Here's a look at new Christmas CDs this season:
DANNY ALDERMAN, YOSI AND KEVIN KAMMERAAD; "... And a Happy New Year" (Kids at Our House)
Award-winning children's music artist Danny Adlermann has joined forces with Yosi and Kevin Kammeraad for this little CD that is composed of low-key, rock-and-folk holiday originals such as "Christmas on the Block," "Wintertime Is Here" and "I'm Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica" and remakes of some classics, such as a clap-along version "Deck the Halls," a rocking take on "Frosty the Snowman," funny reworking of "Twelve Days of Christmas," which is newly named "A Pickle for Christmas," and a participatory version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," which is named after the CD's title track. This is fun for the whole family, without patronizing the adult listeners — Scott Iwasaki
DAVID ARCHULETA; "Christmas From the Heart" (Jive/19)
Recording this CD was a good move for Murray's own David Archuleta. The "American Idol" runner-up has not only guaranteed CD sales with this 13-track disc, but he's also given his non-Utah fans a taste of Utah talent. Kurt Bestor, Sam Cardon and Emanuel Kiriakou have all produced songs on this CD. While the songs are strong musically, Archuleta's voice sounds a bit tentative. It may be the fact that most of the songs — including "Joy to the World," "Angels We have Heard On High" and "Silent Night" — are slow and mellow, because when Archuleta picks up the tempo on "Pat-a-pan," the energy picks up as well. Still, fans will love this no matter what. — S.I.
DAVID ARKENSTONE; "Christmas Lounge" (Green Hill)
Contemporary instrumentalist David Arkenstone, famous for his sweeping epic New Age works in the '80s and '90s has found another niche — chill music. This electronic-based Christmas CD is the perfect disc to slip in after a long day. "Angels We Have Heard on High," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and lazy, flowing version of "Carol of the Bells" take new forms with the drifting chill-out lounge sound. — S.I.
JORDAN BLUTH; "Still" (Jumbo).
A popular star of local musical theater and opera, Jordan Bluth has a rich, melodic voice that serves him well on this selection of Christmas songs. Elegant arrangements and full orchestration adds to the enjoyment of such favorites as "Good Christian Men Rejoice," "The First Noel," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" as well as several selections from Michael McLean's "The Forgotten Carols." One for the keeper shelf. — Carma Wadley
ANDREA BOCELLI, "My Christmas' (Decca).
Andrea Bocelli has that gorgeous voice, of course — the one that's been heard from opera and stage all over the world. But what also makes this album fun is the unusual pairings. Bocelli sings duets with Natalie Cole ("The Christmas Song"), Mary J. Blige ("What Child Is This"), the Muppets ("Jingle Bells"), Reba McEntire ("Blue Christmas"), Katherine Jenkins ("I Believe") and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir ("The Lord's Prayer"). Italian's a beautiful language — especially when sung by Bocelli — so the inclusion of several songs in Italian lends an extra touch of elegance. — C.W.
JIM BRICKMAN; "Joy" (Compass Productions)
"Joy" is Jim Brickman's fourth Christmas CD, and not only features his soothing takes on "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Jingle Bells," "What Child Is This" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," it also contains original compositions — "Lights of Christmas," "Shades of White" and "Christmas Waltz" — which mix in with the other traditional works quite nicely. There is also another original, which Brickman co-wrote, called "The Greatest Gift of All (Your Love)." It is performed by Brickman and features Amy Sky and Mark Masri. It is reminiscent of other favorites such as "The Gift," and "Valentine." — S.I.
RODNEY CARRINGTON: "Make It Christmas" (Capitol)
Stand-up comedian, actor and country musician Rodney Carrington adds Christmas to his repertoire with this collection of varied offerings. There are traditional favorites, such as "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas" and "Mary, Did You Know?" He pays a nice tribute to the troops with "Camouflage and Christmas Lights," and he shows a bit of fun attitude with "The Presents Under The Tree (Better Be For Me)." He wraps it up with a nice message in "Presence of Love." — C.W.
JEFF COOK; "Christmas Joy" (Quest)
Jeff Cook has had a stellar career as a member of the country supergroup Alabama. This is his first solo album, and for it he teams up with special guests The Ventures, Mitch Glenn and his wife, Lisa. There are country classics, such as "Please Come Home For Christmas," and Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" and "Run, Run Rudolph." But there's also a touch of pop in songs such as "Rock and Roll Guitar" and "Reggae Santa." The recitation piece, "My First Christmas in Heaven" offers a nice message to anyone who has lost a loved one. — C.W.
