Its word association time. Say the first word that springs to mind: holiday . Did you think season? Sale? Hangover? How about music?
This year, there are plenty of new holiday albums to pick from. Cee Lo Green, English pop-rocker Tracey Thorn and the left-field collective Redtenbacher Funkestra are just a few of the dozens of entertainers with albums out there made for celebrating the season. But which ones will offer yuletide cheer and which will feel like the same old thing, re-gifted?
Heres a 2012 roundup of new holiday music releases:
CEE LOS MAGIC MOMENT
Cee Lo Green
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The clown prince of R&B often lets his outsized public persona overshadow his music, but the man can sing. In fact, this collection might be the best guidance he could offer any contestants on The Voice or American Idol or X Factor, for that matter. The holiday spirits in full force here, in his loopy Motown-esque collaboration with the Muppets (All I Need Is Love), an inspired a cappella arrangement of Youre a Mean One, Mr. Grinch with Straight No Chaser and a stunningly powerful reading of Mark Lowry and Lee Greens Mary, Did You Know? Magic indeed.
CHRISTMAS WITH SCOTTY MCCREERY
The American Idol alum applies his grainy baritone with commitment but not much vision to the usual holiday suspects: The First Noel, Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells, etc., freshened only briefly by a couple of less well-traveled numbers.
HOLIDAYDREAM: SOUNDS OF THE HOLIDAYS VOLUME ONE
The Polyphonic Spree
The idiosyncratic Dallas symphonic pop collective courses from broad swaths of sonic textures lots of swirling harps and tinkling pianos with nicely low-tech touches. As the title suggests, theres an otherworldly ambience that mostly works to the familiar yuletide songs benefit.
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE HANUKKAH: THE MUSICAL BATTLE BETWEEN CHRISTMAS AND THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
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Easily the years most informative, illuminating holiday release, and it traces the parallel rise of Christmas and Hanukkah among religious and secular communities. The first of its two discs is devoted to Hanukkah-related songs, and its second disc to Christmas tracks written or sung by Jews including Bob Dylan, the Ramones, Lou Reed, Benny Goodman and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. An accompanying 32-page booklet features several essays with excellent context, including one by rock journalist Greil Marcus.
CHRISTMAS NUTCRACKER DUBSTEP & TECHNO CLASSICS
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Maybe its because theres such a flood of more conventional holiday releases year in and year out that this throbbing electronica workout sounds so refreshing. Blatting low frequency bursts counter shimmering high-end sounds in a generous chunk of the Tchaikovsky seasonal war horse plus a handful of classic carols and random classical-music staples. Wendy Carlos is smiling somewhere.
NOW THATS WHAT I CALL TODAYS CHRISTMAS
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Today is a relative term here the oldest of the 18 tracks is 16 years old (Trans-Siberian Orchestras Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo 12/24), and Christina Aguileras Christmas Time dates to 2000. But most of the acts, also including Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepson, Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Carrie Underwood, still have currency in todays music world. The originals Trains pumping Shake Up Christmas, Coldplays wistful Christmas Lights generate more interest than most of the covers.
A VERY FUNKY CHRISTMAS
Redtenbachers Funkestra * * *
This five-song EP is just the thing to brighten up any staid holiday gathering. These instrumentals percolate with Latin jazz-funk, bringing big-band juice and rhythmic punch to four yuletide classics and one original, the title track.
CHEERS, ITS CHRISTMAS
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Now that Sheltons a TV star on NBCs The Voice and half of a high-profile marriage (to Miranda Lambert, who helps him swing his way through Jingle Bell Rock), hes got a lot of constituencies to please. He sounds straitjacketed on White Christmas and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, but hes at home on the range trading verses with Reba McEntire on Oklahoma Christmas and with his own rollicking Santas Got a Choo Choo Train. Other guests include Michael Buble, Kelly Clarkson, Pistol Annies, Trypta-Phunk and Sheltons mom, Dorothy Shackleford.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY
The dubious latter-day keeper of the Great American Songbook flame applies his raspy vocal cords to the canon of classic holiday music. Hes no Bennett, and this is a long way from Gasoline Alley, making the tracks with a rhythmic pulse (especially Red-Suited Super Man, with Trombone Shorty) better suited to his rockers swagger than those demanding interpretive nuance. Stewarts holiday spirit also will take center stage on PBS in December in his special, Rod Stewart: Merry Christmas, Baby.
TINSEL AND LIGHTS
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The former Everything But the Girl singer and songwriter has reached well beyond the usual bounds for an especially imaginative playlist of songs from Randy Newman, Stephin Merritt, Jack White, Joni Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith, Green Gartside, Sufjan Stevens and a pair of deft Thorn originals. A holiday collection for the thinking and feeling pop music aficionado.
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American Idol hasnt been a breeding ground for singers with original vision, which is probably why this L.A.-based singer-songwriter made it only as far as fifth place on the shows seventh season. But she exhibits a real flair for injecting new ideas into ultra-familiar music, and adds three tunes of her own to further stir the pot. A nice surprise for Idol and non- Idol obsessives.
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This albums executive producer, Randall Poster, alone is a good indication of the eclectic talent here, and the prospect for inspired arrangements. Highlights among the 14 tracks: The Civil Wars aching rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Calexicos mariachi-tinged treatment of Green Grows the Holly (written by Henry VIII!) and Y La Bambas beguiling Senor Santa (Mister Santa).
CHRISTMAS IN THE SAND
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The pop-folk chanteuse puts a decidedly Southern California spin on the breezy title track she cowrote, and three other originals gently explore the joy and melancholy inherent in the season. Adding marquee value are such music-world pals as Gavin DeGraw, Jason Reeves, Justin Young and Brad Paisley.