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CD Reviews:
12 Discs of Christmas add musical merriment to the holiday season
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

» See more SOUND CHECK

It's the time of the season for ... music.



From prayers to pop songs, the winter holidays are traditionally accompanied by sounds, and a new group of songs every year. Our appetite for multiple versions of "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock" never shows signs of abating — as evidenced by all those cable and satellite stations dedicated to holiday tunes and commercial outlets that turn their playlists over to Christmas music, 24-7, well before Thanksgiving.



Each year brings another batch of fresh Christmas albums, and 2018 is no exception. But this year has some surprising names (Eric Clapton?!) as well as a greater wealth of brand new material to add to the Christmas canon. Whether any of them become new standards remains to be seen, but while we wait, here are our picks for the 12 Discs of Christmas, 2018 edition.







"Christmas at the Movies" (Sony Classics): Favorites from "The Polar Express," "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Meet Me in St. Louis," the Harry Potter series and more are compiled for this eclectic set.







Eric Clapton, "Happy Xmas" (Surfdog): Maybe this year's most unlikely holiday entry, but a winner that features one new track, "For Love on Christmas Day," an Avicii-memorializing arrangement of "Jingle Bells" and, of course, plenty of hot guitar playing.







Rodney Crowell, "Christmas Everywhere" (New West): A rich voice and sharp songwriting pen allow this Nashville veteran to explore the season in fine fashion, from the heart-rending ("Merry Christmas From an Empty Bed") to the winsome ("When the Fat Guy Tries the Chimney on For Size").







John Legend, "A Legendary Christmas" (Columbia): Legend penned six originals for this 14-track collection, channeling his inner Nat King Cole for a soulful set as warm as a fire log and smooth as good egg nog.



Los Straitjackets, "Complete Christmas Songbook" (Yep Roc): The season always sounds better with some surf instrumentals, and this masked crew has amassed a Christmas catalog that makes delightful annual listening.







The Mavericks, "Hey! Merry Christmas!" (Mondo Mundo): Mavericks to the end, the versatile Americana troupe wrote 10 originals for its holiday cheer, blending romantic and rowdy sides of the season into a potent sonic stocking stuffer.







JD McPherson, "Socks" (New West): Eleven brand new songs here, too, a bit more comically sour than sweet as the title, and hysterical cartoon cover, might indicate.



Ingrid Michaelson, "Songs For The Season" (Cabin 24): Michaelson goes old school with the sound of her first full-length Christmas album, with a solid corps of guest (including actor and boyfriend Will Chase) and an original, "Happy, Happy Christmas," that'll keep the holiday hankies soaked with tears.



The Monkees, "Christmas Party" (Rhino): As on 2016's "Good Times!," the simian songsters get top-shelf help from Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, XTC's Andy Partridge, Adam Schlesinger and even featuring the late Davy Jones with some vocals from the vault.



Old 97's, "Love the Holidays" (ATO): It took nearly 25 years, but the Americana quartet has finally entered the fray with buoyant covers and a handful or originals, including the title track and the smile-inducing "Rudolph is Blue."



Pentatonix, "Christmas Is Here!" (RCA): The a capella sensations return to the holiday well for a third time, covering a wide range from "The Nutcracker" to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and even, oddly, "The Prince of Egypt."



William Shatner, "Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album" (Cleopatra): He's still not Pavarotti, and never will be, but Shatner knows how to throw a one-of-a-kind holiday party with a great guest list — including Iggy Pop, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, Todd Rundgren and more.



Further Listening : David Archuleta, "Winter in the Air" (Shadow Mountain); Brian Setzer Orchestra, "Christmas Rocks! Live" (Surfdog); Jim Brickman, "On a Winter's Night: The Songs and Spirit of Christmas" (Green Hill); Lauren Daigle, "Behold: A Christmas Collection" (Centricity Music); Dailey & Vincent, "The Sounds of Christmas" (BMG); Il Divo, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Sony Music); Jessie J, "This Christmas Day" (Lava); Mike Love, "Reason For The Season" (BMG); Martina McBride, "It's the Holiday Season" (Broken Bow); Michael McDonald, "Season of Peace: The Christmas Collection" (BMG); The McGuire Sisters, "Seasons Greetings from the McGuire Sisters — The Complete Coral Christmas Recordings" (Real Gone); LeAnn Rimes, "It's Christmas, Eve" (EverLe); Diana Ross, "Wonderful Christmas Time" (Motown); Mitch Ryder, "Christmas" (Goldenlane); Gwen Stefani, "You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Deluxe Edition)" (Interscope); Sufjan Stevens, "Songs For Christmas" (Asthmatic Kitty); Lindsey Stirling, "Warmer in the Winter (Deluxe Edition)" (Concord); Chris Tomlin, "Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship" (sixsteprecords); Various Artists, "A Blue Elan Christmas to Benefit the Alliance for Children's Rights" (Blue Elan); Paul Williams, "Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" (Varese Sarabande)

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