CORI CONNORS, "One Small Boy" (Seven Roses Music)
Cori Connors has impressive credentials: performances everywhere from Nashville's Bluebird Cafe to Britain's Liverpool Cathedral; songs recorded by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Chris LeDoux. The Davis County resident also does Christmas well, as evidenced by her latest album, filled with songs that are both lovely and thoughtful, soft and penetrating. There are a few traditional carols: "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Silent Night," "Away In a Manger." There are also originals, such as "One Small Boy," "Mary Holds Him" and "All Good Things." "Yup, I Had One of Those" is a fun trip to an antique store. There's a beautiful version of "Auld Lang Syne" and a sweet rendition of the traditional "Give Me Jesus." The album works as lullabies, as background music and for straight-on listening. — C.W.
CHARLIE DANIELS & FRIENDS; "Joy to the World: A Bluegrass Christmas" (Blue Hat Records)
Infectious downhome spirit, plenty of uptempo beat, generous Southern hospitality and lots of toe-tapping fun are found in this collection of songs such as "Blue Christmas," "Christmas Time's A Comin'," "The Christmas Song" and "Silent Night." Friends include The Grascals, Aaron Tippin, Jewel, Dan Tyminski and Kathy Mattea. There's lots of pickin' and grinnin', but there also a serious side in the recitation of the Christmas story from Luke. And Daniels throws in an original Christmas story at the end about the magic of believing. — C.W.
"CURIOUS GEORGE: A VERY MONKEY CHRISTMAS, MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE" (Denon/Universal)
This soundtrack is taken from the "Curious George" PBS series, and it is the first time that Dr. John's version of the "Curious George" theme is available on CD. With that said, the other kid-friendly songs, written by composer Nick Nolan with a couple featuring lyrics by Joe Fallon, have that childlike draw. "Christmas With a Monkey," "Our Christmas Monkey" and "The Gift Song" are the only ones that contain lyrics, but Nolan also arranged classic Christmas songs such as "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls" and an abbreviated version of "Twelve Days of Christmas." — S.I.
NEIL DIAMOND; "A Cherry Cherry Christmas" (Columbia)
This is Neil Diamond's third Christmas CD. But he pays tribute to his Jewish upbringing with a cover of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song." You read that right. The man who wrote "I'm a Believer" for the Monkees closes the album with "The Chanukah Song." The CD opens with the fun and quirky "Cherry Cherry Christmas." It's not a take on Diamond's rocker "Cherry Cherry" but incorporates select titles of his past hits into a Christmas song. Two original Diamond Christmas songs — "Christmas Dream" and "You Make Feel Like Christmas" — are included among the straightforward tunes such as "The Christmas Song," "White Christmas," a tight a cappella version of "Deck the Halls/We Wish You a Merry Chritmas," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Joy to the World" and "Sleigh Ride." — S.I.
MAMA DONI, "Chanukah Fever" (Mama Doni Productions)
If you're looking for Chanukah music with a little sass, lots of humor and perhaps some stereotypes, you'll find it here. The "13 Macca-beats for the whole family" include such offerings as "Latke Man," "The Legend of Sour Cream vs. Applesauce," "Bubbie's Mi Yimalel" and "I Say Chanukah (You Say Hanukah)." It seems to work for Mama Doni. — C.W.
DUETER; "Celebration of Light" (New Earth)
Wind instrumentalist Dueter's livelihood is recording and performing soothing and healing instrumental music. Taking his talents into the holiday realm not only looks good on paper but sounds good on CD. He has chosen music that he has "found to be both very heartfelt and simple, which has been sung throughout the centuries." Music such as "In Dulci Jubilo," "Greensleeves," "Largo," "Stille Nacht," "Coventry Carol," "Ave Maria" and "Uns Kommt ein Shiff Geladen" ("O Come Emmanuel") translate well into Dueter's wind arrangements. — S.I.
BOB DYLAN; "Christmas in the Heart" (Columbia)
You either like "Christmas in the Heart" or you don't. This reviewer likes it. The reasons are simple. It's a fun and charming CD that harks back to the roots of rock 'n' roll. Also, Dylan enunciates his words so they are understandable. Topping that off, Dylan pulls out all the stops with the track list. There are 15 classic Christmas songs that include "Here Comes Santa Claus," "The Christmas Song," "Siver Bells," "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "Hark the Harold Angels Sing." He also sings the first verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)" in Latin and gets tropical with "Christmas Island." Of course, the CD is fittingly produced by Dylan's alter ego, Jack Frost. — S.I.
