Nutcracker, Thor, Mitch Ryder, Engelbert Humperdinck, Reuel

Santa has a big bag full of new holiday releases; here we preview a classic title on vinyl and a handful of CD releases for you.

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Sir Charles Mackerras and the London Symphony Orchestra (180 gram vinyl, 2-LP, Direct Metal Mastering)
Telarc Records presents this audiophile recording of Tchaikovsky's score for the ballet most often performed at Christmastime. The story is populated with elves, gnomes, clowns, gingerbread men who come to life, and of course, fairies. Whether they actually know the name of the piece or not, everyone is familiar with "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy," the delicate piece that's so often lifted for use in holiday television commercials. Not everything here is delicate though, in fact liner notes advise that the cannon shots heard during "The Battle Between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King" can actually damage speakers if played too loud! This recording, made for the 1986 version of the movie, is reissued here for the first time in 20-years.

THOR - Christmas in Valhalla
Unlike many holiday offerings, everything on Christmas in Valhalla is an original song, mostly co-written by THOR front man Jon Mikl Thor and members of his band. "Donner and Blitzen" is a Chuck Berry-style rocker while"It's Christmas Time Again" is a slow, mellow and reflective tale set to the hard rock stylings that THOR is known for. Another highlight is "Not So Little Drummer Boy" which begins with a child's shaky recital of the words to "Little Drummer Boy;" the brief cut ends with an explosive drum solo from Tom Croxton. The set ends with the horror-meets-Christmas of "Cold St. Nick," where Old St. Nick is portrayed as having crossed over to the (very) dark side. Get it here.

Mitch Ryder - Christmas (Take a Ride)
Detroit mainstay Mitch Ryder delivers a set of Christmas favorites under an album title, Christmas (Take a Ride), that plays off the title of one of his biggest hit singles, "Jenny (Take a Ride)." The set starts with a horn-enhanced R&B version of "What Christmas Means to Me" before moving into a loping rhythm for "Blue Christmas," a hope-filled take on Stevie Wonder's antiwar "Someday at Christmas" and a saucy take on "Jingle Bell Rock." The fuzz guitar-filled psychedelia of "Santa Claus" is a highlight as is the rave-up of "Sleigh Ride;" even the hokey singalong "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" sounds good here. Get it here

Engelbert Humperdinck - Warmest Christmas Wishes
Humperdinck has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity lately; his recent The Man I Want to Be album was well received by fans and critics alike. To keep the momentum going, Englebert pops with this Christmas album, his first in 40-years. Smooth vocals and light orchestration are hallmarks of Humperdinck's style, and that sound plays out on classics like "Please Come Home for Christmas" and the answer tune, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "White Christmas" though, with a walking beat and fiddle parts, is a western swing number while "O Tannenbaum" is sung in German before Hump sings part of the song as the English equivalent, "O Christmas Tree." Warmest Christmas Wishes is the perfect listen to accompany a quiet, pre-holiday evening, especially if you're snuggled up with a loved one at the time. Get it here.

Reuel - "First Snow" (Single)
Pianist, composer and producer Reuel has also released an album called First Snow that features familiar cuts like "Silent Night," "Carol of the Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy" but title cut "First Snow" has been released as a single, and it is a stunner. Featuring vocals from Lala Vaughn and orchestration from the Tosca String Quartet, the cut features a delicate arrangement and lyrics about missing loved ones at the holidays. Although the song is sad, it is uplifting to the extent that it focuses on family and reflects the true meaning of Christmas. Get it here

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