Bad Religion” doing justice to a list of mostly traditional Christian carols openly referencing Christ, and you’ll understand the irony.) With closing track “American Jesus,” the one song on the album that is not actually a Christmas tune, Bad Religion return to form with a poignant statement about the hijacking of religion by American and political culture that is sure to spark some discussion. Overall, some of the best use of three chords you’ll hear this year.
Home For Christmas—Susan Boyle
Simon Cowell’s most unlikely discovery from the 2009 season of Britain’s Got Talent has ended up doing quite well for herself. This fall, Scottish singer Susan Boyle, who announced this week that she’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, released her second holiday album, Home For Christmas, showing once again that her classic voice handles the holidays well. Watch for duets with Johnny Mathis and the late Elvis Presley (the second, of course, done with a bit of digital holiday magic).
Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas
Think “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” only maybe tackier. Presented by the cast of popular reality show Duck Dynasty, this album sits fittingly in the country genre, and it has its share of serious moments, but songs like “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas” and bad vocals (especially from the men) add so much to the caricature that even guest appearances by the likes of George Strait and Luke Bryan can’t rescue it. The album is selling well, but in the end this one is more for laughs. Just too difficult to take it that seriously.
Christmas, With Love—Leona Lewis
Another Simon Cowell discovery, Leona Lewis tries her hand at holiday music with her first Christmas release. Its lo-fi undertones and 60’s vibe seem to be trying to do homage to The Ronettes and Ronnie Spector, but to tell you the truth, it doesn’t come off well (if you like that sort of thing, why not just listen to The Ronettes?), and doesn’t do justice to Lewis’ remarkable voice. This one’s just alright if you like the style, but don’t count on it becoming a classic.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony II
What would Christmas be without a bit of Mannheim Steamroller? The followup to 2011’s Christmas Symphony continues the symphonic pop act’s tradition of bringing modern interpretations to well-known and more obscure Christmas classics. I could say more, but—heck, it’s Mannheim Steamroller. Go get it.