LEE GREENWOOD; "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Country Crossing Records)
You've probably heard of Lee Greenwood, the good old country boy. But what about Lee Greenwood, the saxophone player? That's the one that shows up on this Christmas album, and in nice fashion. Some of the uptempo songs, such as "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow," feel a bit rushed, but he offers up nice versions of "Little Drummer Boy" and "He Would Be King." And the all-saxophone "What Child Is This?" is very good. — C.W.
THE HIPWADERS; "A Kindie Christmas" (Hip Kid)
Although recorded for kids, "A Kindie Christmas" appeals to adults. You've got some funk ("It's Wintertime"), folk ("There's Too Much Good") and rockabilly ("Santa's Train"). The sequence of rock and bluesy styles emerge with "Goodnight" and "Tinsel & Lights." The album ends with a little Latin number called "Christmas Vicuna," which tells the tale of a vicuna — a Peruvian camel — who wants to grow up to be a reindeer. — S.I.
IRISH TENORS, "Christmas" (Razor & Tie)
Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns and Karl Scully, aka the Irish Tenors, capture the beauty and grace of the holiday on their Christmas album. There's harmony, tradition and that wonderful Irish brogue that enchant on songs such as "Hark the Herald Angels," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And whether they are serving up an Irish ballad, such as "Fairytale of New York" or a quirky "Jingle Bell Rock," they promise that each song is "addressed with both enthusiasm and care." It's one that calls for repeated listening. — C.W.
DAVID JAMES, "A Christmas Tale" (American Wave Records)
David James (aka David James Fritch) is back from an LDS mission and back on the local music scene. This is his first project since his return, and one can only expect — and hope — to hear more. This CD includes arrangements by Michael Dowdle, Dean Kaelin, David G. Fritch and Nashville's David Huntsinger, among others, and they are all exceptional. There are traditional carols such as "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "O Holy Night." New songs include "God's Gift of Love" and "A Christmas Tale." The duet with Sarah Kaelin Wirthlin on "It Was a Starry Night" is also pretty. James has a very nice voice, as well as an ability to capture the reverence and meaning of the season. — C.W.
LARKEN PRODUCTIONS; "Just Another Christmas" (Larken Productions)
Locally based guitarist/singer/songwriter Larry Kinder, whose Web site is www.larkenproductions.com, has released a dynamic Christmas CD that is filled with acoustic gems and surprises. He has worked with a stable of talent that includes an 11-year-old singer named Faith Johnson. Johnson's powerful voice can be heard on "Silent Night/O Holy Night" medley as well as "Angels We Have Heard on High." Lori Weintz is another angelic vocalist who can be heard on most other songs such as "What Child Is this," the intricate "Sugar Plum Fairy/We Three Kings" medley, "O Come All Ye Faithful" and the original "Just Another Christmas," which was inspired by today's military families. The CD also features percussionist Kenny Ruano who adds some kicks to the mix. Kinder's dynamic arrangements range from touching intimate takes to ear-perking chord changes that bring fresh dimensions to the songs, especially on "Jamaican Jingle Bells." — S.I.
LARK & SPUR; "Star of Light" (Larkspur)
Internationally known and locally based Lark & Spur has created another solid holiday CD that shows off its mastery of diverse styles. There is the baroque feel of "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," which singer Lori Decker performs in French and English. There's a more rootsy feel of the pop-country hit "It Wasn't His Child." There's an acoustic instrumental version of "Angels We Have Heard on High." Another style switch gets into the nightclub jazz with "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and then there's the introspective "Breath of Heaven" and "Wintersong." The latter was recorded by Sarah McLachlan a couple of years ago. Sometimes the style shifts are a little jarring; the songs themselves are performed intricately well. — S.I.
THE LAWTUNES; "Season's Briefings From the Lawtunes" (LawTunes)
In 1998, litigation attorney Lawrence Savell released a CD called "The Lawyers' Holiday Humor Album." Since then, he — the heart of the LawTunes — has released three additional holiday CDs, including this new one. The crafty songs that take on the holidays in sing-along melodies are laced with tales of litigation and other lawyer lingo. The double meaning of "Was That You I Saw in a Santa's Suit" or the humorous tale of "Headin' Home on a Holiday Night" and the declaration of "There's No Billin' on Christmas" are fun and will bring a smile to even the most stern and solemn judge. Check out www.lawtunes.com and find what it's all about. — S.I.
