Calexico - Seasonal Shift
The duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino issue their first holiday album, and don't expect to hear well-worn chestnuts here. Instead fans are treated to a full album of Calexico-style Christmas, which means there are plenty of nods to stylings of the Southwest and Latin music; the guys even reference drinking mescal in "Hear the Bells." Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno is absolutely adorable singing in Spanish on "Mi Burrito Sabanero," a longtime Christmas favorite throughout Latin America. Calexico also turn in a sublime cover of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" complete with weepy pedal steel. Sure it's a Christmas album but as a Calexico album, Seasonal Shift could easily be enjoyed year 'round.
Tommee Profitt - The Birth of a King
Profitt puts a very dramatic spin on some of the songs in this set of well-known Christmas songs, with the big arrangements of songs like "We Three Kings" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel" sounding like they issue from the heavens itself. Awesome turns from guest vocalists add to the fun; Avril Lavigne handles the vocals on "What Child is This?" while Stanaj is behind the mic on the sedate "Noel (He is Born)" and "O Holy Night" gets a sublime reading as a duet from Tauren Wells and SVRCINA. Profitt's cinematic music beds are perfect vehicles for Christmas dreams and stellar vocals from guests including Nicole Serrano, Brooke, Rachael Lampa, Daniel Saint Black and others.
Mento Buru - East Bakersfield Christmas
Feel like dancing around the tree? Then this six-song EP from Central California's favorite Latin ska band is for you. The group begins the fun with the bouncy "Donde Esta Santa Claus?," a novelty song originally from 1958 that's never sounded better than it does here. Also included is a great reggae version of "What Child is This (Greensleeves)" done as an instrumental and featuring the band's horn section and keys player Jay Smith. And the punk-tinged ska of "Feliz Navidad" will have you rocking like crazy.
Rick Wakeman - Christmas Variations
This is a deluxe reissue of Wakeman's cherished Christmas album that was originally released in 2000. Wakeman's music in general never sounds dated and neither do his renditions of holiday favorites like "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." And the keyboard master even digs deep for rarely-played cuts "Once in Royal David's City" and "Christians Awake Salute the Happy Mourn." Two cuts not available on the original release are appended here, "Amazing Grace" and "Silent Prayer."
David Garfield - Holidays Outside the Box
Renowned composer and keyboards man Garfield brings together a large group of guest players for a set of mostly well-known songs for this jazzy set that kicks off with "Heavenly Peace"/"Silent Night" featuring sax man Ernie Watts. Other guests include players from Pablo Cruise, Santana, Chicago, War, Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band, the Rippingtons, the Yellowjackets and Tom Petty's Heartbreakers so the grooves are sublime and the riffs are note-perfect. Besides the well-known songs in their traditional arrangements, Garfield offers some global music, with the upbeat pop of the Italian-sung "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle" sitting amongst two versions of "Jezuz Malusienki," one in the original Polish and one reimagined with an Afro-Cuban beat. Great listening for a mellow holiday season.
Hamilton Loomis - This Season
Loomis sings, plays guitar and every other instrument except drums and some of the bass parts on this 10-song holiday offering. Splitting the set equally between self-penned cuts and well-known songs, Loomis opens with the funky original "This Season," a cut about healing during the season that certainly taps into the current zeitgeist. Standouts among his other originals are the sweet southern soul of "Everything I Wanted" and "Another South TX Christmas," a rocking slice of Texas country complete with jingle bells and a reference to "Frosty the Snowman." Among the offered everybody-knows-'em cuts are "O Holy Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and the perennial Chuck Berry-associated favorite "Run Rudolph Run."
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