December 2, 2011 in Features

Bublé’s ‘Christmas’ leads batch of holiday albums

Howard Cohen I Mcclatchy
 

Carole King’s
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Thanks to iTunes’ Playlist feature and the ease with which it allows one to make a personal holiday compilation album, perhaps it’s time to question the viability of labels putting out new holiday albums.

Yet every season one of the titles breaks from the pack to wind up among the year’s overall bestsellers.

In previous seasons, Josh Groban and Susan Boyle had that commercial distinction. This month, it appears that Canadian crooner Michael Bublé is the people’s choice, as his simply titled “Christmas” disc was the Black Friday leader.

Clearly, the masses want new voices on old favorites to add to those growing playlists.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the new releases in the holiday music batch of 2011 – rated Ho-ho-ho for holiday music must-haves to Oh-no for those lumps of MP3 coal best left with the fruitcake from Aunt Maria.

Michael Bublé “Christmas

The popular performer had one wish for his first full-length Christmas album: to bring back the feeling he had when he was a child and his parents played Bing Crosby’s classic Christmas record over and over. “It was a record that introduced me to jazz and inspired me to become a musician. When I went into the studio, my goal was to make a record that would make people feel the same way that I did all those Christmases ago,” Bublé writes in his CD’s liner notes.

For some future crooner, Bublé will be that person’s Bing. The richness and expressiveness of his baritone has never been on better display than it is here on the warm “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” His lively, beautifully recorded big band swings the presents off the sleigh on a rousing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” he earns a smile or two with his amusing gender reversal on a Rat Pack-worthy “Santa Baby,” and he offers a bilingual English-Spanish treat with Thalia on “Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad.”

Recommendation: A hale Ho-ho-ho.

Carole King, “A Holiday Carole” For her first holiday offering, King leaves the songwriting duties on the few originals to daughter Louise Goffin (who also produces) along with Miami composers Jodi Marr and George Noriega on the “Latin Christmas Paradise” tune.

“A Holiday Carole” is otherwise King’s attempt to honor other great songwriters like Oscar Hammerstein, Irving Berlin and Donny Hathaway with music that touches on R&B, pop and folk. The soulful album is everything one loved about “Tapestry”-era King: a voice that is earthy, warm, open and friendly, and intimate music played by pros on real instruments. If King hadn’t already used the title for a 1974 album, she could rightly call this one “Wrap Around Joy.”

Recommendation: A hearty Ho-ho-ho.

Justin Bieber, “Under the Mistletoe”

Tweens need some holiday tunes, too, and the Canadian super teen would be their first pick (sure enough, “Under the Mistletoe” spent its debut week atop The Billboard 200) but Bieber sings this mix of old and new in a joyless, near sullen tone as if he’s singing about mid-year finals.

The only voice to raise any sort of jovial spirit on this seasonal misfire belongs to guest rapper Busta Rhymes on an otherwise execrable “Drummer Boy.”

When you have to append a song title with the disclaimer “SuperFestive!” as the Beebs does on a duet with Mariah Carey on a cover of her enduring ’90s hit, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” you have a problem.

Recommendation: Oh-no.

“Glee” Cast, “Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2” “Glee” isn’t the hit it was last season when its first Christmas tie-in album was issued, but the studio hopes just enough fans remain to make Volume 2 a stocking stuffer. The reality: It’s not looking good at McKinley High when the entire Glee club is trumped by newcomer Damian McGinty, winner of “The Glee Project,” a reality show that gave its winners parts on the parent program.

Perhaps producers realized the homogenized voices of the real “Glee” cast tend to blend into a one-size-fits-all tub of egg nog over an entire CD. McGinty, unlike the interchangeable Darren Criss, Matthew Morrison, Cory Monteith et al., has a rich, distinct tone on his fine offering, “Blue Christmas.” Among the New Directions, only Brittany (Heather Morris) has any real fun on a discoey “Christmas Wrapping” number.

Recommendation: Oh-no.

Joey + Rory, “A Farmhouse Christmas”

For a fresh take on Christmas music, husband-and-wife country duo Joey and Rory Feek, finalists on CMT’s “Can You Duet” in 2008, offer 12 songs, 10 of which are either new or not generally associated with Christmas (such as Merle Haggard’s downbeat “If We Make It Through December,” which features harmonies from the legend).

Though not the most festive holiday album in the pile – song titles include “Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)” and “What the Hell (It’s the Holidays)” – there’s a certain rustic charm to the well-played music here. Joey’s voice also has a nip of Dolly Parton in it, albeit not as perky.

Recommendation: Ho-ho-ho.

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