« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Not your usual seasonal sounds

From Bob Dylan tackling 'Here Comes Santa Claus' to the "Avenue Q' puppets doing 'Ave Maria,' there's something for everyone.


It's become an annual ritual -- the flooding of the music market with dozens, if not hundreds, of holiday-themed titles, and this year is no exception. Plenty of artists are releasing festive recordings, and labels are hoping all that good cheer will translate to some sales uplift.

In the mix are offerings from a crystalline-voiced would-be American Idol and from a sandpaper-throated bona fide American icon. Sting does some musical time traveling and one adventurous experimentalist beams the spirit of the season into the vastness of deep space.

What follows is a look at some of the most interesting collections available right now:

ARCHULETA_CHRISTMAS+75 David Archuleta, "Christmas From the Heart" (19/Jive): America's favorite elfin pop idol, Archie sounds every bit as spot-on key and invested with holiday reverence and good cheer as humanly possible -- and nearly as predictable. But given that "American Idol" is about meeting popular expectations rather than exceeding (much less defying) them, it's somehow comforting that within the familiar arrangements and production touches are a few intriguing touches such as the musical quotations of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" into his version of "Angels We Have Heard on High."  * * 1/2 (Two and a half stars)

Bocelli_75 Andrea Bocelli, "My Christmas" (Decca). There's always an audience for yuletide music sung in a romantic tenor voice, and this year, Bocelli's under the tree. He's brought along several vocal partners including Natalie Cole, Mary J. Blige and Reba McEntire -- even the Muppets and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As usual with operatic singers for whom English is a second language, Bocelli tends to succeed better with carols than with pop tunes.  * * 1/2 (Two and a half stars)

Neil_diamond_christmas75 Neil Diamond, "A Cherry Cherry Christmas" (Columbia). The erstwhile Brill Building songwriting pro adds a few of his own musical thoughts to the carols and pop standards he covers here. The title track is earnest but misfires with the multiple references to his classic pop hits. "Christmas Dream," however, is sweet, and you've got to admire his chutzpah for including an appropriately silly rendition of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song."  * * 1/2 (Two and a half stars)

Dylan_christmas_heart75 Bob Dylan, "Christmas in the Heart" (Columbia). Most seasonal albums invite listeners to celebrate, appreciate or vegetate; Dylan's, not surprisingly, practically forces you to cogitate. His 15-song collection tips a red felt hat to vintage holiday recordings from genre standard bearers such as Gene Autry ("Here Comes Santa Claus") and Bing Crosby ("Do You Hear What I Hear?") to wisecracking upstarts including Brave Combo ("Must Be Santa") and Leon Redbone ("Christmas Island"). A name-that-reference game for pop music geeks? Probably. Innocuous background music? Not a chance. Proceeds benefit hunger relief organizations. * * * 1/2 (Three and a half stars)

Mamadoni_75 Mama Doni, "Chanukah Fever: 13 Macca-beats for the Whole Family" (Mama Doni). Mama Doni, a.k.a. singer-songwriter-producer Doni Zasloff Thomas, goes primarily for campy Yiddish humor in this low-fi, bedroom-studio sounding outing. The wit isn't consistently inspired, eliciting modest smiles rather than belly laughs. She even gets warmly sincere in "Eight," a song that celebrates the myriad manifestations of love represented by the number of days in the Jewish holiday season.  * * 1/2 (Two and a half stars)

Christmas_story75_ Original Soundtrack, "A Christmas Story" (TCM Music/Rhino). Why it's taken 26 years for a soundtrack from this contemporary holiday movie classic to surface is anybody's guess. But Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza's original music is every bit as evocative on its own as it is within the framework of this delightful movie about little Ralphie and his unquenchable desire for an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle on Christmas Day.  * * * (Three stars)

Eban_75 Eban Schletter, "Cosmic Christmas" (Oglio). Anybody who builds a holiday album around the spacey sounds of theremin and synthesizers almost assuredly relegates their work to the "Christmas on Forbidden Planet" bin. But Schletter's loose concept -- an automated deep space probe that tries to unravel the mystery of the Christmas spirit -- is surprisingly engaging and less gimmicky than you might think, thanks to charming original songs dressed up in Brian Wilson-inspired harmonies.  * * * (Three stars)

Sting_winters75 Sting, "If on a Winter's Night" (Deutsche Grammophon). Leave it to pop's renaissance man to deliver a seasonal collection that would have been right at home during the Renaissance. It's not a Christmas album in the traditional sense; instead, it's a collection of wintry songs crafted from prose and poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson, Michael Praetorious, John Dryden and even Sting himself. It's an ambitious undertaking, only occasionally bowing under the weight of grand intentions.  * * * (Three stars)

Sugarland_gold_green75 Sugarland, "Gold and Green" (Mercury). The country duo has fun getting into the holiday spirit in 10 songs, half of them freshly written for this CD. "Little Wood Guitar" puts a homey musical spin on what the season means over time, while "Coming Home" taps the warmth of a family reunion as well as the melancholy this time of year can bring.  * * * (Three stars)

Phil_spector_chritmas_75 Various artists, "A Christmas Gift for You" (Phil Spector Records/Legacy).
Remarkably, the album widely considered the greatest holiday collection in pop history has been out of print for a couple of years. Fortunately, this year it's back in circulation, remastered, and dazzling as ever thanks to inspired performances by the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, as wed to Spector's magnificent wall of sound production.  * * * * (Four stars)

