For sheer beauty, this new recording from the six-man vocal group may be the best release of the season. Lots of familiar tunes like "Away in a Manger," "Carol of the Bells" and "Oh Holy Night" are included as are lesser heard songs like "Mary Did You Know?," "Gaudete" and Gustav Holst's "In the Bleak Mid-Winter." The lads close out the album with a big surprise too as they reimagine the Pogues'
"Fairytale of New York."
Front Porch Step
This four-song EP from Front Porch Step is an acoustic effort that actually only includes one holiday song, a version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But this guy (Front Porch Step is a solo project of Jake Mcelfresh) is a fast-rising star who has over a million plays on YouTube and if you like the sedate seasonal song then you may find the other selections, all with a bit of a punk attitude to them, also to your liking.
The title of this album refers to 30-years of Christmas and 40-years of Fresh Aire and Mannheim Steamroller main man Chip Davis can't resist, in the CD liner notes, taking a gentle dig at the naysayers (many of whom, he notes, are long gone) who said the project "would never work." But Mannheim Steamroller has long been as much a Christmas tradition as spiked egg nog, and here they present with their usual flair a 16-song set that includes the synth-rocking "Deck the Halls," a sultry take on "Greensleeves" sung by Davis's teenaged daughter, "Faeries" from The Nutcracker and some unexpected treats like the Alan Parsons-like "Dancing Flames."
Never Mind the Baubles
Small Bear is a label based on The Isle of Man and many of the artists representing here are homegrown Manx performers like Harmony Dischord who channel Nick Lowe on "Ghosts," the female-fronted Postcode who check in with "Some Things Never Change" and Nanaki who add some experimental noises to their instrumental take on "Auld Lang Syne." Schizo Fun Addict, Honeyfuzzmole, Club K and the Proctors are among the non-Manx performers contributing and any compilation that includes "Happy Christmas (Alan McGee is an Arse)" by the Bordellos has gotta be worth owning. Downloads are available from Small Bear on a "pay what you want" basis so you can score a pretty good sampler for a few quid. Get it here.
Molto Groovy Christmas
The idea here is that familiar Christmas tunes are reimagined as if they were a soundtrack to an Italian movie circa the late 1960s. And the premise works very nicely as songs like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Joy to the World" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" are dressed up with funky organ grooves, layers of psych guitar and finger-popping percussion. The treatment makes the record so much fun that you could enjoy it any time of year but if you want to have the coolest yule you've had in a long time then this one is for you.
The Classic Christmas Country Album
The big stars come out for this hillbilly holiday hoedown featuring Sweethearts of the Rodeo with an acoustic version of "Jingle Bell Rock," a bluegrass rendition of "Christmas Time's A Comin'" by Patty Loveless, Kelly Pickler with a sexy reading of "Santa Baby" and Alabama's twanged-up cover of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Also in a festive mood here are Kenny Chesney with Willie Nelson, Ricochet, Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and other stars.
The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album
This holiday collection is for those who like guitar in the spotlight and all except one track is lifted from the series of "Merry Axemas" releases once available on Epic Records. The "hard rock" title is a bit misleading; the line-up is stacked with hard rock artists but cuts like "Amazing Grace" from Jeff Beck, Alex Lifeson's take on "The Little Drummer Boy" and Steve Vai's interpretation of "Christmas Time is Here" are appropriately sublime and not full of shredding. There are two exceptions though, Ted Nugent's rave-up of "Deck the Halls" and a version of "We Three Kings" by Halford, which is also the only included track that is not an instrumental.
The Classic Christmas Pop Album
Some real gems here, like Karmin's extra sassy take on "Sleigh Ride," the dreamy "She Came Home for Christmas" by Mew and an acoustic version of "Feliz Navidad" by Los Lonely Boys. Among the other contributors to this peppy set are Backstreet Boys, Phantom Planet, New Kids on the Block, Jagged Edge, Big Time Rush, Metro Station and B2K.
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