You know Christmas is just around the corner, but you can’t quite get your head around it.
Festive store displays only serve to remind you that you haven’t started your Christmas shopping yet.
Ads promoting this year’s hottest new toy remind you how long the hottest new toy of 2011 kept your children’s attention before they lost interest and returned to Facebook to update their status to ‘I’m so bored’.
Flipping through the Christmas Wish Book only makes you think of how many gifts you put on your credit card last year.
What to do? What to do? What to do?
Break out the Christmas music of course!
It always works for me.
If I hear White Christmas, Jingle Bells or Joy To The World, it doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of the August, I’m ready to bake shortbread cookies, wrap presents and decorate everything that doesn’t move.
And the music industry is right there with me, God bless them.
Seems they know down to the minute when I’m ready to start playing Christmas music because just as I’m about to dust off Bing Crosby’s White Christmas for another go round new seasonal offerings magically appear in my digital mailbox.
You might think that the number of holiday offerings already in the rack would deter people from entering the seasonal sweekstakes but not so. Every year dozens of artists venture into the studio, usually in July, to put their own stamp on White Christmas. No one’s ever come close to bettering Crosby’s original version but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone.
What follows below is a look at some of this year’s best new holiday releases.
For me, the star on the top of the tree this year is Rod Stewart’s Merry Christmas, Baby.
Stewart took the same approach to the making of his first-ever Christmas record that he did to his highly successful Great American Songbook series of records.
He chose several of the most beloved seasonal songs, wrapped them in gorgeous arrangements and delivered them with style and class.
His arrangements of classics like Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Winter Wonderland wouldn’t have been out of place on the Christmas recordings of Nat King Cole or Tony Bennett.
And just so you don’t forget where he came from, he has included a couple of numbers more befitting the Rod Stewart of old, like the title track, a cover of the R&B standard Merry Christmas, Baby, a gem covered in past by Springsteen, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Elvis. Stewart serves it up here as a duet with Cee Lo Green.
Also in that category is the record’s sole original track, Red-Suited Super Man, which was co-written by Stewart, producer David Foster and Amy Foster.
The aforementioned duet with Green is just one of several pairings on the record.
Stewart partnered up with Michael Bublé for a delightful version of Winter Wonderland, brought in Mary J. Blige for a stunning version of We Three Kings and thanks to technology recorded a virtual duet with the late Ella Fitzgerald for What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
Stewart says he has always been tempted to record a Christmas album.
“And now that I once again have young children, the timing couldn’t be better. Additionally, Merry Christmas, Baby gave me a chance to reunite with David Foster.”
This is a holiday gem.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
If you’re looking for a Christmas record that’s somewhat less traditional you might consider Holidays Rule, a compilation CD that features newly recorded holiday fare by artists like The Civil Wars, Heartless Bastards, Rufus Wainwright, Black Prairie, Calexico and the Punch Brothers.
A number of the artists featured here are indie artists on the rise like Portland, Oregon’s AgesandAges and Seattle’s The Head And The Heart.
They keep company here with more established but still not mainstream acts like Calexico, Fruit Bats, The Shins and Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces.
But there are also a couple of name acts on this Concord release.
In addition to Wainwright, who duets with relative newcomer Sharon Van Etten on Baby It’s Cold Outside, the set features seasonal sorties by Paul McCartney, who performs a cover of The Christmas Song, and legendary New Orleans soul artist Irma Thomas, who’s joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a version of May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas.
While many of the songs on Holidays Rule are standards, the arrangements are not.
Several of the artists here are indie folk, folk rock or indie pop artists and the arrangements reflect their own musical influences.
Favourites here include Calexico’s Green Grows The Holly, Heartless Bastards’ Blue Christmas and Wainright’s Baby It’s Cold Outside.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
For a pure pop CD this holiday season one of the first choices would be Suzie McNeil’s This is Christmas.
Big voice, big numbers.
McNeil has a lot of power and she unleashes it on numbers like the title track and It’s Christmas Time.
She can tone it down when she wants to and does on occasion.
If you’re looking for a record to set the mood while you lay on the couch and stare at the tree this isn’t it.
On the other hand it will keep you energized while you wrap presents and assemble those some-assembly-required toys that keep you up half the night on Dec. 24th.
Four of the songs here are McNeil originals, the rest are standards.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Prefer something a little more reserved?
Mr first choice would be Il Volo’s Christmas Favorites.
This trio of young operatic tenors from Italy delivers an absolutely beautiful version of Silent Night and a fine version of Panis Angelicus.
Trio members Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Gonoble also deliver a version of Silent Night in its original German here that had me a little teary.
But it’s not all serious here.
They also belt out a medley of holiday hits that includes Jingle Bels Rock / Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow and It’s The Most Beautiful Time Of The Year and over up a pleasing cover of The Christmas Song featuring former American Idol contestant Pia Toscano.
Sadly there are only five tracks on this set. Would have liked to hear them do more classical material.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at email@example.com or 629-6000, ext. 6057.