Pablo Gorondi re­views hol­i­day al­bums re­leased this year that in­clude ef­forts from Diana Ross, John Le­gend, Eric Clap­ton, the Mon­kees, Wil­liam Shat­ner and oth­ers

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Here’s a col­lec­tion of hol­i­day al­bums sug­gested for this fes­tive sea­son


Are you in the mood for jolly, sing-along Christ­mas mu­sic? Diana Ross has you cov­ered.

Look­ing for some­thing more serene, with re­li­gious tones? Diana Ross has you cov­ered.

Or are you look­ing for in­spi­ra­tional mu­sic that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have any­thing to do with the hol­i­days? Again, Diana Ross has you cov­ered.

Her new Christ­mas al­bum, the 20-track “Won­der­ful Christ­mas Time,” may ac­tu­ally have a track for ev­ery mood of the sea­son with the ex­cep­tion of the bah-hum­bug crowd. Ross’ silky, smooth so­prano takes on a wide va­ri­ety of songs, from “Ave Maria” to “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!”

She also goes out­side the Christ­mas arc with songs about peace and love, like Ste­vie Won­der’s “Over­joyed.” While there’s some­thing for ev­ery­one here, the down­side is the lack of co­he­sive­ness: Even though “What the World Needs Now” is given a sweep­ing, clas­si­cal ap­proach, to go from that to “Amaz­ing Grace” is still a bit of head scratcher, de­spite a near seam­less tran­si­tion.

Of course, it’s a small quib­ble, like com­plain­ing that you were of­fered too many pie op­tions at the hol­i­day meal. In the end, you’ll be deeply sat­is­fied. - Nekesa Mumbi Moody (twit­ter.com/ Neke­saMumbi)


If any­one needs a model for how to put out a suc­cess­ful Christ­mas al­bum, look no fur­ther than ev­ery­one’s lat­est EGOT win­ner - John Le­gend.

On the mod­estly ti­tled “A Leg­endary Christ­mas,” the singer mixes old chest­nuts and new tunes, switches tem­pos from jazz to blues, and adds a few per­fectly cast cameos. (Only Le­gend could get Ste­vie Won­der to play a lit­tle har­mon­ica work on “What Christ­mas Means to Me”).

Le­gend teams up with vet­eran pro­ducer Raphael Saadiq for new takes on clas­sics, in­clud­ing an up­tempo “Sil­ver Bells” and a lush “Have Your­self a Merry Lit­tle Christ­mas” with guest Esper­anza Spald­ing. “Christ­mas Time Is Here” gets the lounge treat­ment and he’s nicely un­earthed Marvin Gaye’s “Pur­ple Snowflakes.”

Le­gend shows off his own song­writ­ing with the de­li­cious throw­back “No Place Like Home” and co-writes the bustling “Bring Me Love” with Meghan Trainor. “Wait­ing for Christ­mas” is clas­sic pi­ano Le­gend, “Wrap Me Up in Your Love” is a smoky R&B stand­out and “By Christ­mas Eve” - a prom­ise to get home, like an up­date on Brenda Rus­sell’s “Get Here” - is sim­ply sub­lime.

The al­bum’s cover fea­tures Le­gend in a Santa hat and bow tie, em­u­lat­ing one of Bing Crosby’s iconic Christ­mas al­bums. Bold move, Mr. Le­gend - but earned. This Christ­mas al­bum is an in­stant clas­sic. - Mark Kennedy (twit­ter.com/ KennedyTwits)


Gui­tar god Eric Clap­ton may have been an un­likely rock star to cut a Christ­mas record, but for mu­sic fans look­ing for a bluesy al­ter­na­tive to the typ­i­cal hol­i­day dredge it’s as wel­come as a steam­ing cup of hot choco­late on a win­try night.

“Happy Xmas” steers clear of the typ­i­cal hol­i­day playlist, and thank­fully has more hits than misses.

“White Christ­mas” and “Lone­some Christ­mas” ben­e­fit from Clap­ton’s dis­tinc­tive slow­hand blues gui­tar style. The lone new song from Clap­ton, “For Love on Christ­mas Day,” will com­fort­ably find a slot into soft rock hol­i­day playlists but may turn off fans who pre­fer their Clap­ton with a lit­tle less schmaltz.

The most un-Clap­ton song, “Jin­gle Bells (In Mem­ory of Avicii),” is a tribute to the late EDM DJ-pro­ducer Avicii, whom Clap­ton ad­mired. It may be the first time “Jin­gle Bells” has ever been re-imag­ined as a tribute to a DJ, but what­ever. It bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the hol­i­day stan­dard, or any­thing Clap­ton has done be­fore, mak­ing it a cu­rios­ity at the very least, and a stand­out track for those who trea­sure Christ­mas mu­sic that’s not just out­side the box, but on an­other planet en­tirely.

Ku­dos­tothe73-year-oldClap­ton for at least mak­ing it in­ter­est­ing. - Scott Bauer (twit­ter.com/SBauerAP)


Take the last train to Christ­mas, and en­joy pure pop goofi­ness, har­mony and per­son­al­ity with the im­plau­si­bly still-around Mon­kees, the late ‘60s TV sen­sa­tions who are still as fun to­day as they were then.

