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Craig Holyoak, Deseret Morning News

There's magic in the air when it comes to the holidays. If we take a few minutes out of our hustling, bustling shopping, we can feel it.

Yet, while we all anticipate the gatherings and gift-giving, nothing helps us get into the spirit more than hearing those timeless yuletide carols.

Music is an important part of the Christmas season, so, as in years past, music editor Scott Iwasaki and other Deseret Morning News critics take a look at some of the new seasonal albums.

HERB ALPERT & THE TIJUANA BRASS; "Christmas Album" (Shout Factory)

Originally released in 1968, Herb Alpert's "Christmas Album" became the Tijuana Brass' sixth Top 10 album in two years. Aided by a hit single, a Brassy take on Rodgers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," this album would return each holiday season to the top half of the charts. Shout Factory has re-released this album and brought back the samba of "Winter Wonderland" and a crooning version of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." "Jingle Bell Rock," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Jingle Bells" are holiday classics redone with the Latin-jazz feel. — Scott Iwasaki

JANEEN BRADY; "Everything Christmas" (BriteMusic)

Brady promises "Everything Christmas," and that's exactly what she delivers with 16 original songs that cover the gamut from the traditional story of the Nativity to the jolly fun of modern-day celebrating. Brady has always been known for strong melodies and sweet messages that appeal to children, and this collection is no exception. Young singers capture the essence of many of the songs; but the addition of adult voices, including David Osmond, Jenny Froggley and a very Santa-sounding Greg Griffiths, adds interest. Froggley is especially nice on "Jesus Was Laid in a Manger." Other songs convey the "Santa Claus Shuffle," tell of Santa going "Off to the Bahamas," and put together a "Christmas Morning Band" but also talk of "The Present You Give Away," and how "Christmas Is Love." — Carma Wadley

MELOU STEWART CLINE; "The Sleep of the Child Jesus" (M.S. Cline)

As a music therapist, Cline knows of the power and effect of music. As a talented musician, she knows how to create it. She plays the piano, violin and xylophone. She sings. She arranges and composes. She showcases all those facets on music on this CD, which features a selection of her favorite carols, some well-known and others less familiar. It is pleasing, relaxing music that strikes an emotional chord. Guest artists Michael Van Dam on cello and Debi Gilmore on flute add particularly nice touches on the title cut, as well as "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "How Far Is It To Bethlehem."— C.W.

JOHN DENVER; "Rocky Mountain Christmas" (RCA/Legacy)

This little nugget was originally released in 1975, during the late Denver's heyday. The singer/songwriter had just topped the charts with "I'm Sorry," after a chain of Top 10 hits. The songs here are a mix of traditional carols, easy pop and favorite originals. Denver's own "Aspenglow" and "A Baby Just Like You" stand well with "The Christmas Song" and guitarist Steve Weisberg's "Christmas for Cowboys." Also included are "SiIver Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Away in a Manger" — and the poignant anti-alcohol anthem, "Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)." The reissue adds Denver's take on "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas." — S.I.

BILL ENGVALL; "Here's Your Christmas Album" (Warner Bros.)

Country comedian Engvall has decided to put all his humorous holiday songs together in one package. Each song features a spoken-line intro, and some of those are enough to make you smile. "I'm Getting Sued by Santa Clause," "Rudolph Got a DUI," "Fruitcake Makes Me Puke" and "A Gift She Don't Want" are just a sample of the country craziness on this album. — S.I.

DAVID GLEN HATCH; "The Joy of Christmas" (Covenant)

Classical pianist Hatch's fresh interpretations give depth and meaning to old carols, as well as a few newer songs. Hatch's notes on the history and interpretation of each song add meaning, and with orchestrations by Marden Pond, these songs take you on exciting journeys. "Coventry Carol," a haunting lullaby from the 1500s, uses themes and sounds characteristic of Renaissance music. "I Saw Three Ships" captures "the grandeur of the sea, the rolling of powerful waves, and the majesty of tall ships on the ocean." They infuse "We Three Kings" with a sense of mystery. Several songs feature both childrens and adult choirs, which also add variety and interest. There are 18 songs in all, each one unique. — C.W.