MARY McBRIDE; "Every Day Is a Holiday" (Bogan Records).
Mary McBride blends blues, rock and soul with what has been called "a voice that is part angel, part truck driver." Her Christmas CD contains something from all those genres, with a mix of songs both old and new. The "Do You Hear What I Hear" duet with Patrick Wilson is nice, as is her original "Bring It On." She puts lots of vibrato and power into traditional favorites, such as "Silent Night" and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." There's a fun "Little Jack Frost" and a plaintive "Hallelujah." — C.W.
MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER; "Christmas: 25th Anniversary Collection" (American Gramaphone)
For a quarter of a century, Mannheim Steamroller has created some memorable Christmas albums. Founder Chip Davis has "steamrolled" beloved carols such as "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World" and "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." From the soft and sweet "Still, Still, Still" to the intimate Baroque-sounding "We Three Kings" and the rollicking "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" Mannheim Steamroller has become a tradition in many homes around the world. This two-CD set is sort of a "Best Of" collection, with songs hand-picked by Davis. Some fans, however, will note that "Deck the Halls" is not included. — S.I.
MICHAEL McDONALD; "This Christmas" (Razor & Tie).
Award-winning R&B/soul singer and songwriter Michael McDonald made a name for himself as a member of groups such as Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and Goldstar, as well as a solo artist. His Christmas album serves up mostly traditional songs, such as "Wexford Carol," "White Christmas/Winter Wonderland" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." There are a couple of originals including "Peace" and "On This Night." Some of them have a pinched and tight quality to them that sound as if he's trying to hold it all. Others, such as "Children Go Where I Send Thee," tend to go on a bit too long. — C.W.
RICHIE McDONALD; "If Every Day Could Be Christmas" (Stroudavarious Records).
Have you ever wondered why Santa is so fat? Do you think he would be better off in a Peterbilt Sleigh? Do you appreciate all the work that people do for you at the holidays? If so, Richie McDonald has a CD for you. The former lead singer of the country group Lone?star, McDonald brings the same style and vocal quality to his solo career. He captures the emotion of songs like "Mary, Did You Know?" sets a nice scene in "Christmas in New York" and has fun with Santa, but he also serves up nice messages in songs such as his original "Christmas Lights" and "Blessed Are the Hands That Give." — C.W.
MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR; "Ring Christmas Bells" (Mormon Tabernacle Choir).
With guest star Brian Stokes Mitchell, this CD based on the 2008 Christmas concert is another stellar addition to the choir's Christmas offerings. From the "Processional on God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" to the signature "Angels From the Realms of Glory," it sparkles with spirit and vitality. Mitchell is both tender and fun on "The Friendly Beasts," offers a beautiful version of "Through Heaven's Eyes" (from "The Prince of Egypt"), and is equally impressive on "New Words" and "Grateful." With the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bell Ringers at Temple Square, the sound is lush and gorgeous on carols such as "Once in Royal David's City," "Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing" and "Hallelujah." Richard Elliott showcases the organ on "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and the beautiful Welsh lullaby "Suo Gan" is a sweet contrast. The CD beautifully captures the spirit of the season; you'll want to listen over and over. — C.W.
REO SPEEDWAGON; "Not So Silent Night" (Sony)
With "Not So Silent Night" REO Speedwagon, featuring Kevin Cronin on lead vocals, created a hit-and-miss CD. The rocking "Deck the Halls" makes up for its little cheesy spoken-word intro. Then there's the up-tempo, guitar-laden "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that will get fans tapping their toes. While the band members' collective hearts are in the right places on "Little Drummer Boy" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," the CD feels more like a novelty CD than anything else. It would have been fun, however, to have heard "Angels We Have Heard on High" with a "Ridin' the Storm Out" keyboard crescendo intro, but "Blue Christmas" (sung by bassist Bruce Hall) is a gem. — S.I.
