Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmas album roundup 2018

If you’re looking for some fresh festive music to help set the mood for your party, tree trimming, wrapping presents, baking cookies or other activities, here are some new Christmas release suggestions…

The Mavericks
Hey! Merry Christmas
(Thirty Tigers/Mono Mundo)

In 2007, Raul Malo, front man for The Mavericks, put out a solo album called Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites. It was one of the best seasonal albums of that year. So, it’s no surprise that Malo has come up with another winner alongside the band. 

Hey! Merry Christmas! contains eight eclectic and memorable blues, jazz and swing-styled originals, plus a pair of old classics - “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Happy Holiday.” The musicians colored them with organ, mellotron, glockenspiel and Tubular bells. Regular Mavericks touring horn section/backing vocalists The Fantastic Five, saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band) and noted singers The McCrary Sisters all joined the quartet in the studio.

Standouts include the fun, upbeat opener “Christmas Time Is (Coming ‘Round Again),” bolstered by Malo’s rich voice, the jaunty and sax-fueled “Santa Does,” romantic Tex-Mex of “It’s Christmas Without You” and “I Have Wanted You (For Christmas).” Then there’s the naughty “Santa Wants to Take You for a Ride,” that’s filled with plenty of double entendres. An extra shout out goes to keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden, who handled the art direction and ultra-cool illustrations by Rik Catlow – reason enough to get the physical version.

JD McPherson
(New West)

The acclaimed roots rock musician from Oklahoma crafted 10 original songs on Socks that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a transistor radio in the 1950s. Opening track “All the Gifts I Need” swings and a chugging “Bad Kid” has some memorable twangy guitar. The humorous jump blues of “Hey Skinny Santa!” describes how Santa needs to gain some weight before Christmas, while the equally amusing slinky title track finds McPherson singing about how socks were “the worst gift I ever got…why’d you waste the paper.” Both are standouts, along with the doo wop vocals, twinkling piano and tasty guitar solo on “Santa’s Got A Mean Machine.” Socks is definitely a keeper.

Eric Clapton
Happy Xmas

For the frequently bluesy Happy Xmas album, old Slowhand chose lesser-known titles co-written by the likes of Sonny James, Anthony Hamilton, Booker T. Jones and others to go along with a half dozen classics (“White Xmas,” “Merry Xmas, Baby”) and a heartfelt original ballad he did with longtime collaborator Simon Climie (“For Love on Xmas Day”).

Clapton dedicated an EDM lite take on “Silent Night” to the late AVICII and his family members contributed vocals. The solid blues of “Xmas Tears,” Dixieland-styled “Xmas in My Hometown” and slinky groove of “It’s Xmas” fare best. The legendary singer/guitarist is joined by ace musicians like drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and bassist Nathan East, a string section and choir. Clapton did the cover art as well.

Diana Ross
Wonderful Christmas Time

This regal 20-track collection includes a handful of selections featuring the London Symphony Orchestra. From the sweeping, jazzy medley of “Sleigh Ride/Jingle Bells,” the sleek, old school styled “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and a few spiritual numbers to the lush cover of Bacharach & David’s “What the World Needs Now,” John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and the Stevie Wonder popularized “Overjoyed,” Wonderful Christmas Time is classy all the way. Just what you’d expect from Ms. Ross.

Aaron Watson
An Aaron Watson Family Christmas
(Big Label)

The neo-traditional country singer, best known for the hits “Outta Style” and “Run Wild Horses” off 2017 album Vaquero, enlisted his wife and young children to help sing on the charming An Aaron Watson Family Christmas. Watson has said it has “a Frank Sinatra on the farm kind of feel; we hope it is something families can enjoy during the holidays for years to come.” Among the selections: “Lonestar Lonely Christmas,” a nod to his Texas roots, “Christmas Time is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the pleasant, violin-led “The Christmas Waltz.”

Also available: Kaskade/Christmas (Columbia) - a deluxe digital version of the popular American house music DJ's 2017 album with four new tracks ("Jingle Bells," "Auld Lang Syne," "Little Town" and "Jesu Parvule"); Mitch Ryder/Christmas Take a Ride (Golden Lane) - The Sixties rocker from Detroit tackles "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and several classics. 

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