Album reviews: A roundup of the best festive releases

Rod Stewart performs a festive number. Picture: Getty
Rod Stewart performs a festive number. Picture: Getty
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WITH the passing of Andy Williams earlier this year, you might think it would be kinder to let his tradition of easy listening Christmas entertainment slip away peacefully too. But no, here comes Rod Stewart to stick his finger right in that particular mince pie.

Having spent the past decade rehashing the great American songbook, he now turns his attention to some thoroughly predictable seasonal standards on his first ever Christmas album. Despite featuring guest vocal turns from such class acts as Cee Lo Green, Mary J Blige singing a cod Celtic mysticism-infused rendition of We Three Kings – who saw that coming? – and a beyond-the-grave duet with Ella Fitzgerald, Merry Christmas, Baby is an ultra- conventional collection of Crimbo material, culminating in an overblown Silent Night and the inevitable bagpipe rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Allergy warning: also contains traces of Michael Bublé.

The Canadian crooner himself returns to milk Christmas a bit more with the deluxe special edition of his Michael Bublé Christmas, featuring “bonus” unctuous Rat Pack pastiches of The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Frosty The Snowman and Silver Bells – presumably a commercial tactic to divert attention from his cruel murder of White Christmas, carried out with the assistance of evil accomplice Shania Twain.

The Glee bandwagon rumbles on with Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Vol.3, featuring polished power vocal renditions of the usual Yuletide suspects, plus a jolly romp through Feliz Navidad and Hanukkah, O Hanukkah, most of which feature on the show’s Christmas episode (it says here in the advertising bumph).

There is surprisingly little to choose between the cast of Glee and Lady Antebellum’s On This Winter’s Night, unless you place any credence in the Nashville group’s perceived musical authenticity. With the exception of the dreary self-penned title track, the trio cover much of the same material as the jazz hands kids, executed in similarly over-produced, soulless and predictable style but with added antiseptic country credentials. Their slick, souped-up country blues version of Blue Christmas misses the maudlin spirit of the song by a mile.

Steps, you may or may not have noticed, have reunited and elected to release a Christmas/winter-themed comeback album. Given their guilty pleasure status, I expected better of Light Up The World, but the cheesy quintet should at least be congratulated on picking a curveball Christmas repertoire, including a rather queasy rendition of History Is Made At Night from the TV series Smash and two Bacharach and David compositions – One Less Bell To Answer and A House Is Not A Home – which are hardly festive fare, unless Steps want to emphasise the heart-crushing, suicidal loneliness of the season.

The brand new title track is a decent big ballad with a smidgen of seasonal appeal and they eventually relent with a closing trio of recognisably Christmas tunes, including the hammy cabaret of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Please Come Home For Christmas, and a cocktail bar version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas to send you to sleep after the turkey course.

There are fairly slim pickings on the alternative Christmas albums front, but at least Highline Records have bothered to wish us all an indie schmindie Christmas with their Festivus compilation of Yuletide originals, featuring the gee-whiz indie pop of Alphabet Backwards’ Dearest Santa, indie melodrama of The Birthday Kiss’s Sentimental Christmastime and indie country of Correatown’s Christmas Time Is Here... you get the idea. It’s probably fair to say that a number of the acts involved have embarked on the project with tongues in cheeks, though The Werewandas crushing on Santa in a lo-fi country rockabilly style is quite a fun scene.

Tracey Thorn, best known as the vocal half of Everything But The Girl, also wants a slice of the Christmas pie, covering her favourite seasonal songs by artists such as Dolly Parton, Randy Newman, Ron Sexsmith, Sufjan Stevens and Joni Mitchell with sweetness and sensitivity on Tinsel And Lights. Plus Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside is not your typical Christmas dinner guest.

Finally, Bill Wells confronts his pet hate of Jingle Bells with the help of a quartet of vocalists on The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland’s Christmas Album. The ensemble are neither a trio nor, it could be argued, terribly jazzy. Their relentlessly mellow, moody and mournful renditions of Christmas carols and standards won’t be to everyone’s taste but they have certainly produced the most distinctive festive release in the stocking.