EBAN SCHLETTER; "Eban Schletter's Cosmic Christmas" (Oglio)
Eban Schletter has written songs for "SpongeBob SquarePants" and Comedy Central's "Drawn Together." His "Cosmic Christmas" CD continues his creative journey. This concept CD is reminiscent of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the Flaming Lips' epic "Christmas on Mars." Spacey versions of "We Three Kings," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Carol of the Bells," to name a few, attempt to inform intelligent computer entities about the true meaning of Christmas. With help from vocalists Grant-Lee Phillips and Crissy Guerrero and Tracy DeNisi, Schletter brings Christmas and all the sentiment of peace on Earth to the far reaches of the universe. It's an intriguing CD that urges the listener to follow the story until the final track, "Auld Lang Syne." — S.I.
SIMPLE GIFTS with BILLY McLAUGHLIN; "A Small Town Christmas" (Proton Discs).
New age acoustic guitarist teams up with folk music trio Simple Gifts for an album that is soft and beautiful. Songs include mostly traditional carols, such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "I Saw Three Ships" and "O Holy Night." The presentations are filled with gorgeous harmony. An all-instrumental version of "Carol of the Bells" is equally well done. — C.W.
FRANK SINATRA AND FRIENDS; "Christmas," (Concord Records).
Sure, these songs have been previously recorded. Sure, they've been remixed, re-mastered and re-everythinged else. But it is Frank Sinatra, after all. And that's about all you need to know. Except that his friends include Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Ray Charles. The songs are old-time favorites, such as "The Christmas Waltz," "The Christmas Song," "White Christmas," "Baby It's Cold Outside" and more. — C.W.
STING; "If on a Winter's Night" (Deutsche Grammophon)
Sting has reinvented himself once more with this holiday CD. It's actually more akin to a winter solstice recording. Sure, there are Christmas references such as "Christmas at Sea," "Cherry Tree Carol" and an acoustic reworking of his version of "Gabriel's Message," but the other songs, such as the haunting "Now Winter Comes Slowly," the gothic "Cold Song" and the traditional mantra of "Soul Cake," are more about winter than the birth of Christ. However, the stripped-down production only adds to the feeling that Sting and his musicians are traveling minstrels in the Old World. — S.I.
STRAIGHT NO CHASER; "Christmas Cheers" (Atco/Atlantic)
The 10-man a cappella sensation has returned with a studio version of its brilliant take of "The 12 Days of Christmas." But that song isn't the only vocal jewel on "Christmas Cheers." The kickoff track, "The Christmas Can-Can," puts Offenbach where their mouths are with an ode to holiday commercialization. While the group can get silly and fun with a Lalo Schifrin-inspired "We Three Kings" and the ADD-riddled "Who Spiked the Eggnog?" it also gets sentimental with "Christmas Time Is Here" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Oh, and all the instruments — aside from the finger snaps and cheek slaps — are all done by mouths and vocals. Even the jingle bells were done by blowing air through their teeth. — S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: "A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector" (Legacy)
Considering recent events, would you really want to release a Christmas album with Spector's name in the title? That aside, this is a nice collection for fans of the four groups represented in this 1963 reissue. The Crystals, the Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans sing the usual suspects: "White Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," etc. A baby boomer's delight. — Chris Hicks
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Family Christmas" (Putumayo World Records).
With liner notes in English, French and Spanish, you expect something of an eclectic mix, and that's what you get in this fun collection of familiar Christmas songs. There's everything from English folk to retro swing, from "new grass" instrumentals to an old-fashioned jug band, from acoustic guitar to ukulele and tuba duets. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy serves up a fun "Is Zat You Santa Claus," Leon Redbone is smoooooth on "Let It Snow," Deana Carter hits the upper ranges in "Winter Wonderland" and Johnny Bregar, Martin Sexton, Sam Bush, Kate Rusby and Brave Combo are among the other artists. — C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "FM100.3 Christmas, Vol. IX" (Bonneville International).
