Sounds of the sea­son

Check out our guide to fes­tive lis­ten­ing plea­sures for the hol­i­days

The Modesto Bee - - Scene Explore Entertainment -

The sea­son of Christ­mas mu­sic is upon us and it’s time to pick out a new col­lec­tion – or two, or three – for your fes­tive lis­ten­ing plea­sure.

Some of mu­sic’s most pop­u­lar artists have come out with new hol­i­day mu­sic col­lec­tions this year for you to choose from. Here’s a col­lec­tion of some of those yule­tide al­bums, re­viewed by the As­so­ci­ated Press:

DIANA ROSS, “WON­DER­FUL CHRIST­MAS TIME”

Ross Records

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.

JOHN LE­GEND, “A LEG­ENDARY CHRIST­MAS”

Columbia Records

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.

ERIC CLAPTON, “HAPPY XMAS”

Bush­branch/Surf­dog 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.

Ku­dos to the 73-year-old Clapton for at least mak­ing it in­ter­est­ing.

THE MONKEES, “CHRIST­MAS PARTY”

Rhino

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”

Bush­branch Records/Surf­dog Records

“Happy Xmas,” a hol­i­day al­bum by Eric Clapton.

Ross Records/UMe

“Won­der­ful Christ­mas Time,” a hol­i­day al­bum from Diana Ross.

Columbia Records

“A Leg­endary Christ­mas,” a hol­i­day al­bum by John Le­gend.

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