HEARTBOUND with MARVIN GOLDSTEIN; "This Is Christmas" (Heartbound)

Heartbound has put together a collection of praise and worship that is filled with warmth and emotion. In addition to favorite Christmas songs, such as "Carol of the Bells," "Mary Did You Know" and "Grownup Christmas List," each of the women has an original composition (Debbie Bastian's "Glory," Lori Hales' "Had I Been There" and Me'Chel Musgrave's "Rearranging Christmas") that demonstrate their song-writing abilities, with thought-provoking ideas and beautiful melodies. In addition, they team up for a song that conveys their main message: "He was born. He lives. He still lives — This Is Christmas." They are accompanied by Marvin Goldstein on piano, but a variety of other musicians also add to the richness. — C.W.

IL DIVO; "The Christmas Collection" (Columbia Records)

Call them the "opera boyband" if you must, but this quartet of gorgeous guys demonstrate gorgeous voices in gorgeous harmony. Comprised of an American, a French, a Spanish and a Swiss singer, the cosmopolitan group bridges the world between classic and pop with a sound that is rich, warm and powerful. Their yuletide collection includes "O Holy Night," "Ave Maria" "Panis Angelicus," a beautiful "When A Child Is Born" and a moving version of "The Lord's Prayer." — C.W.

KENNY G; "The Greatest Holiday Classics" (Arista)

This is a Kenny G's "Christmas Greatest Hits" album. The 16 tracks were culled from various albums released from 1994. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," "Jingle Bell Rock," "My Favorite Things" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are just a few of the songs arranged for his saxophone. And "The Chanukah Song" for the sake of his own religious holiday celebration. — S.I.

JANA; "American Indian Christmas" (Standing Stone)

Jana Mashonee has devoted her life to promoting her Native American culture. A member of the Lumee tribe, she presents workshops at elementary, junior high and high schools throughout the country. Mashonee's Christmas album has various carols and hymns recorded in Native American languages. "O Holy Night" sung in Navajo, "Silent Night" in Arapaho and a Cherokee version of "What Child Is This" are a sample of the album's flavor, backed by an orchestra and a group of Native American musicians. — S.I.

LISA LYNNE & GEORGE TORTORELLI; "Silent Night" (Lavender Sky Music)

Lisa Lynne and George Tortorelli use an impressive list of instruments, including the Celtic harp, wire strung harp, mandolin, dulcimer, bowzouki, glockenspiel, bamboo flute, recorder, santoor and more, to create an airy, ethereal sound. Their interpretations include "The First Noel," "Joy to the World," "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "The Little Drummer Boy," and original compositions "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" and "Morning Star," which are fully in keeping with the soft, seasonal sound. There's a bit of sameness to some of the selections, but if you're looking for soft, moody music for backgrounds, you could do worse. — C.W.

MARAH; "Marah Presents 'A Christmas Kind of Town' " (Yep Roc)

With a touch of soulful, roots-rock and polka, Marah has found itself gaining favor with music fans across the country. The band's new Christmas album is bound to bring more fans to the fold. Recorded in a live setting in New York, the album brings back the flavor of vintage holiday AM-radio commercial skits, and some toe-tapping takes on "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Let It Snow," three versions of "Here We Come a Wassailing" and "Christmas Time's a Comin'." — S.I.

TODD McCABE and APRIL MORIARTY; "My Redeemer Lives Volume Three: Bethlehem"

(Sounds of Zion) Pianist Todd McCabe and violinist April Moriarty perform songs celebrating Christ's birth in this elegant and eloquent CD. The two perform with an exciting synergy, complementing and enhancing each other as they trade off melody and accompaniment on original arrangements of familiar carols and hymns. Included are "What Child Is This," "O Holy Night," "Away in the Manger," "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Some Children See Him." They also add intriguing medleys such as "Still, Still, Still/Stars Were Gleaming," "I Wonder As I Wander/We Three Kings" and "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful/Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." A respectful, reverent collection that offers something new with each play. — C.W.

