Kelly Clarkson, Nick Lowe and Susan Boyle deliver 2013’s best new Christmas music discs.
We’ve made a list of new holiday-music albums, dividing them into stocking stuffers, lumps of coal and gifts for your eccentric relatives.
Nick Lowe, “Quality Street” (YepRoc) — The veteran British popmeister is witty with his wordplay and inventive with his sounds on this season’s best collection. “Children Go Where I Send Thee” gets a soulful rockabilly reading while “Silent Night” defies its title and just rocks with cheesy organ, surf guitar and somber horns. The standout original is the retro-sounding “Christmas at the Airport,” a tart take on being snowbound at the terminal.
Jon Bream, Star Tribune
Kelly Clarkson, “Wrapped in Red” (RCA) — The first “American Idol” champ enters the Christmas canon with a sassy combination of original cuts and classics. Some of the fresh stuff zips; the title track and “Underneath the Tree,” both co-written by Clarkson, are sh-booming Phil Spector-sized throwbacks. That said, a couple of newbies, including the surf anomaly “4 Carats,” get stocking-coal status. As for the oldie-but-goodies, she sexily slow-drawls a honky-tonk “Blue Christmas,” and her epic “Please Come Home for Christmas” finishes with heartache fireworks.
Sean Daly, Tampa Bay Times
Susan Boyle, “Home for Christmas” (Syco) — The down-to-earth Scottish mezzo-soprano can still blow your hair back. Her multiplatinum 2010 Christmas album “The Gift” is still superior, and more daring (Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”), than this one. But if you crave earnest, solemnly serious tunes for those somber winter nights, her version of “The Lord’s Prayer” is a feat of reverence. Fair warning: They wake up Elvis Presley for a “duet” on “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It’s not great, but it is fascinatingly bizarro.S.D.
Various artists, “Just One Angel Vol. 2” (Yellow Tail) — Put together by New York singer/songwriter Christine Lavin, this 20-song compilation of originals is perfect for public-radio listeners. These are smart, warmly crafted, folk-styled tunes about fruitcake, mistletoe and no room at the inn. Highlights include the accordion-fueled “Chelsea Boys” by Spottiswoode & His Enemies, the saucy jazz ditty “Ho Ho Ho” by Bernice Lewis and the vintage-styled “I Want an Old Fashioned Christmas” by Amy Speace. Other than Tom Paxton and ex-“Dukes of Hazzard” star Tom Wopat, none of these artists is a household name, but you’ll want to listen to their tunes around the tree or in front of the fireplace.J.B.
Lumps of coal
Mary J. Blige, “A Mary Christmas” (Verve) — Blige gets positively jazzy on a swinging big-band take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” replete with some bona fide scatting on her part. Mostly, however, she’s operating in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir end of the musical spectrum, with arrangements emphasizing massed orchestral and choral forces often overwhelming the songs. Her musical collaborators include Barbra Streisand, Marc Anthony, Jessie J., the Clark Sisters and Chris Botti.
Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times