Holiday music releases have new takes on classics



As usual, it’s a bountiful season for Christmas music. Here’s a look at the best of the new releases.


KELLY CLARKSON: Wrapped In Red (RCA Records) – Clarkson’s tendency to over-sing (Baby, It’s Cold Outside, My Favorite Things and Every Christmas) keeps this much-anticipated holiday album from being all it could have been. A couple of original tunes, 4 Carats and Just For Now, are high points. Still, it’s a well-intentioned, but overblown effort. – 2½ stars


MARY J. BLIGE: A Mary Christmas (Verve/Interscope/Matriarch Records) – Blige has softened her tough, street-wise image so much that she can make a Christmas album with producer David Foster – king of the big mushy ballad. Foster puts his touch on lushly orchestrated versions of My Favorite Things, The Christmas Song and Do You Hear What I Hear. Blige, though, still shows a little edge on the sassy This Christmas and a jazzy Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – two highlights of this well-executed, well-sung, but safe effort. – 3 stars


VARIOUS ARTISTS: Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas (EMI Records Nashville) – It turns out the Duck Dynasty gang has some musical talent, as Duck The Halls is one of the season’s most refreshing and enjoyable holiday albums. Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas and Hairy Christmas show plenty of down-home humor, while Missy Robertson showcases a lovely voice on several tunes. – 3½ stars


LEONA LEWIS: Christmas, With Love (RCA Records) – The British singer (and 2006 winner of The X Factor) successfully puts a Motown spin on White Christmas, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday and the originals, Mr. Right and One More Sleep, creating an album that should be a holiday favorite for years to come. – 4 stars


JEWEL: Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection (Somerset Group) – Jewel has a couple of twangy moments on Let It Snow, but mostly sticks with an oft-done pop template. Still, her singing is easy on the ears and a few creative touches (especially on The Christmas Song and I’ll Be Home For Christmas) elevate this pleasing collection. – 3½ stars


SUSAN BOYLE: Home For Christmas (Columbia/Syco Music) – The voice that floored all of England on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 is back with her second Christmas album. Boyle’s voice is still special, but some predictable and stodgy production does her no favors here. – 3 stars


BAD RELIGION: Christmas Songs (Epitaph Records) – The punk veterans put a charge into the holidays, rocking through eight holiday standards in a crisp 19 minutes. – 4 stars


JOHNNY MATHIS: Sending You a Little Christmas (Colum­bia Records) – One of the classic voices of Christmas, Mathis duets with Billy Joel, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan and Susan Boyle on a satisfying sixth holiday album of his storied career. – 3½ stars


BRANDON HEATH: Christmas Is Here (Reunion Records) – One of Christian music’s rising stars, Heath does the expected parcel of hymns, but happily he also shows a lighter side, poking fun at the earlier-by-the-year arrival of the Christmas shopping season on The Day After Thanksgiving and remembering one of the most wondrous parts of being a kid on Momma Wouldn’t Lie To Me. – 3 stars


ERASURE: Snow Globe (Mute Records) – Erasure puts its synth-pop touch on several standards – without getting too kitschy – then ups the ante with a healthy complement of original material. Two such tunes, Loving Man and Brooklyn, are standouts. – 3½ stars


JIM BRICKMAN: The Magic Of Christmas (Somerset Group) – Brickman does the expected here – plenty of solo (or near solo) instrumental piano performances of holiday standards mixed with a few vocal tunes. Brickman’s gentle sound may be too light for some, but with The Magic of Christmas, he gives his fans what they want. – 3 stars


TAMAR BRAXTON: Winter Loversland (Streamline/Epic Records) – Braxton is back with a holiday album that is soulful, at times even sensual (Santa Baby) and finds her giving a few standards some fresh vocal wrinkles (Santa Claus Is Coming To Town). – 3½ stars


VARIOUS ARTISTS: Festivus 2 (Highline Records) – This CD assembles holiday tunes from 16 under-appreciated alternative rock acts. Winners here include Good King Winceslas by the Lilys, the cheeky Baby Jesus Was The First Glam Rocker by the Glam Chops (featuring Eddie Argos of Art Brut, perhaps the best known artist on this album), Ulysses’ I Wish You A Merry Christmas, Darling Boy’s Byrds-ish Thank God It’s Christmas and the Priscillas’ One Christmas Wish. – 3½ stars


VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Best Man Holiday (RCA Records) – Even if The Best Man Holiday doesn’t connect with movie-goers, the star-studded soundtrack should. R. Kelly, Charlie Wilson, Jordin Sparks, Fantasia and Ne-Yo all deliver winning performances. – 3½ stars


WHITNEY WOLANIN: Run, Run Rudolph (TopNotch Records) – Rocking versions of the title song, Frosty The Snowman and Silver Bells make for a short, but sweet holiday EP. – 3½ stars