MARSHALL MCDONALD; "Christmas Dreams" (Covenant)

"Christmas Dreams" is the name of one of the songs from McDonald's musical score for "Christmas Oranges," which is included on this CD, but it also describes his long-held desire to do a Christmas album. The fulfillment of those dreams are a listener's delight. This collection is filled with flowing melodies and impressive piano technique, new interpretations of old favorites and original compositions. The version of "Still, Still, Still," which also features Steven Nelson on the cello is a beautiful rendition. Vocals by Chad Neth add interest on "Christmas This Way," which was written by McDonald's sister, Rebecca. The original compositions create a soft mood, while the ethereal vocals on "Alleluia" make it an angelic anthem of grace. — C.W.

JANE MONHEIT; "The Season" (Epic)

Jazz vocalist Jane Monheit has a sultry voice that wraps nicely around this collection of mostly contemporary songs. She moves easily from the soft and seductive "Moonlight in Vermont" and "Merry Christmas Darling" to the lively and upbeat of "The Man With a Bag" and "Sleighride." She throws in a little scat on "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and ends on a poignant note with "My Grownup Christmas List." There's even a very pretty version of "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day." — C.W.

REGIS PHILBIN; "The Regis Philbin Christmas Album" (Hollywood Records)

Philbin began his career in the 1960s as a nightclub singer, touring with Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Tony Bennett and Don Rickles, so he does have some musical claim to fame. This CD has a bit of a nightclub feel to it, with some swing sound and Philbin's breathy delivery. He teams up with his wife Joy on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Winter Wonderland." Steve Tyrell joins him on "Marshmallow World." Other tracks include "Winter Wonderland," "Silver Bells' and "Where Do We Go For Christmas." The version of "Rudolph," where he is joined by Donald Trump, is about as corny as it gets, however. — C.W.

MARTIN SEXTON; "Camp Holiday" (Kitchen Table)

Singer/songwriter Sexton holed up in a cabin over the summer and recorded this little Christmas album. The stripped-down acoustic versions of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" find new life. "Silent Night," "Auld Lang Syne," "O Christmas Tree" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" sound like they were made for the acoustic touch. "Blue Christmas" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" are also included. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses. — S.I.

SKAGGS FAMILY; "A Skaggs Family Christmas" (Skaggs Family Records)

"Homey" is as good a word as any to describe this CD. Not only did it originate with some living-room sessions with the Ricky Skaggs/Buck White extended family, but it also has an old-time quality. It is lively and spirited but has a gentleness that reminds you of hearth and home. There's variety, as different family members take their turn with lead vocals. Ricky works in some of his traditional bluegrass, Buck narrates a touching story-song, and Sharon White Skaggs, Molly and Luke Skaggs, and Cheryl and Rachel White all join in on a collection of carols and country classics. — C.W.

UMIXIT; "U-Sing-It Christmas" (Webster Hall)

Ever want to try your luck making your own Christmas music? Now you can. Webster Hall Records has come up with "U-Sing-It Christmas" that allows you to record your own voice on nine previously recorded tracks and e-mail them to your friends. The "U-Sing-It Christmas" CD contains a program that allows you to load a mixing board onto your PC. You don't have to go online and do a ton of downloads to get the right equipment. All you need is this CD. From there you can replace the pre-recorded vocals and instruments with your own voice and instruments, if you wish. Pop-up lyrics — karaoke style — and a do-it-yourself reverb and effects control, allows you to mix your own music. — S.I.

