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Christmas will soon be behind us but, before you take down the tree and pack away the decorations, there’s still time to celebrate this most joyous season of the year by introducing some new holiday recordings to kith and kin.
And there’s certainly no shortage of offerings to choose from.
In any given year there are literally dozens of new records vying for your attention from major artists in pop, country, classical music, jazz and R&B, plus God knows how many more from regional and local artists.
In my last column I featured new Christmas fare from Bing Crosby, Bryan Adams and Kacey Musgraves. This week two other artists who’ve struck a chord with me this holiday season get their due.
Idina Menzel: “Christmas: A Season of Love”
Tony Award-winning artist Idina Menzel makes her second foray into the world of Christmas music with this sparkling collection of holiday standards, Christmas pop gems and new originals.
Menzel, who’s been building a substantial following since the mid-1990s with her work in “Rent”, “Glee”, “Wicked” and “Frozen”, is one of those artists it’s easy to get behind because she gives every song the respect it deserves. And that is certainly the case here whether she’s serving up chestnuts like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or “Sleigh Ride”, pumping up a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) version of the Hanukkah song “Ocho Kandelikas” or revisiting “Seasons of Love” from “Rent”.
There are many wonderful moments on this 18-track release but the one that gets me every time I hear it is an original piece Menzel wrote for the record called “At This Table” which she describes as a song about inclusivity, acceptance and forgiveness, which I believe sums up the essence of the Christmas season because we put our differences aside and become one with all mankind, or at least we try to.
The first four lines say it all:
“At this table everyone is welcome
At this table everyone is seen
At this table everybody matters
No one falls between.”
“Christmas: A Season of Love” features guest appearances by several artists including Billy Porter, who duets with Menzel on “I Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and Ariana Grande, who shares the spotlight on "A Hand for Mrs. Claus". Frozen co-star Josh Gad and Menzel’s husband Aaron Lohr are also featured.My second favourite new Christmas recording.
(Rating 4 out of 5 stars)
Idina Menzel’s “Christmas: A Season of Love” is her second Christmas release in five years.
Her first, “Holiday Wishes”, reached top 10 on the Billboard 200 and was the second biggest selling holiday album of 2014, coming in behind “That's Christmas To Me by Pentatonix.
Keb’ Mo’: “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You”
The blues are likely not your first choice for the stereo when people drop by during the Christmas holidays but I would suggest you really give some consideration to Moonlight, Mistletoe and You, the first seasonal recording from Keb’ Mo’, one of my absolute favourite blues artists of the last 25 years.
The 10 songs on this set, a number of which are original, embrace blues, jazz, pop and soul and make for a very cool and casual holiday vibe.
He really sets the tone for the record with the first two tracks, a surprisingly upbeat version of Charles Brown’s 1960 classic “Please Come Home For Christmas” and the original entry “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You” a romantic ballad with a sweet groove that deserves to become a seasonal standard. The latter, the album’s title track was co-written with Adam Ollendorff, best known for his work with Kacey Musgraves and also features Gerald Albright.
He’ll warm your heart with gems like “When the Children Sing”, which features the NIA House Montessori School Choir from Nashville and with the closing track, “One More Year with You,” which has the feeling of a Sinatra-era swing tune.
If there’s a little bit of Ebenezer Scrooge in you you’ll get a kick out of another original “Christmas Is Annoying”, a tongue-in-cheek look at all of the things that make Christmas both good and bad, from Christmas carols and Santa Claus to maxed out credit cards and having so many commitments you’ve got no time for yourself.
There are a couple of other covers here worthy of note, his gutsy take on Koko Taylor’s “Merry Merry Christmas” and a new interpretation of Charley Jordan’s 1931 penning “Santa Claus Blues”.
There’s also a fine version of “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” that features Melissa Manchester.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.