Micky Dolenz han­dles most of the vo­cals, though Michael Ne­smith sings on two songs and Pe­ter Tork is on the banjo-laden “An­gels We Have Heard on High.” Davy Jones, who died in 2012, sings lead on two tracks via tapes he recorded in 1991, backed by new in­stru­men­ta­tion. His “Sil­ver Bells” and “Mele Ka­liki­maka” will make a day­dream be­liever out of you, too.

“Un­wrap You at Christ­mas” sets the tone for this light­hearted hol­i­day romp, lead­ing into the whim­si­cal “What Would Santa Do?”

Most in­ter­est­ing is “House of Bro­ken Gin­ger­bread,” with its un­mis­tak­able ‘60s psy­che­delic feel. Built around a funky gui­tar riff, “Christ­mas Party” ar­rives at the con­clu­sion that one hol­i­day blow out year is enough: “Re­mem­ber last year/Cops had to shut us down twice.”

The Mon­kees also cover clas­sic Christ­mas tunes from Roy Wood (“I Wish It Could Be Christ­mas Ev­ery­day”) Paul Mc­Cart­ney (“Won­der­ful Christ­mas­time”), and the oft-cov­ered “Merry Christ­mas, Baby,” which is way more bad-ass than one would ex­pect from The Mon­kees.

Guest mu­si­cians in­clude XTC’s Andy Par­tridge, R.E.M.’s Pe­ter Buck and Adam Sch­lesinger, who pro­duced as well. - Wayne Parry (twit­ter.com/ WaynePar­ryAC)


There comes a point ev­ery Christ­mas sea­son that we get tired of hear­ing the same hol­i­day songs. For that rea­son, and maybe if you’re a “Star Trek” fan, con­sider giv­ing a lis­ten to “Shat­ner Claus The Christ­mas Al­bum” by Wil­liam Shat­ner.

De­liv­ered in spo­ken word, the man who played Cap­tain Kirk takes on clas­sics like “Silent Night,” ‘’Blue Christ­mas” and “Feliz Navi­dad” on an al­bum that fea­tures a di­verse group of guest artists, in­clud­ing Brad Pais­ley, Iggy Pop and Judy Collins.

Then there’s Henry Rollins, just in case you want a lit­tle bit of thrash to go with “Jin­gle Bells.” Or maybe Jethro Tull front­man Ian An­der­son play­ing lute while Shat­ner speaks the word to “Sil­ver Bells” is more your thing.

What­ever you de­cide, one thing is for sure - this is one of the most unique al­bums for the hol­i­day sea­son. - John Carucci (twit­ter.com/JaCarucci)


There are more than enough recorded ren­di­tions of the sea­son’s stan­dard reper­toire, from “Silent Night” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Rein­deer.” So it’s a Christ­mas bless­ing that Rod­ney Crowell has opted for all-orig­i­nal ma­te­rial on his irst al­bum cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day.

His songs tend to­ward the “Grandma Got Run Over” end of the spec­trum, as his wry hu­mor spreads ir­rev­er­ent Christ­mas cheer. The open­ing “Cle­ment’s Lament (We’ll See You in the Mall)” is wor­thy of Tracey Ull­man, and the Spike Jones-in­spired ti­tle cut is just as funny thanks to a dream in­ter­lude and such po­etic cou­plets as, “Christ­mas out the waz ... Christ­mas up the schnoz.”

Crowell of­fers a mix of mu­si­cal styles, from coun­try­poli­tan and jump blues to gypsy jazz. He does the bah-hum­bug bit on “Let’s Skip Christ­mas This Year” and the pow­er­ful “Christ­mas In Vi­dor,” and there are sev­eral bal­lads about ro­mance on the rocks and the re­sult­ing hol­i­day blues.

But he ends with the cheery “All for Lit­tle Girls & Boys,” as Crowell and his young daugh­ters sing on a cas­sette record­ing from the early 1980s - a gift from Christ­mas past. - Steven Wine (twit­ter.com/Steve_Wine)


If you have a juke box by the Christ­mas tree or want to ex­pe­ri­ence the feel­ing, Mitch Ry­der’s your man. He keeps songs un­der three min­utes, ac­cen­tu­ates the beat and primes a dozen Yule­tide fa­vorites for a bit of Christ­mas danc­ing.

The Mo­tor City le­gend’s style (no sur­prise here) is founded on the sounds of the Six­ties - rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues and soul - and enough en­ergy to light up all your sea­sonal or­na­ments.

Ry­der, who’s made some al­bums since his glory years with Detroit Wheels that are well worth track­ing down, sings some of the in­evitable hol­i­day fa­vorites in the rock and pop canon like “Blue Christ­mas,” ‘’Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and Dar­lene Love’s “Christ­mas (Baby Please Come Home).”

But you’ll also find some Mo­town sounds like “What Christ­mas Means to Me” and a hid­den 1965 gem in The Son­ics’ boom­ing “Santa Claus.”