JUANITA ULLOA; "Paz y Alegria" (Ulloa Productions)

Ulloa is a Yale graduate who was born in Mexico. She has served as an ambassador for Peru and Mexico. She has also recorded six CDs. Her latest is a collection of Christmas songs; the title means "Peace and Joy." Renditions of traditional songs such as "O Holy Night" ("Noche Inmortal") and "Silent Night" ("Noche de Paz") are mixed well with "Canto a la Paz" ("Song for Peace") and the traditional carol from Spain, "Fum Fum Fum." This little album is a nice change of pace from the over-produced commercialized music that's been released over the past decade. — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Christmas Angels" (Capitol)

It doesn't get any more country than Amber Dotson's twangy, steel-guitar version of "Blue Christmas," which kicks off this collection. But just when you think you have it pegged as a traditional country album, along comes Allison Krauss's bluegrass "Shimmy Down the Chimney," Bethany Dillon's jazzy "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and Deana Carter's "Boogie Woogie Santa," which conjures up visions of the jitterbug. And you realize that the defining characteristic here is not genre but gender. These are all females with strong voices, who also have country leanings but not necessarily total commitment. Other contributors are Jamie O'Neal, Jennifer Hanson, Cyndi Thomson, Nichole Nordeman, Suzy Bogguss and Tanya Tucker. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Elton John's Christmas Party" (Hear Music/Universal)

Captain Fantastic has assumed control. Yes, Elton John has selected a mix of his favorite renditions of Christmas songs for your listening pleasure. This CD features John's own "Step Into Christmas," El Vez's version of "Feliz Navidad," the Ronette's "Frosty the Snowman" and the Flaming Lips' "A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So)." British singer Joss Stone teams up with John on "Calling It Christmas," the Pretenders' "2000 Miles" and Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run." Surprises include OutKast's "Playa's Ball" and the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight." The addition of the Ventures' "Jingle Bell Rock" is nothing short of flamboyant genius. — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "The Essential Winter's Solstice" (Windham Hill/Legacy)

More than 20 years ago, a little, independent record company in northern California was producing a new genre of instrumental recordings by such artists as George Winston, Will Ackerman, Alex de Grassi and Liz Story. With classical, folk, jazz and other overtones, it went without category until someone else (not them) dubbed it New Age. By 1985, Windham Hill was successful enough that the idea of producing a joint Christmas album came up. The result was the first "Winter Solstice." A tradition was born and eventually eight "Solstice" and "Christmas" albums came along. In honor of that 20-year anniversary, this is a two-disc collection of the most popular songs from those collections. — C.W.


The Timpanogos Singer/Songwriter Alliance serves up a varied menu in this compilation album. It's a sampler of genres — everything from Celtic to folk to country to pop to blues — as well as a mixture of instrumental, vocal and group performances. There's a lot of originality, with a few new interpretations of traditional songs stirred in. And it all works well together. Especially flavorful are Jesse Thurgood's original "Angels"; Carrie Scott and JaNae Kotter's blend of "Still, Still, Still" and "Silent Night"; Jeff Hinton and Quint Randle with a countryesque "I Still Believe"; and Skye Pixton's soft and airy "Angels We Have Heard On High." Also contributing are Eclipse, Sam Payne, Shawn Cavalli, One Voice Children's Choir, Peter Breinholt, Jon Schmidt, Fiddlesticks, Russ Kendall and Amy Gileadi and Johnny and the Rebels. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Nick Holiday" (Nick Records/Sony)

Kids (and adults) who want a little fun in their holiday music can kick back and laugh along with these 14 songs sung by various Nickelodeon cable-channel characters. SpongeBob SquarePants and friends ham it up with "The Very First Christmas," Dora the Explorer and her crew discover "Feliz Navidad," then the gang from "Blues Room" do "Spin Dreidel Spin" and "Jingle Bells," whiled Jimmy Neutron and his family and friends think about "Basking in the Warmth of Christmas." The Rugrats bunch has three tracks — "Twelve Days of Rugrats," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Toys for the Girls." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Taste of Christmas" (Warcon)

