Every year, the recording industry produces more holiday and Christmas albums, figuring that we need something other than the ones we’ve been pulling out of the attic for years with the decorations and tree stand.
Here’s a list of some that have been made fresh for 2011. Most are the same traditional fare in different packaging and arrangements. None surpass classics like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale (the 1958 version). But some deserve a place in a new or expanding collection.
They mean it when they say “various.” The lineup on this 16-track collection (available at a large coffee-serving chain near you) is varied and stellar. So is much of the music: Fiona Apple doing a breathy and sensual version of “Frosty the Snowman”; Julie London, a sultry, jazzy rendition of “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”; the Ronettes, a frothy cover of “Sleigh Ride”; Yo-Yo Ma, a transcendent instrumental version of “Silent Night.” Some are familiar classics (Brenda Lee’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” Elvis Presley’s “White Christmas,” Aretha Franklin’s “Winter Wonderland” and Duke Ellington’s shadowy “Sugar Rum Cherry”). Others fall a bit flat (Death Cab for Cutie’s dour “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and Alison Krauss’ too-pure-and-pretty “Shimmy Down the Christmas Tree”). None beats Bob Dylan’s rollicking accordion-infused version of “Must Be Santa.” And if you haven’t seen the video he made for that song, it’s a must-see on
. (He’s the guy dancing around in the blond wig.)
Michael Buble | ‘Christmas’
The Canadian who has become his own one-man Rat Pack gives 15 well-known Christmas carols and holiday pop tunes (“Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”) some predictable treatments. Bob Rock, former knob-turner for Metallica, co-produced, but it sounds like his cohort David Foster had more influence on a record that is all satin and shine. Shania Twain shows up for a duet on “White Christmas,” and Mexican singer/actress Thalia assists on “Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad,” the grand finale.
‘Glee’ cast | ‘The Music, The Christmas Album, Vol. 2’
The cast of the hit TV musical/drama bounce, bob, waltz and slow-dance through a dozen holiday songs. Two of them are originals (and throwaways); another is a nice take (by Lea Michele) on the Joni Mitchell song “River”; and the rest are a mix of bright-eyed soul, like “Blue Christmas” (Damian McGinty) and cheery, anthemic pop, like the remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a song written 27 years ago to benefit famine relief.
She Him | ‘A Very She Him Christmas’
If you know what these two have been up to previously — concocting wispy and pretty folk-rock tunes — you have a good idea of what goes on over the course of these 12 holiday tunes (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). She Him is TV/film actress-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel and singer/songwriter and guitarist M. Ward. As on their studio records, he steps out of (and down from) his respected place in the world of insurgent folk music to become her underemployed sidekick; she reprises her role as ingénue with a commonly pretty voice, one that knocks gently but doesn’t enter. The results: no sharp edges rendered, no hairpin turns navigated, no turbulence or sudden loss of cabin pressure experienced. Just a carefree ride interrupted by a few moments of room-temperature whimsy.
Justin Bieber | ‘Under The Mistletoe’
Given the news he has made lately, you think he’d want to avoid connoting the notion of being under the mistletoe with anyone but himself. These 12 tracks were built with his brand in mind: lacquered in boy-band pop and soul. Give him (and his producers) credit. It grooves, even when Mariah Carey shows up and throws her voice around.
Chicago | ‘O Christmas Three’
The guest list on this 14-track disc is notable: Dolly Parton (“Wonderful Christmas Time”), Steve Cropper (“Rockin’ and Rollin’ on Christmas Day”), Bebe Winans (“Merry Christmas, Darling” and the duo America (“I Saw Three Ships”), all produced by Phil Ramone. Anyone who still enjoys the latter-day version of the band will have little trouble indulging in its glossy, adult-contemporary vibe.
Mandy Barnett | ‘Winter Wonderland’
Her voice still bears a punch-you-in-the-gut resemblance to Patsy Cline’s, and she shows it a few times here, mostly on the ballads, like “This Time of the Year” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” If those knock your stockings off the mantel, buy her splendid debut album, “I’ve Got a Right to Cry,” now more than 12 years old, and wonder why Nashville hasn’t made her a star.
Scott Weiland | ‘Most Wonderful Time of The Year’
The guy best known as the frontman for the rock bands the Stone Temple Pilots and then Velvet Revolver has stepped into the world of pop crooning, and the results are more subversive than sublime. He gets bonus points for oddball originality, like for the reggae version of “O Holy Night.” But on straight ballads like “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” his voice wobbles and warbles like a karaoke contestant who had too much spiked eggnog.
Carole King | ‘A Holiday Carole’
If you’re intrigued by the notion of her singing through polished, well-arranged versions of some holiday classics (“Do You Hear What I Hear?” “Sleigh Ride,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), subject yourself to these 12 tracks. She can still sing. She can still play. But is doubtful any of the new songs (like the Latin-accented “Christmas in Paradise”), are likely to graduate to holiday-standard status.