Joy: A Holiday Collection
Jewel doesn't always seem very emotionally invested in these holiday classics, which may be in part because her voice is better suited to selling folk songs than fronting a full orchestra, as in the disc's leadoff track "Joy to the World." She also hasn't managed to write a new Christmas song (usually a mandatory exercise for a pop star's first holiday disc), but instead adds Christmas bells and instruments to two spiritual but not holiday-specific Jewel originals.
On the traditional side, she does best on "O Holy Night," and also offers "Silent Night," "Ave Maria," "Winter Wonderland," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and a gospel medley of "Go Tell It on the Mountain," "Life Uncommon" and "From a Distance." She includes a version of her hit "Hands" that has been re-recorded with a Christmas-y orchestra and choral backgrounds, but remains otherwise lyrically unchanged. The disc also features "Face of Love," a new Jewel song which isn't exactly Christmas-oriented, but it is religious. The simply harmonized chorus proclaims "For I have seen/the face of love/the grace of God, the face of love."
A Christmas Album
The Broadway singer brings a Broadway feel to this collection of familiar carols. His breathy tenor makes each selection on this disc sound (sometimes overly) dramatic. Included are orchestral backed arrangements of "The Very Best Time of the Year/It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Silent Night," "Scarlet Ribbons," "Angels We Have Heard on High/Joy to the World," and a medley called "A Journey to Bethlehem" that includes "Unto Us a Child Is Born," "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "The Coventry Carol," "We Three Kings," "I Saw Three Ships," "Away in a Manger" and more.
Point of Grace
A Christmas Story
If you like your Christmas music both religious and orchestral and yet sweetly pop-flavored, then Christian artists Point of Grace have the Christmas album for you. A group of four women who harmonize sweeter and brighter than Wilson Phillips, their Christmas album offers "Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Sleigh Ride," "Carol of the Bells, " "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," along with new Christmas hymns written by Chris Eaton, Brent Bourgeois and Jeff and Gayla Borders with Lowel Alexander. It's a warm, uplifting celebratory album with plenty of heart and a heavenly dose of harmony.
My Christmas Album
The first track on this disc is a funky blues bit by Rahsaan Patterson called "Christmas at My House," then K-Ci & Jojo do a soul-heavy blues slide on "Merry Christmas Baby," and Avant offers the downer dose of "Christmas Came to the Ghetto." You get the idea — this is something of a downbeat urban Christmas, with a mix of old and new songs. Patti LaBelle offers "That's What Christmas Is to Me," Mary J. Blige sings a hopeful "no war" song in "Someday at Christmas," and Aaron and Damion Hall croon a soulful "The First Noel" (marred by the background male chorus singers sound like they're all holding their noses as they sing "noel"). Cherokee closes it out with a "yo" funky version of "Little Drummer Boy."
While there aren't that many Christmas albums out this year by big-name stars — Jewel, Natalie Cole, Ringo Starr, Kenny G and Rosie O'Donnell (reviewed here last week) are really the "Christmas stars" of 1999 — there are a host of Christmas collections filled with the recordings of the past.
First Christmas Record for Children is an older compilation that has been reissued with extra tracks on the Columbia Legacy label, and it features holiday classics mainly from the '50s. Included are Doris Day's "Here Comes Santa Claus," Jimmy Boyd's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Mitch Miller's "Frosty the Snowman," Rosemary Clooney's "Suzy Snowflake," Arthur Godfrey's "Jingle Bells" and more.
In a similarly classic vein, Hip-O Records offers Santa's Greatest Hits, which lives up to its title. This collection includes Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," Autry's omnipresent "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Boyd's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Burl Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas," Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," the Chipmunks' "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."
Rhino Records, which must have put together a couple of dozen Christmas collections over the past few years, offers Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas, a collection including Harry Belafonte's "Mary's Boy Child," Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Mahalia Jackson's "Silent Night, Holy Night," Crosby's "White Christmas," Autry's "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Johnny Mathis' "Carol of the Bells," Andy Williams' "Do You Hear What I Hear?," Perry Como's "Jingle Bells" and more. Rhino also offers Smooth Grooves, A Sensual Christmas a collection of soulful holiday songs ranging from Isaac Hayes' "The Mistletoe and Me" and the Staple Singers' "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas" to the Impressions' "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Silent Night" and the Jackson Five's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town." Also included are songs from Rufus Thomas, Bill Withers, Ohio Players, Donny Hathaway, the Emotions, the O'Jays and James Brown.
The Motown label offers A Motown Christmas, which compiles a handful of songs each from the Jackson Five, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations. There are also a couple of tracks from Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. The disc offers the Jackson Five singing "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Give Love on Christmas Day," and "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)," Wonder handling "What Christmas Means to Me," "Ave Maria" and "Someday at Christmas," the Temptations singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Little Drummer Boy" and "My Christmas Tree" and Diana Ross & the Supremes performing "My Favorite Things," "Joy to the World," "Silver Bells" and "White Christmas."
Country stars have put together some of the best Christmas albums in recent years, and Hip-O has pulled together some of the best moments from them in All-Star Country Christmas. Included are Randy Travis' "Where My Heart Lives," Reba McEntire's "O Holy Night," Dwight Yoakam's "Santa Can't Stay," Clint Black's "Looking for Christmas," Vince Gill's "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Alan Jackson's "Merry Christmas to Me," Travis Tritt's "Winter Wonderland" and George Strait's "Away in a Manger," among others.
Swing and Jazz for Christmas
Swing has been back in style over the past year, so the Columbia Legacy label has brushed off the old masters to pull together Jingle Bell Swing, a collection of holiday favorites such as "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls" and "Winter Wonderland" performed by Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, Miles Davis, Art Carney, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and more.
The Green Hill label offers a nice Jazz Piano Christmas by the Beegie Adair Trio. If you were having dinner at a swanky hotel on Christmas Eve, this is what you'd expect to hear from the house band. This album features slick lounge piano, laid-back walking bass and brushed drums and a cool jazz take on "Let It Snow," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "The Little Drummer Boy," "Frosty the Snowman," "O Little Town of Bethlehem/When You Wish Upon a Star" and more.
Kenny G offers up Faith: A Holiday Album which is the perfect "post-present-opening" relaxer. G's trademark sax blows cool and clean on these light orchestral run-throughs of "Let It Snow!," "The First Noel," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "O Christmas Tree," "Eternal Light (A Chanukah Song),""Ave Maria" and "Auld Lang Syne." This is Christmas elevator music, but it's ultra smooth and perfect for fireplace listening. The last track is a version of "Auld Lang Syne" which will no doubt be very popular this New Year's Eve — the song features dozens and dozens of "newsreel" type vocal samples from 1900-1999, ranging from famous sayings of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon to clips from events like the first Moon landing and the Hindenburg disaster, to sporting events, television comedy and more.
For the Kids
Rhino Records offers two Dr. Seuss classics on one CD: How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who! The Grinch recording is taken from the classic TV show with narration by Boris Karloff, while "Horton" is also from a late '60s TV special, narrated by Hans Conreid with voices by Chuck Jones and June Foray.
For those kids who can't get enough of Mary-Kate and Ashley, the twins of television's "Full House" fame, the kids have their own Cool Yule disc out on Kid Rhino featuring standard sing-alongs of "Sleigh Ride," "White Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Silent Night," among others.