Broadway_carols_11_ Various artists, "Broadway's Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure Vol. 11" (Rock-it Science). This year's roundup of songs performed by cast members of recent Broadway productions spans two CDs and features mostly familiar choices with a few offbeat selections thrown in. "The 12 Days of Christmas . . . Jersey Style!" by the "Jersey Boys" cast is hard to resist, though the rendition of "Ave Maria" by Avenue Q might cause Franz Schubert to spin in his final resting place. Still, it's a hoot recast in the Broadway tradition.  * * 1/2 (Two and a half stars)

NOW_COUNTRY_CHRISTMAS Various artists, "Now That's What I Call a Country Christmas" (Sony).
Today's country stars meet several from the past in this two-CD set. The first disc encompasses tracks from George Strait, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Darius Rucker, Brooks & Dunn and their contemporaries, with Gene Autry, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley (posthumously dueting with Martina McBride), Alison Krauss, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton and the like pulled from the archives. Pretty formulaic, but occasionally inspiring.  * * (Two stars)

-Randy Lewis

Albums are rated on a scale of one to four stars.


Musical gift ideas: for the romantic

Musical gift ideas: for the classicist

Musical gift ideas: for opera mavens

Musical gift ideas: for new music fans

Holiday Gift Guide

2009 Holiday Geek-Gift Guide: The perfect presents for Muggles, Trekkies and fanboys

Photo: Sugarland performs at downtown's L.A. Live. Credit: Robyn Beck / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (12)

you have to be kidding me - bob dylan's horror of a christmas cd gets 3 stars - now i know you are nothing but a bunch of hacks. that cd is borderline sacriligious, with dylan's totally shot vocals evoking laughter more than anything. you are not to be trusted with any reviews, and apparently the music buying public agrees, as everyone from bocelli to archuleta to sugarland's cd is outselling that pos.

Don't believe what the Music Journo Review its unreliable you should review it yourself.

Bob Dylan given ***1/2 Stars stop making a fool of yourself - are you being paid? Have your heard him sing? I don't think people are that stupid what is good music unless you are his drinking-buddy. Definitely no one will listen to his CD on Christmas Day.

You are just laughable giving Boy Dylan a ***1/2 star;He received ** 2 star in PEOPLE MAGAZINE just to let you know and his CD went to #2 for its a give away for charity. Hahaha!

At the end of the day HYPE won't help.

David Archuleta's album has a lot of intriguing touches. There are bits of other carols and sacred songs woven into the arrangements of many of the songs and they are creative in many other ways as well. Many of the arrangements were done by award winning arranger, producer and composer Kurt Bestor who also traveled to Prague to record the symphony. I was surprised to hear David sing not only Spanish but also in French and Latin. And his pop and soulful touches on many songs bring an updated feel while still respecting the original material. His rendition of Ave Maria is gorgeous. There are not many surprises in the song choices because David wanted this album to be about what he feels is most important about Christmas - sacred songs about the birth of Christ, a couple of old standards about being home for Christmas, and one original song about the music of Christmas and the memories it brings. But though the all but one of the songs are old, David makes them new and fresh. David performed several of these songs at the live show of FOX's Kaleidoscope in Washington DC and he is currently on tour doing concerts that start as pop and then switch to all Christmas where he performs many songs from this album. David's album is currently #20 out of all albums on iTunes (not just Holiday albums).

Also be on the lookout for "8-Bit Christmas," by a good friend of mine. If you are an 80's video game fan, you'll love this collection. It all sounds like a Nintendo Game Boy playing Christmas carols. 8bitchristmas.com

This music journo is lying to the teeth - don't believe this unreliable review before you buy Bob Dylan CD LISTEN AND CHECK IT OUT IN iTune.

Giving Bob Dylan a 3 1/2 star its just laughable - I think this is his drinking-buddy.

Mr. Randy Lewis,

People has two hears and not stupid for they know what is good music and good CD. Are being paid?

PEOPLE MAGAZINE gave him **Star only. His CD went to #2 for its A GIVE A WAY FOR CHARITY.

And please stop removing comments - I won't listen to Bob Dylan on Christmas Day, Hello !

Brandon, your post made me LOL this morning...thanks for the laughs. I've only heard snippets of Mr. Dylan's Christmas cd but I'm inclined to agree that it is not a cd I would buy based on the vocals I heard.

Why do you have to call David Archuleta "elfin"? David has the best Christmas album out there. He deserves 5 stars as far as I am concerned. I don't understand why some have to put an adjective before his name. He has a very nice name, David James Archuleta. If you have to put an adjective,how about...humble, handsome, kind, giving, down-to-earth...do I need to go on???? Please give him the respect he deserves. I don't think anyone would want to be called "elfin", except perhaps Santa's elves???

I don't understand your ratings at all! Bocelli's and Archie's are the BEST, hands down ~ especially Archie (the voice of an angel!)

I came across a YouTube video of a piano rendition to Jingle Bells that left me amazed from its quality and originality. After a quick search online I found it is was done by a composer & pianist called Roy Zu-Arets that released a full album called "Snowflakes" with Christmas classics in his magnificent arrangements.

This is the jingle bells video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftYPxUBe_Yg

and this is the album - http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/snowflakes-piano-holiday-classics/id342819685

Oh but Bocelli is amazing!

This article was predictable.

It's been out a while, but Joan Osborne's "Christmas Means Love" is a superb & soulful Christmas CD and well worth checking out...

As for Bob Dylan's Christmas CD, well if PEOPLE says it's no good than the argument ends there, I guess.


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: