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New sounds for Christmas 2019 in rock, pop and blues

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It may not look a lot like Christmas (yet) but it’s coming, and with it comes a slew of new holiday-themed albums designed put a little jingle in your step.

Idina Menzel“Christmas: A Season of Love” (SRV; Decca; out now)

Released in conjunction with Disney’s “Frozen 2,” the voice of ‘Elsa’ has recorded a collection of new and traditional Christmas songs. Duet guests include Ariana Grande, Aaron Lohr (Menzel’s husband), Billy Porter and “Frozen” costar Josh Gad. The arrangements and production offer a classic holiday vibe on a well-chosen lineup of 18 tracks.

Rob Halford“Celestial” (Sony Legacy; out now)

Judas Priest probably isn’t the first band that springs to mind when you think of Christmas, but their lead singer has designed an appropriately rockin’ holiday record that is everything you’d expect and more. It’s intentionally funny on a fist-pumping metal tribute to two of Santa’s star chauffeurs - “Donner and Blitzen” - and surprisingly touching on “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A true Halford family affair, the album features brother Nigel on drums, nephew Alex on bass and sister Sue on Bells.

Los Lobos“Llegó Navidad” (Rhino; out now)

“Why a Los Lobos Christmas album?” guitarist Cesar Rosas asks, before adding “I think we’re way, way overdue.” The East L.A. legends have recorded a truly fun and meaningful holiday record. Instead of packing it full of predictable chestnuts, they pulled from a list of 150 possibilities to spotlight regional Christmas nuggets from across the Spanish speaking world. Highlights include the Tex-Mex “It’s Christmas Time in Texas,” the original “Christmas and You” and ¿Dónde Está Santa Claus? – a salsa-fused take on the 1958 novelty hit by Augie Rios. Here’s an early Christmas present for Maine-based Los Lobos fans: The band is scheduled to return next March for shows in Brownfield and Waterville.

Keb’ Mo’“Moonlight, Misteltoe & You” (Concord; out now)

Another iconic artist releasing his first Christmas record is this four-time Grammy winning bluesman. Blending blues with Christmas romance, the guitarist and singer has recorded one of the season’s most original records. Guests include Gerald Albright on the title cut, and Melissa Manchester on the holiday waltz “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” Highlights include the sweetly confessional “Christmas is Annoying” and the heartfelt “When the Children Sing.”

Chet Atkins“Complete RCA and Columbia Recordings” (Second Disc Records; Real Gone Music; Nov. 8)

One of the most revered figures in American popular music, Atkins was also among the most prolific, but only two of his 88 studio albums were Christmas records. Included in this anthology is the complete 1961 LP “Christmas with Chet Atkins” (also appearing here in its 1976 remixed/re-recorded form), 1983’s “East Tennessee Christmas,” and various singles and one-off recordings from other records. This collection was not available for review prior to release, but seeing Vic Anesini’s name in the credits as mastering engineer virtually guarantees terrific sonics.

Rick Wakeman“Christmas Portraits” (Sony Classical; Nov. 29)

The prog-rock piano legend was about to step into the studio to record this album when I spoke with him for a Maine Edge interview in August about his “Grumpy Old Rock Star” tour. Arriving on the heels of two consecutive top 10 U.K. albums, Wakeman combines the traditional with the unexpected on a lineup of 14 pieces, including his adaptations of Mike Blatt and Tim Rice’s “A Winter’s Tale,” and Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The joke-cracking virtuoso will embark on his “Grumpy Old Christmas” tour in the U.K. on December 5.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 October 2019 09:24

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