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Brian Setzer Orchestra- Earth, Wind & Fire- Celtic Thunder- Astrocolor

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Ho, ho, ho music lovers! It's that time of year again, time to break out some holiday hits and seasonal sounds! Here are a few of our choices to put a little extra merry in your year-end festivities.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Rockin' Rudolph

Surfdog

Setzer and company have been touring their holiday show for more than a decade now and they've put out three holiday-themed albums prior to this one. Are they out of material? Hardly! The big band comes out swinging hard with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" before launching into an unexpected treat with "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide," an adaptation of the theme from the old television cartoon show "The Flintstones" that features a very jazzy guitar solo from Setzer and a dinosaur-rocking horn section; you almost expect Setzer to shout "Wilma!" at song's end. "Rockabilly Rudolph" treads on the edge of psychobilly while "Here Comes Santa Claus" has a big dose of Stray Cats involved; "Little Jack Frost" is a saucy strut where the big band's female backing vocalists take the lead and, in light of their cold tootsies, tell the song's title character to "get lost!" The 12-song set closes with an extended jam on "Yabba-Dabba Yuletide." Order it on CD, vinyl and digitally here.

Astrocolor
Lit Up: Music for Christmas

Last Gang

The band refers to the music on this album as "Christmas deconstructed" and their reimagining here of a set of well-known holiday tunes as jazzy chill-out is nothing short of spectacular. A few cuts like "Sugar Plums" and "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" are (basically) instrumentals but other cuts like "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "We Three Kings" feature guests vocalists (Antonia Freybe-Smith and Abi Rose respectively) and the ladies bring an underlying sensuality to the songs that they don't normally hold. The great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz is an acknowledged influence of Astrocolor and there are lots of equally sensual sax lines here courtesy of Anand Greenwell. Lit Up is in fact so candy cane-cool that there's no reason not to keep it spinning well after the tinsel has been put away. Preview and purchase here.

Earth, Wind & Fire
The Classic Christmas Album

Legacy

A handclap-filled, sing-it-to-the-heavens version of "Joy to the World" opens this generous 18-song collection and favorites like "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "The First Noel" and "The Little Drummer Boy" get buoyant interpretations too. But fans may be most interested where the band colors outside traditional lines, like with their own percolating "Happy Seasons," the sublime, Japanese-flavored pop of "Snow" with guest singer Jasmine Lee and the funky "Get Your Hump on This Christmas" which oddly enough features the voice of cartoon character Cleveland Brown ("The Cleveland Show") on lead vocals. Additional cuts come not from EWF but from the EWF family; Philip Bailey performs "I Asked for a Miracle (God Gave Me You)" with Full Force and Maurice White contributes "Open Your Heart to Love." Get it here.

Celtic Thunder
The Classic Christmas Album

Legacy

Some of the songs presented here are more Celtic than others; "Gaudete" for example has a distinct Irish "old sod" flavor to it while accents are barely noticeable on cuts like "Carol of the Bells." Accents or not, the idea here is to enjoy the voices of the six male soloists, often blended in stunning harmony as they are on stand-outs including takes on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a swinging five-song medley of "Sleigh Ride," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Get it here.

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