Jingle bells? Christmas albums reviewed

An Americana Christmas. Picture: Contributed

An Americana Christmas. Picture: Contributed

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BELLS, baubles, and a bit of Bublé – it’s that time of year again. Meet your new festive soundtrack

The years of yuletide plenty, when even death metal bands were embracing the concept of the Christmas album, have hit a fallow bump. So anyone holding out for the Radiohead festive album of their dreams will be disappointed by this year’s pretty predictable crop of seasonal offerings. On the other hand, the dreaded Michael Bublé manages to restrict himself to just one cameo appearance, on Idina Menzel’s latest release.

Menzel is a Tony Award-winning musical theatre star who made her name in the original production of Wicked and is best known to small girls across the Disneyverse as the voice of Elsa in Frozen. On Christmas Wishes she emerges as a possible candidate for the Andy Williams mantle of good old-fashioned easy listening Christmas cheerleader. As well as picking some classy, atmospheric standards – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – she keeps the Disney faith with When You Wish Upon a Star and adds her own wistful December Prayer to curate exactly the sort of album to revel in once a year.

Hootie & the Blowfish frontman-turned-solo country artist Darius Rucker occupies similar, if more perfunctory easy listening territory on Home For The Holidays with Sheryl Crow taking the Bublé duet slot on Baby it’s Cold Outside, plus a few more hymns thrown in for the Bible Belt fanbase.

INDINA MENZEL:

CHRISTMAS WISHES
Warner Brothers

Star rating: ***

DARIUS RUCKER:

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Humphead

Star rating: **

AN AMERICANA CHRISTMAS

New West Records

Star rating: ***

BOYZONE: DUBLIN TO DETROIT

East West

Star rating: **

CHRISTMAS WORDS FOR YOU

Sony

Star rating: ***

THE RETROSPECTIVE SOUNDTRACK PLAYERS:

IT’S A WONDERFUL CHRITSMAS CAROL

Xtra Mile

Star Rating: ***

An Americana Christmas is a far more playful compilation of country Christmas tracks from the archives, including Bob Dylan’s nigh-legendary Must Be Santa, The Band’s languorous Christmas Must be Tonight and Johnny Cash lending his usual gravitas to nativity narrative The Gifts They Gave, beside six new recordings from the label’s roster, including Corb Lund’s wonderful weepy Just Me and These Ponies (For Christmas This Year).

Boyzone’s inoffensive Motown tribute Dublin To Detroit is not strictly a Christmas album but worth a mention given that their entire career has been a musical stocking filler. At least Ronan and the boys exhibit great taste in choosing the likes of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted by the late Jimmy Ruffin before straying towards the cheeseboard with Just My Imagination and I’m Doin’ Fine Now. Chuck in the token What Christmas Means to Me and you have the makings of a hearty seasonal singalong after a few sweet sherries.

Christmas Words For You is the equivalent of a cosy Christmas jumper, comprising sensitive recitations by silver-tongued thesps Joanna Lumley, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Tompkinson and Hermione Norris of festive poems by a superstar list of literary greats – Shakespeare, Coleridge, Betjeman, Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, Louisa May Alcott, William Blake and Christina Rossetti’s deathless In The Bleak Midwinter – set to soothing piano instrumentals of classic Christmas carols. Light the clove-scented candle and drift away...

Finally, what could be more Christmassy than Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life? A concept indie folk album inspired by both, perhaps? The Retrospective Soundtrack Players write themselves into hybrid yuletide tale It’s A Wonderful Christmas Carol lifting wholesale quotes for the songs Every Time a Bell Rings an Angel Gets its Wings and No Man is Poor Who Has Friends and inviting singer/songwriters Chris T-T, Frank Turner and Ben Marwood to sing the parts of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. But despite copious references to snow, spirits and the like, there is nothing especially Christmassy about the cheery, skiffly music, beyond a Salvation Army band-style crescendo to finish.

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