Tis the season for … seasonal music!
You could turn on one of those radio stations playing 24/7 Christmas music to get your fix of "Jingle Bells," but I'm kind of a control freak when it comes to my music. I want to hear the holiday tunes I love done by the artists I love … which is why I have a box of a couple of hundred holiday CDs. Every year brings a new crop of both new holiday albums, and reissued oldies.
This year, Columbia Records has unveiled a new disc of classic carols recorded by bubblegum pop star Jessica Simpson on the Rejoyce the Christmas Album, as well as reissued classic '50s and '60s Christmas albums by Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra and Ray Conniff on CD. Plus, there is the Manhattan Transfer's 1992 release, appropriately titled The Christmas Album.
Reprise Records also has issued a Frank Sinatra holiday album. The Christmas Collection is a compilation of songs Sinatra recorded for the label in the '60s and '70s, as well as a couple of rare, near-forgotten gems he recorded in the '50s (with Bing Crosby) and in 1991. The latter, a recording of "Silent Night," never was previously released because Sinatra was audibly weak and tired when the recording session occurred. But the supplement of an orchestra to rebuild the song, helps make the tremulous nature of his vocals particularly heartfelt and moving.
Mercury has re-released Hanson's 1997 pop-rock Christmas album Snowed In as The Best of Hanson: The Christmas Collection, an upbeat collection of classics such as "Merry Christmas Baby," "Little Saint Nick" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," along with a couple of Hanson original holiday tunes.
Rhino Records has pulled together a new Soulful Sounds of Christmas collection, featuring previously released holiday anthems from New Edition, En Vogue, Boyz II Men, Yolanda Adams, Run D.M.C., Babyface, Usher, Whitney Houston and more.
And Rhino also has paired with Warner to reissue Emmylou Harris' 1979 holiday release, Light of the Stable, with three new tracks from the country singer.
This year, we also have three soundtracks on the shelves that spotlight both new and old holiday recordings. The Hollywood Records release of Christmas With the Kranks opens with the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)," slips into a classic '60s girl group sound, merged with punk guitars, on the Charms' "Frosty the Snowman," and then offers the Raveonettes' slick, reverb-drenched version of "The Christmas Song." Later, the Butties rip off an early Beatles song to provide the backing music for a rearrangement of "Joy to the World," and the Brian Setzer Orchestra turns its swing sights on "The Nutcracker Suite." The disc also includes Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" and Brenda Lee's "Jingle Bell Rock."
Warner Bros. offers a hip collection of songs from up-and-comers like Rooney, Ben Kweller and Jimmy Eat World, from the Fox TV show "The O.C." in Music From The OC: Mix 3 Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah. The disc opens with the Raveonettes' "The Christmas Song" (which also appears on the Kranks disc), and then offers Jimmy Eat World's upbeat guitar revamp of Wham!'s synthesizer classic "Last Christmas" (originally released in 2002). Rooney and Leona Naess each offer songs they recorded for last year's holiday season, and there are also songs from Low, the Long Winters and Eels.
The soundtrack to the Tom Hanks holiday film "The Polar Express" features Hanks on the fun big band swing song "Hot Chocolate," but focuses on classic holiday recordings from the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Bing Cosby and Perry Como. There are also some nice orchestral tracks from composer Alan Silvestri, and a soaring ballad from opera heartthrob Josh Groban. There is one great moment for the rock crowd; Aerosmith's Steven Tyler scats his way through a manic rock-swing orchestra recording of Glen Ballard and Silvestri's "Rockin' on Top of the World."
ultimate boxed set
Over the past couple of decades, there have been periods of popularity for various holiday songcrafters. In the '80s, the Very Special Christmas albums featured a variety of classic rock artists interpreting classic Christmas songs. Then it was a series of Mannheim Steamroller albums that captured the pop ear for the holidays with its innovative mix of New Age and Renaissance instrumentation.
Over the past few years, the season has been marked by two groundbreaking holiday releases from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a shifting artistic collective organized by rock producer Paul O'Neill, which includes, at its core, the members of hard-rock group Savatage. The group's first CD, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, was released in 1996 and featured the seasonal hit "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24." In 2002, the group issued The Christmas Attic that featured a stirring vocal arrangement of the "Christmas Canon" among other beautiful and hard-rockin' holiday themes.
This year, TSO has unveiled its third holiday offering, The Lost Christmas Eve. (The band has issued only one non-holiday disc, 2000's Beethoven's Last Night).
Like the TSO Christmas CDs that went before, The Lost Christmas Eve disc offers an energetic mix of orchestral strings, horns and percussion, melded with stirring piano and rock-guitar work, and operatic vocals to tell a heartwarming story of a Christmas saved.
Included are renditions of "Sleigh Ride," "What Child Is This?" "O Come All Ye Faithful" and a number of other holiday themes reorganized and integrated into original holiday rock music by the TSO.
All three albums are also available in a boxed set, which includes a booklet that tells the "story" behind the collage of classic and original Christmas song themes (each album is based on a story about a night of Christmas salvation).
The boxed set also comes with The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, a 47-minute DVD that tells its own story — of a runaway girl who finds salvation from the caretaker of an old theater. The caretaker brings to life a rousing performance on the theater's stage of many of the TSO's classic holiday arrangements, featuring narrator Ossie Davis and performances from Michael Crawford, Jewel and more. It also manages to weave in the band's popular video for "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," without losing the thread of the DVD's story line.