Metal, punk and emo are the flavor for these Christmas originals and remakes. Utah's own The Used have "Alone This Holiday," and lead singer Bert McCracken fronts the Street Drum Corps on John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." Amped does a number with "We Three Kings" and Roses Are Red do one over on George Michael with a punk version of Wham's "Last Christmas." The Black Halos find time for "Homeless for Christmas" and From First to Last shoot out "Christmassacre." Bedlight for Blue Eyes and My American Heart crash it up with "Christmas Song" and "First Noel," respectively. Irreverent and furious, the album is a skater's dream. — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "The Night Before Christmas: A Windham Hill Christmas" (Windham Hill)

Windham Hill — home of pianist Philip Aaberg, pianist George Winston and guitarist Will Ackerman — has made the holidays enjoyable with its "Windham Hill Christmas" series. This time around , multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless' "Angels We Have Heard on High," Aaberg's "Wassail Song" and pianist Jim Brickman's "O Tannenbaum" are cozy tunes. Violist Tracy Silverman's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and harpist Barbara Higbie's "Silent Night" bring to mind warm fires and hot chocolate. Winston moves from piano to acoustic guitar for "Cherry Tree Carol." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Welcome Home for The Holidays: An FM 100 Christmas, Volume V" (Bonneville International)

The latest in a series of collections culled from seasonal mini-concerts sponsored by the local radio station, this year's offering is an eclectic mix that showcases the talents of local musicians, with Michael Dowdle's spirited guitar solo on "What Child Is This," Kirkmount on some lively "Christmas Jigs." Kurt Bestor adds his usual touch of elegance with "Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella." Paul Cardall ("We Three Kings") and David Tolk ("Amazing Grace") are equally impressive. The Studio A Children's Choir raises angelic voices on "One Star/Angels We Have Heard On High." Nancy Hanson adds a lighthearted touch with her "Frosty the Snowman." Other performers include Cherie Call, Peter Breinholt, Angela Winston, Ryan Shupe & The Rubber Band, Jon Schmidt, Voice Male, Lokahi and Craig Miner. As always, proceeds benefit The Road Home homeless shelter. — C.W.

VEGGIE TALES; "The Incredible Singing Christmas Tree" (Big Idea)

The Veggie Tales gang is looking for a star to top the singing Christmas Tree for a Christmas Eve production. Each character does a take on a Christmas song, in hopes of winning the Top Spot. It's kind of like American Idol with the Veggies gang. "O Christmas Tree," "Puppy Love," "Silent Night," "Joy to the World" and Wynonna makes a guest appearance on "It's About Love." The CD is a nice and friendly way to spend Christmas with your children. — S.I.

VOICE MALE; "Jingles 2" (Voice Male Music)

This CD — a follow-up to the a cappella group's first and very successful Christmas album — just gives you a happy feeling. Maybe it's because the six guys sing with such energy, harmony, and amazing vocal effects, that you know they are having a good time and you want to be part of it. The collection features a variety of favorite songs and carols, including a joyful "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," a reverent "We Three Kings," a light-hearted "Jingle Bells," and a beautifully resonant "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Their wives join them to turn "Baby It's Cold Outside" into a party. Three bonus tracks, recorded live during concerts, capture some of the sextet's wacky humor. — C.W.

BRIAN WILSON; "What I Really Want for Christmas" (Arista)

Comment on this story

Even an album that's supposed to be a solo work from Brian Wilson sounds like a Beach Boys album. Wilson does holiday classics, such as "Deck the Halls" and "Oh Holy Night," as well as Beach Boys faves, "Little Saint Nick" and "The Man With All the Toys." And there are also what the press release touts as "brand-new holiday standards."(Can new songs be standards?) A mixed bag of interesting and so-so arrangements, but if you like that distinctive Beach Boys sound . . . er, I mean, Brian Wilson sound . . . you should like this. — C.H.