Friday, December 13, 2013

A holiday party primer: Christmas music

By George A. Paul

If you’re looking for fresh Christmas music to liven up your holiday party or tree trimming festivities over the next 12 days, here are some suggestions…

Artist: Nick Lowe
Title: Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family (Yep Roc Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Graham Parker 
Tell me more: The veteran English pub rocker-turned-classy balladeer takes on sharp holiday tunes by Ron Sexsmith, Roger Miller, Roy Wood, plus a few of his own shrewd originals (one was penned with Ry Cooder) and dresses them up in vintage rockabilly and skiffle clothes that sound as if they were recorded at Memphis’ Sun Studio. 
Highlights: “Christmas at the Airport,” “The North Pole Express,” “A Dollar Short of Happy” 

Artist: Erasure 
Title: Snow Globe (Mute Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: OMD, Pet Shop Boys, Sparks 
Tell me more: Co-produced by longtime associate Gareth Jones, the UK synth-pop duo mixes melancholy (“In the Bleak Midwinter”), regal (“Silver Bells”), mid-tempo dance (“Gaudete,” where Andy Bell sings in Latin; the frisky “There’ll Be No Tomorrow”) and bleak (“Blood on the Snow”) tunes with equal aplomb. Musical mastermind Vince Clarke’s plinging noises during the gradual dance rhythm of “The Christmas Song” is especially fun. 
Highlights: “Bells of Love,” “Sleep Quietly,” “Loving Man” 

Artist: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy 
Title: It Feels Like Christmas Time (Savoy Jazz Records) 
You enjoy if you like: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
Tell me more: Scotty Morris and company get into the swing of things with a Hot Club of Cowtown-styled “All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth),” the snazzy Dixieland in  “Frosty the Snowman” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (sung by bassist Dirk Shumaker). Guest vocal trio She, Her & I give the proceedings an Andrew Sisters vibe. Bonus points for including two post-Christmas numbers: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (a laid back duet with Anna Kasper) and the mostly instrumental “Auld Lang Syne,” patterned after a party countdown to midnight. 
Highlight: “Run Rudolph Run” 

Artist: Jewel 
Title: Let it Snow: A Holiday Collection (Trust Fund Baby Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, Joni Mitchell
Tell me more: A decade after her first Christmas CD, the folk/pop artist puts her frothy pipes around the countrified “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” does an adept job on the elegant Latin song “Panis Angelicus,” uses an electronic vocal effect on “Blue Crystal Glow” and corrals Vince Gill to play some electrifying guitar licks during the mild rocker “White Christmas.”
Highlights: “Silver Bells,” the title track 

Artist: Kelly Clarkson 
Title: Wrapped in Red (RCA Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, P!nk
Tell me more: Featuring the Motown-styled pop hit single “Underneath the Tree,” Clarkson has created a jubilant, diverse album with four fine originals. There’s a jazzy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Ronnie Dunn is her duet partner), a reverent “Silent Night” (Reba and Trisha Yearwood share the verses), the rockin’ “Run Rudolph Run” and some dynamic, brassy ballads.
Highlights: “4 Carats,” “Blue Christmas,” “Every Christmas” 

Artists: Alabama, Martina McBride, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, others 
Title: The Classic Christmas Album (Sony Music Entertainment) 
You might enjoy if you like: Any of the artists involved 
Tell me more: This compilation series gathers selected tracks from artists who have put out more than one holiday collection in the past and typically averages 12-16 songs each.

Alabama’s country title is culled from their 1985 classic Christmas (which I play every year) and 1996’s Volume II. McBride’s is mostly sourced off her traditional, classical-flavored 1998 effort White Christmas (and its ‘07 reissue), plus a pair of virtual duets with Elvis Presley and Dean Martin. Diamond goes the chorale route with half of the numbers here. Cash’s come from 1963’s The Christmas Spirit, 1972’s Family Christmas and 1980’s Classic Christmas. The Man in Black is joined by his brother Tommy, wife June Carter and her family, plus the Statler Brothers on songs ranging from spiritual to chorale.

John Denver, Andy Williams, Kenny G, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight & the Pips, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, Barry Manilow round out this series.

Highlights: “Christmas in Dixie,” “Joseph and Mary’s Boy” (Alabama); “Away in a Manger” (McBride); “You Make it Feel Like Christmas” (Diamond); “Blue Christmas,” “Little Drummer Boy (Cash) 

Artist: Dave Barnes 
Title: A December to Remember (50 Year Plan Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: Mat Kearney, Gavin DeGraw 
Tell me more: With a foot in both the Christian and country music worlds, the South Carolina native has written songs alongside Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Billy Currington and more. His second Christmas album adeptly dives into the jazz and R&B realms, with a touch of spiritual for good measure. 
Highlights: “Christmas Eve,” “When Love Was Born” 

Artist: Bad Religion 
Title: Christmas Songs (Epitaph Records) 
You might enjoy if you like: Ramones,  Descendents
Tell me more: This holiday release finds the LA punk stalwarts blitzing through nine-tracks in approximately 20 minutes, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child is This” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” No messing with the usual Bad Religion formula here. Sometimes “loud fast rules” even during the holidays. For the final track, they add a new mix of 1990s alt-rock hit “American Jesus” (I couldn’t tell much different from the original). The band is donating 20 percent of all album proceeds to SNAP - the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. 
Highlights: “Little Drummer Boy,” “Angels We Have on High” 

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