With even the Pope muscling into the festive albums market this year, the high priestess of pop, Kylie Minogue, finally wraps herself up and delivers a Christmas collection with typical wholesome glamour, twinkly charm and a big bow on top. Kylie Christmas (Parlophone, ***) is broad brush stuff. Her light, cutesy, coquettish vocals suit the trad advert fare including, by the magic of Christmas, a duet with Frank Sinatra on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. There’s also a non-magical duet with James Corden, an unexpected liaison with Iggy Pop on Christmas Wrapping, and a handful of so-so originals, including Chris Martin’s drab Every Day’s Like Christmas (not like this, please), the slick sleigh bells pop of White December and a disco duet with sister Dannii called 100 Degrees.
In the absence of a Michael Bublé Crimbo effort, this year’s easy listening festive market is up for grabs. Clean-cut classical crossover vocal group Blake are joined by Shirley Bassey, the game dame, on A Classic Christmas (Blake Records, **) notable only for a classy take on Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time Is Here, that minor key gem from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Father Ray Kelly’s An Irish Christmas Blessing (Wrasse, ***) is cut from the same slick cloth. The parish priest-turned-YouTube star applies his smooth, strong crooner’s voice to predictable Christmas fare from When A Child Is Born to the overwrought Mary, Did You Know? with lashings of chorus effect and uilleann pipes on the reassuringly old-fashioned arrangements. It’s strictly Val Doonican Christmas Special territory but easily palatable if taken with a large dose of tinselly Christmas spirit.
The supremely soulful Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings mine their respective tradition with a tad more pizzazz. This righteous New York R&B outfit invoke the spirit of A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector with their first ever seasonal offering, It’s A Holiday Soul Party (Daptone Records, ****), zipping through a peppy mix of originals, carols and standards, including a slow jam rendition of Silent Night, funky instrumental God Rest Ye Merry Gents and a straight take on bluesy Yuletide standard Please Come Home For Christmas. Most of their originals, including the fabulously titled Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects and the playful Big Bulbs, are more disposable efforts, though World of Love is a satisfying, socially conscious prayer in the style of Marvin Gaye. This could be the start of a Dappy Christmas tradition.
The Grand Gestures’ Happy Holidays (Chute Records, ***) is a genuinely alternative Christmas album, devoid of sleigh bells, kids’ choirs or any of the usual festive sonic signposting. Instead Jan Burnett, the Gestures’ musical curator, provides the downbeat, sometimes spooky, sometimes oddly devotional music to which a party of handpicked guests matches song lyrics and verse around Christmas themes. Hipsway/Jazzateers frontman Grahame Skinner delivers a woozy contemporary croon, The Birthday Boy, Andrew Mitchell of Idlewild and The Hazey Janes contemplates a fragile, mournful Death of a New Year, while Andrew Howie and Pauline Alexander lower the pulse rate on Quiet, a haunting plea for respite during the clamour of Christmas.
There are campfire tales too. Poet Ross Thompson offers three Christmas snapshots, of freezing student accommodation and cabins in woods, Graham Anderson recalls crappy Christmas pasts on his humbug ’til It Got Christmas and Sanjeev Kohli picks over the bathos of a childhood Christmas on the increasingly dark and claustrophobic I Never Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus.
Science and Magic (Joyful Noise Recordings, ***) by Lil Bub is a quirky stocking filler, being the retro electronica compositions of a feline internet star with a permanently startled expression or, more likely, said moggie’s owner who was possibly channelling Disney’s The Cat From Outer Space while in the studio.
Speaking of which, We Love Disney (Verve Records, ***) is a solid collection of mostly conventional covers of songs from Disney films, from the hep Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat to the ubiquitous Let It Go. The prospect of Olly Murs and Robbie Williams tackling I Wanna Be Like You will repel as many listeners as it attracts but Kacey Musgraves, Jessie Ware and Gwen Stefani compensate with their respective versions of A Spoonful of Sugar, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes and The Muppets’ gorgeous Rainbow Connection. Fill those stockings.