Ry­der’s voice is of­ten ragged and he cov­ers the un­for­tu­nate “Grandma Got Run Over By a Rein­deer,” but Jackie DeShan­non’s “Put A Lit­tle Love In Your Heart” is a great closer to a kind of Christ­mas record you rarely hear these days. - Pablo Gorondi (twit­ter.com/ PabloGorondi)


Michael McDon­ald is no new­comer to the Christ­mas al­bum genre. He’s recorded two orig­i­nal discs while also putting tracks from those records on compilations with the ad­di­tion of a new song or two.

“Sea­son of Peace” be­longs in the lat­ter cat­e­gory, com­ple­ment­ing tunes from records re­leased in 2001, 2005 and 2009 with an in­stru­men­tal ver­sion of “Win­ter Won­der­land” fea­tur­ing ukulele wiz Jake Shimabukuro.

If you don’t have any of the pre­vi­ous of­fer­ings, “Sea­son of Peace” is a good hol­i­day choice, as the in­ti­macy and warmth of McDon­ald’s voice is well suited to the Christ­mas cat­a­log of stan­dards like “God Rest Ye Merry Gen­tle­men,” ‘’O Holy Night” and “Have Your­self A Merry Lit­tle Christ­mas.”

“Ev­ery Time Christ­mas Comes Around,” which he co-wrote, sounds like the Doo­bie Broth­ers with the Earth, Wind & Fire horn sec­tion. Other tracks McDon­ald co-wrote - such as “Peace” (writ­ten with Beth Nielsen Chap­man), “To Make a Mir­a­cle” and “Christ­mas on the Bayou” - add a va­ri­ety of styles and tones to the fes­tive spirit and help make the com­pi­la­tion a wor­thy op­tion. - Pablo Gorondi (twit­ter.com/ PabloGorondi)


English pop star Jessie J of “Bang Bang” fame shows off her jazzy side and a very se­ri­ous abil­ity to tackle stan­dards on her first hol­i­day al­bum, “This Christ­mas Day.” It’s ut­terly charm­ing - and ut­terly un­mem­o­rable.

The tal­ented song­writer and singer ’s voice lut­ters beau­ti­fully over clas­sics like “Let It Snow,” ‘’White Christ­mas” and “Silent Night” with­out do­ing any­thing dif­fer­ent or in­ter­est­ing to them. It’s overly re­spect­ful, as zesty as eggnog.

These songs have been done to death and ev­ery­one has their fa­vorite ver­sions. While Jessie J proves yet again she’s an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated artist, she’s hardly dis­lodged, say, Brenda Lee from own­ing “Rockin’ Around the Christ­mas Tree.”

Two duets - “Win­ter Won­der­land” with Boyz II Men and “The Christ­mas Song” fea­tur­ing Baby­face - are high­lights, as is her nicely fresh take on “Jin­gle Bells,” which she nicely owns. But let’s face it: This is mostly back­ground mu­sic while we wait for Elvis or Si­na­tra or Mariah to show up. - Mark Kennedy (twit­ter.com/ KennedyTwits)


If you could only choose one new al­bum to min­gle in with the clas­sics at your hol­i­day party, you could do a lot worse than the Mav­er­icks’ “Hey! Merry Christ­mas!” It’s the sound of a great band with a unique style lean­ing into the hol­i­day sea­son with gusto.

The Mav­er­icks have evolved in all the right ways over the years ad­ven­tur­ous, am­bi­tious and not bound by for­mu­laic think­ing. Led by Raul Malo’s dy­namic vo­cals, they pour folk, swing, jazz, rock­a­billy and Latin sounds into one big pot of gumbo.

And it turns out their hol­i­day stew has some kick.

This col­lec­tion in­cludes eight orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions and two fa­mil­iar tunes, both far enough from heavy ro­ta­tion to it in well here: “Christ­mas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Happy Hol­i­day.”

And while some of the new songs sound de­riv­a­tive - you’ll hear echoes of Spring­steen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” on “Santa Does,” for ex­am­ple - the com­mon el­e­ment is fun.

No gim­micks or fak­ery here - just straight-ahead party songs made-to-or­der for the party sea­son. - Scott Stroud (twit­ter.com/Scot­tStroud1)


En­gel­bert Humperdinck seems like a nat­u­ral choice for fre­quent col­lec­tions of Christ­mas songs, but “Warm­est Christ­mas Wishes” is his irst in nearly four decades.

Last year ’s “The Man I Want to Be” showed the now 82-year-old singing with gusto and up­dat­ing his reper­toire with songs from Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran. Here he doesn’t come so near to the present, cov­er­ing Chris Rea’s “Driv­ing Home for Christ­mas” and Gil­bert O’Sul­li­van’s “Christ­mas Song (I’m Not Dream­ing of a White Christ­mas)” and the ar­range­ments stay close to the “hol­i­days with strings” sort. One ex­cep­tion is an un­ex­pected in­stru­men­tal ver­sion of “White Christ­mas,” which sways gen­tly in Django Rein­hardt-Stephane Grap­pelli mode.

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