Yule tunes set the season with old done new again

Every season has its crop of old holiday songs made new again by current (and often past) pop stars. This year is no exception, though this seems an especially contemplative one. This yearís new holiday tunes come largely courtesy of Columbia Records from Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, swing jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.


Steve Tyrell
This Time of the Year

Tyrellís vocal delivery falls somewhere between the cool swing of Frank Sinatra and the gravelly joy of Ray Charles on this collection of a dozen holiday standards. Opening with a snazzy, horn-frolicking finger snapper of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Tyrell also gives readings to "Winter Wonderland," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Christmas Song," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, Let It Snow!" and "Here Comes Santa Claus," among others. The big band arrangements are solid, if not groundbreaking, and Tyrellís bluesy drawl gives an edge to the otherwise elevator ready music.


Barry Manilow - A Christmas Gift of Love Barry Manilow
A Christmas Gift of Love

Manilow opens his first holiday album with a nicely low-key guitar strummed version of "Winter Wonderland," before his department-store-ready melding of "Happy Holiday/White Christmas" kicks in with a schmaltzy orchestra. He redeems himself with a Dixieland-tinged big band version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and then rolls into an easy jingling "Home for the Holidays." Even with the overly manicured orchestra, Manilow manages to bring out the inherent melancholy in "Iíll Be Home For Christmas." He also commits the cardinal sin (in my book) of covering "My Favorite Things," a song from The Sound of Music which has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with ChristmasÖyet people keep putting it on Christmas albums! The crooner also puts in solid appearances on the lilting "The Christmas Waltz" and Joni Mitchellís always moving "River."


Chris Botti - December Chris Botti

Cool jazz trumpeter Chris Botti offers a nicely mellow, sometimes melancholy album of instrumental standards in December. In mid-album, after soothing slices of "The Christmas Song" and "The First Noel," Botti steps up to the microphone to perform a quiet croon on the discís one non-standard — the Cynthia and Richard Marx composition, "Perfect." Marx also backs him up towards the end of the album on another singing spurt on the blue jazz of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." But for the most part, he (and his trumpet) stick with non-vocal, crisp, background renditions (with orchestral accompaniment) of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Winter Wonderland," ""Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night" and more.

This is a late night, after all the relatives have left and the kids have gone to bed "winding down" holiday CD.


Lorie Line & Her Pop Chamber Orchestra
Sharing the Season Vol. 4
(Time Line Productions)

Lorie Lineís popular Holiday concert tour isnít headed through Chicago this year, but you can pick up her latest upbeat renditions of holiday season classics on this CD through www.loriline.com. Sharing the Season Volume 4 pairs the pianist with a tightly orchestrated big band that includes horns, saxophone, flutes, drum, bass and some back porch strings (fiddle, banjo, mandolin). The result is a fast-paced heartland Americana smorgasboard with flavors of swing, jazz, country and ragtime through "Winter Wonderland," "Joy To the World," "Toyland," "Rockiní Around The Christmas Tree," "Jingle Bells" and "Sleigh Ride," (the arrangement of which actually takes a unique minor key twist in one section). Thereís also one guest vocal appearance by Robert Robinson on "Let There Be Peace on Earth." This is a well-done bit of background music for the family festivities that keeps the energy festive, without being overpowering. Nicely done.


Johnny Mathis - The Christmas Album Johnny Mathis
The Christmas Album

Johnny Mathis offers what sounds like the recording of a TV Christmas special on The Christmas Album. There are full-voiced choirs of carolers who sound left over from another era singing behind him, along with dramatic orchestra arrangements. Mathisí voice still sounds delicately strong, as he leads the whole crew through "Joy To The World," "Away In A Manger," "Frosty The Snowman," "Iíve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" and more. Itís all pretty schmaltzy, but if youíre over 40, and a Mathis fan, youíll love it.


Josh Groban - In Concert Josh Groban
In Concert

Itís not all Christmas music, but for those with a more spiritual operatic bent, the vibrant-voiced Groban offers a live album (with an accompanying DVD) that features seven inspirational pieces from his PBS special, as well as a moving studio recording of "O Holy Night." The live tracks include a stirring duet with Angie Stone on the Andrea Bocelli/Celine Dion operatic hit "The Prayer," and the religious "Jesu Joy of Manís Desiring" features violinist Lili Haydn. Other tracks include "Un Amore Per Sempre," "Alejate," "Browken Vow" and "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)." The DVD offers an hour and a half of video footage of those songs and more.