Creating Christmas with a CD featuring mostly local artists is a long-standing tradition for the FM100.3 folks. This year's edition is a pleasing mix of styles and genres that easily generates a festive mood. Artists include Peter Breinholt, Hilary Weeks, Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band, David Tolk, Jessie Clark Funk, Paul Cardall, Voice Male, Joshua Creek, and a whole lot more. As always, proceeds go to benefit "The Road Home" homeless shelter.— C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Hollywood Christmas" (Time Life)
TV and film have always been a way to spread Christmas joy, and this CD takes a handful of songs that have appeared on film and TV and put them in one convenient place. Burl Ives' "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and Jimmy Durante's "Frosty the Snowman," culled from the classic Rankin-Bass TV specials, Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmas Time Is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" from the film of the same name, are a few of these pop-culture classics collected on this CD. — S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Very Joma Christmas: An Indie Rock & Pop Holiday Sampler" (Joma)
Joma Records artists, such as Casey Shea, Tewar, Mercury on Fire and A Girl Called Eddy, are just a few of the musicians who appear on this CD. Shea's "You're All I Want for Christmas" kicks off this CD , which mixes fun (Tewars' surf-noir "Silent Night (In Hanalei Bay)"), dynamics (Mercury on Fire's "Jingle Bells") and melodrama (A Girl Called Eddy's "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot"). All of the songs are interesting interpretations and a good listen. — S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Kohl's Presents Christmas in the Country" (Sony Music).
This collection brings together some of Nashville's hottest stars, old and new. Brooks & Dunn chip in with "Winter Wonderland," Carrie Underwood wonders "Do You Hear What I Hear," Brad Paisley adds a nice "Away in a Manger," Johnny Cash's gorgeous, deep voice is perfect for "Silent Night." Other contributors include Alan Jackson, Kellie Pickler, Kenny Chesney and Martina McBride. All proceeds from the CD go to benefit Kohl's Cares for Kids. — C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "The Time Life Treasury of Christmas Traditions" (Time Life)
Sometimes there is nothing like straightforward orchestra and choir arrangements of Christmas songs. This classic two-CD collection has the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, conducted by Peter Knight, performing sweeping arrangements of "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," on the first CD, and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the RCA Symphony Orchestra, the London Promenade Orchestra and the Westminster Brass Ensemble performing "O Holy Night," "The Virgin's Slumber Song," "The Skaters' Waltz" and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," respectively, on the second CD. — S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Voices a Gospel Choir Christmas" (Time Life)
Get some soulful gospel renditions of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Silent Night," "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and an arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" called "Tidings" on this bright and cheerful CD. With the aforementioned and respective performances by Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers, Candi Staton, the Anointed Pace Sisters with Mother Bettie Ann Pace and Israel & New Breed, among others, this CD is bound to get your groove going. Oh, and Patti LaBelle's "O Holy Night" raises goosebumps. — S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "XO For the Holidays Volume II" (XO Publicity)
Last year, the Portland, Ore.,-based XO Publicity group released a collection of holiday tunes recorded by its stable of independent-music clients. This year, the group has created "XO For the Holidays Volume II." The 11-song release contains Blue Skies for Black Hearts doing "Wishing You a Merry Xmas," the Very Foundation punching out "All Lit Up (for Christmas)' and London's quirky Piney Gir shuffling out "You Make Me Feel So Young." The nice thing about this release is the fact that this release can be downloaded for free at www.xopublicity.com/xofortheholidays2.html — S.I.
HILARY WEEKS, "Christmas Once Again" (Shadow Mountain).
Hilary Weeks has a knack for getting right to the heart of the matter, whether she's singing (and writing) about what makes the season special ("Christmas Once Again") or the Nativity ("First Lullaby/Silent Night") or the timeless message of the season ("Is There Room"). Also included are beautiful arrangements of traditional carols and songs, such as "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "Do You Hear What I Hear," "What Child Is This" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." The CD sparkles from start to finish and makes you want to hear it all again. — C.W.
HAYLEY WESTENRA, "Winter Magic" (Decca)
When Hayley Westenra burst on to the scene at age 16, she was frequently described as having "the voice of an angel." The subsequent years have done little to change that.
She brings a melodic, ethereal quality to songs such as "The Little Road to Bethlehem," "Carol of the Bells," "Silent Night" and "The Coventry Carol." She also demonstrates her songwriting skills with offerings such as "Christmas Morning," "All With You" and "Peace Shall Come." All in all, a nice package. — C.W.
CARL ZITTRER & PAUL ZAZA: "A Christmas Story" (TCM)
This is the original musical score of that beloved 1983 film about young Ralphie, his eccentric family, a sexy leg lamp and the Red Ryder rifle that'll put your eye out. If you're a fan you'll recognize the 19 cuts that range from brief cues (the shortest is 11 seconds) to longer pieces invoking the period or fantasy sequences or variations on familiar Christmas carols (and such other recognizable tunes as Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf"). All of which is topped off by the 20th track, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's singular rendition of "Silent Night." — C.H.