Sounds of the season
Check out our guide to festive listening pleasures for the holidays
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”
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”
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”
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”
“Happy Xmas,” a holiday album by Eric Clapton.
“Wonderful Christmas Time,” a holiday album from Diana Ross.
“A Legendary Christmas,” a holiday album by John Legend.