Rob Halford, A Prog Rock Christmas, more

Guess who's wearing a Santa cap in this edition of Santa's Jukebox? None other than the metal god himself, Rob Halford! We listen to Rob's new album Celestial and other fun holiday releases.

Rob Halford with Family & Friends - Celestial
Judas Priest front man Rob Halford puts on his Santa cap to present a set of holiday tunes as no one else can! The album begins with the sublime, old school instrumental "Celestial," a nice opening touch but also maybe a device to make fans initially think that the album is going to be entirely laid back. But the cut quickly segues into "Donner and Blitzen," a pummeling and catchy ode to a couple of Santa's reindeer. Halford co-wrote the two cuts and two others, but mostly Celestial presents Rob's metal versions of well-known traditional Christmas songs. With its pounding rhythm and stinging guitar licks, it's likely that fans have never heard "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" rock like it does here; the same goes for Halford's version of "Deck the Halls," his extra-melodic take on "Joy to the World" and the punky "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." There are a couple of familiar moments though, Halford performs "The First Noel" with its traditional arrangement, and "Good King Wenceslas" is also sung in the traditional manner, except that Halford sets the song to an eerie and intriguing melody. Good fun from the metal god and his family and friends here, which includes brother Nigel Halford, sister Sue Halford and nephew Alex Hill who is the son of Judas Priest bass player Ian Hill.

A Prog Rock Christmas - Various Artists
This 13-song set features a who's who of prog stars and begins with Jon Davison's (Yes) "Run with the Fox," a nearly 40-year-old Christmas song written by Yes men Chris Squire and Alan White with Pete Sinfield. Everything here is a highlight, including Steve Morse's (Kansas, Dixie Dregs) instrumental interpretation of "Carol of the Bells," Annie Haslam's (Renaissance) delightful reading of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," Thijs Van Leer's (Focus) take on Jethro Tull's "A Christmas Song" and even actor Malcolm McDowell's amusing rendition of " You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Some of the other performers contributing here are Martin Turner (Wishbone Ash), Kasim Sultan (Utopia), Nik Turner and Simon House (Hawkwind) and Geoff Downes (Asia).

The Imaginaries - Hometown Christmas
If you've been watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel you've probably heard the music of the Imaginaries. Now the duo of Shane Henry (guitar and vocals) and Maggie McClure (keyboards and vocals) have gathered some holiday music they've released in the past, added a few new cuts and released it all as Hometown Christmas. About half of the baker's dozen of songs here are originals, with highlights being the carefree "Happiest of Holidays," the bouncy "Kiss for Christmas," the aching "When I'm Home" and the country Christmas of the title cut. Holiday favorites like "Jingle Bell Rock," "White Christmas," "Merry Christmas Baby," "Christmas Time is Here" and "Up on the Housetop" are included too in this very charming set that's bound to be a holiday favorite.

Putumayo Presents Blues Christmas - Various Artists
Here's a very cool set of yuletide cheer from a great assortment of artists that kicks off on a rollicking note as pianist Charles Brown swings through "Christmas Comes but Once a Year." Other highlights include Kenny Neal's funky take on "I'll Be Home for Christmas," the accordion-driven dance tune "I Don't Want You Just for Christmas" by Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas and a classic reading of "Please Come Home for Christmas" by longtime Rolling Stones keys man Chuck Leavell. Anson Funderburgh, Paul Oscher, Mel Brown and the Homewreckers and Jesse Thomas also appear, and Earl King wraps up the album with hot guitar solos and earthy vocals on the R&B cut "Santa, Don't Let Me Down."

This Warm December, Vol. III - Various Artists
Curated by Brushfire Records owner Jack Johnson, this set is of course mellow, and finds artists like G. Love catching a "Christmas Wave," Adam Topol enjoying an "Old Time Christmas," John Craigie covering John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and Paula Fuga jazzing up the Hawaiian classic "Mele Kalikimaka." Johnson represents with the Christmas Eve predicament of "I Can't Go to Sleep," "New Axe" and the inclusive "Buddha Too" with Mason Jennings. Some of the other acts appearing are ALO, Lebo, Zach Gill, Mimi Naja, Zach Rogue and Bahamas.

Wade Bowen - Twelve-Twenty Five
Bowen's long-stated goal of making a Christmas album comes to fruition and he's done a great job with a selection of favorites both vintage and newer. Along with chestnuts like "White Christmas," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night," Bowen offers interpretations of Merle Haggard's twangy "If We Make it Through December" with guest Cody Canada, George Michael's "Last Christmas," Mariah Carey's joyous "All I Want for Christmas" and Dolly Parton's story of the origin of Christmas, "Once Upon a Christmas."

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters - Christmas on a Greyhound Bus
Platt and her three-piece band offer a five-song EP here with three covers and two original tunes. The effort begins with a take on Willie Nelson's somber "Pretty Paper" but the sound moves to Bakersfield for "Santa Looked a Lot like Daddy," the classic Buck Owens/Don Rich co-write. The third cover is not a Christmas song but it fits the oeuvre in sentiment; Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding." "Christmas on a Greyhound Bus," one of Platt's originals, shows her prowess at songwriting while her other original "One for the Ages" demonstrates her respect for the sounds of traditional country music.

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