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2020’s Christmas Albums: Tidings of comfort and familiarity

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Looking for something to put you in a Christmas mood now that December is here? One of these new Christmas albums might make your holiday jingle all the way or else have you saying ‘Ho ho no!”                                      

Dolly Parton – “A Holly Dolly Christmas” (Butterfly Records/12 Tone Music Group)

This is Dolly’s third Christmas album, and it features a blend of original songs along with the usual holiday suspects, all sung by Parton and her guests, who include Michael Bublé, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus and her father Billy Ray. The best material here belongs to Dolly, who wrote half the album, and at age 74 delivers one of the most moving performances of her career on the closing track, “Mary Did You Know.” The duets range from the fun “Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas” (sung with Bublé) to the sincere “You Are My Christmas” (sung with brother Randy) to the predictable (“All I Want For Christmas is You,” sung with Fallon). This album has been released on vinyl, CD, mp3, and even on cassette and 8-track (what, no Edison cylinder?), and has already hit the top spot on Billboard’s country albums chart.

Tori Kelly – “A Tori Kelly Christmas” (Capitol)

Kelly’s spectacular voice redeems this mostly predictable collection of holiday songs, two of which she co-wrote, and they’re among the album’s best moments. A unique arrangement brings life to “Let it Snow,” a duet with Babyface, and “Christmas Time Is Here” has just the right amount of melancholy. Kelly delivers a stunning performance on the album closing version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a song that wasn’t aching to be covered yet again, but she nails it. The original tunes “25th” and “Gift That Keeps on Giving” are the most interesting tracks here and stand out on a record with otherwise too much standard fare in its selection of holiday covers.

Meghan Trainor – “A Very Trainor Christmas” (Epic Records)

Trainor wrote, or co-wrote seven Christmas-related tunes for her first holiday record which turned out to be a true family affair with outside guests kept to a minimum. Members of Earth, Wind & Fire join Trainor for “Holidays,” while Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane duets on “White Christmas.” The rest of the album features her cousins (“Rudolph”), her brother Justin (on five tracks), and father Gary playing piano on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The digital version features two bonus tracks, including Trainor’s 2014 recording of “I’ll Be Home.”

Goo Goo Dolls – “It’s Christmas All Over” (Warner)

There are some great moments on this LP but it’s half-baked at best. Tom Petty’s title song opens the record and is the standout track here. Louis Prima’s “Shake Hands with Santa Claus” is a treat, as is the closing medley “The Christmas Party.” The production and performances are all fine but it’s too short on both content and sincerity. I would have preferred an album of all-original content, or a mix of originals and covers that haven’t already been covered to death. Barely clocking in at 30 minutes, it’s light on band-penned material, while the standards, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” aren’t very convincing. Bonus points for the heartwarming retro Christmas artwork adorning the sleeve.

Maddie & Tae – “We Need Christmas” (Mercury Nashville)

Two self-penned Christmas songs accompany four covers on this EP from Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye. Both recently married (Maddie tied the knot a year ago; Tae was married this year) “Merry Married Christmas” commemorates those unions with a catchy original Christmas song. The closing “We Need Christmas,” with its now-more-than-ever theme, is the other original song here, no doubt inspired in part by the events of this year.

The Bird and the Bee – “Put Up The Lights” (No Expectations/Release Me Records)

This EP from the indie pop duo of Inara George (daughter of the late Lowell George of Little Feat) and Greg Kurstin (a collaborator with Beck, Adele, Paul McCartney and others) is a delight. The name might be new, but you’ve heard them in “Sex and the City,” “The Big Sick” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Dreamy harmonies and jazzy arrangements adorn the eight originals and covers here, the best being opener “You and I at Christmas Time,” “Little Drummer Boy” (featuring Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters behind the kit) and the symphony of voices heard on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” as the closing cut. This is an album I’ll enjoy for Christmases to come.

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 December 2020 09:13

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