December 5, 2013

Holiday CD Guide 2013: From Johnny Mathis to Bad Religion, artists sing in the key of Christmas

Some are must-haves, others might land in the re-gifting pile.

By Alan Sculley

As in most years, it’s a bountiful season for Christmas music. Here’s a look at the best of the new releases:

"A Mary Christmas" by Mary J. Blige

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"Christmas is Here" by Brandon Heath

Additional Photos Below

Kelly Clarkson: “Wrapped In Red” (RCA Records) – Clarkson’s tendency to over-sing (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “My Favorite Things” and “Every Christmas”). keeps this much-anticipated holiday album from being all it could have been. A couple of original tunes, “4 Carats” and “Just For Now,” are high points. Still, “Wrapped In Red” is a well-intentioned, but overblown effort. – Rating: ★★½

Mary J. Blige: “A Mary Christmas” (Verve/Interscope/Matriarch Records) – Blige has softened her tough, street-wise image so much that she even can make a Christmas album with producer David Foster – king of the big mushy ballad. Foster puts his touch on lushly orchestrated versions of “My Favorite Things,” “The Christmas Song” and “Do You Hear What I Hear.” Blige, though, still shows a little edge on the sassy “This Christmas” and a jazzy “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” – two highlights of this well-executed, well-sung, but safe effort from Blige. – Rating: ★★★ 

Various Artists: “Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas” (EMI Records Nashville) – It turns out the “Duck Dynasty” gang has some musical talent, as “Duck The Halls” is one of the season’s most refreshing and enjoyable holiday albums. “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas” and “Hairy Christmas” show plenty of down-home humor, while Missy Robertson showcases a lovely voice on several tunes. Maybe if this “Duck Dynasty” thing loses its shine, the Robertsons will have a future in Nashville. – Rating: ★★★½

Leona Lewis: “Christmas, With Love” (RCA Records) – The British singer (and 2006 winner of “The X Factor”) successfully puts a Motown spin on “White Christmas,” “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” and the originals “Mr. Right“ and “One More Sleep,” creating an album that should be a holiday favorite for years to come. – Rating: ★★★★ 

Jewel: “Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection” (Somerset Group) – Jewel has a couple of twangy moments on “Let It Snow,” but mostly sticks with a oft-done pop template. Still, her singing is easy on the ears and a few creative touches (especially on “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”) elevate this pleasing collection. – Rating: ★★★½

Susan Boyle: “Home For Christmas” (Columbia/Syco Music) – The voice that floored all of England on “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009 is back with her second Christmas album, “Home For Christmas.” Boyle’s voice is still special, but some predictable and stodgy production does her no favors here. – Rating: ★★★ 

Bad Religion: “Christmas Songs” (Epitaph Records) – The punk veterans put a charge into the holidays, rocking through eight holiday standards in a crisp 19 minutes. – Rating: ★★★★ 

Johnny Mathis: “Sending You a Little Christmas” (Columbia Records) – One of the classic voices of Christmas, Mathis duets with Billy Joel, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan and Susan Boyle on a satisfying sixth holiday album of his storied career. – Rating: ★★★½

Brandon Heath: “Christmas Is Here” (Reunion Records) – One of Christian music’s rising stars, Heath does the expected parcel of Christmas hymns, but happily he also shows a lighter side, poking fun at the earlier-by-the-year arrival of the Christmas shopping season on “The Day After Thanksgiving” and remembering one of the most wondrous parts of being a kid on “Momma Wouldn’t Lie To Me.” – Rating: ★★★ 

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Additional Photos

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"Christmas Songs" by Bad Religion

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"Sending You a Little Christmas" by Johnny Mathis

Courtesy photos

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"Wrapped in Red" by Kelly Clarkson

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"Christmas with Love" by Leona Lewis

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"Duck the Halls: A Roberson Family Christmas"



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