Ten-year-old prodigy Jackie Evancho was a huge hit on "America's Got Talent" last summer and has wowed millions more on YouTube. She carries that success into the Christmas season with an introductory CD/DVD package. There are only four songs on the CD — the title cut, "Silent Night," "Panis Angelicus" and "Pie Jesu" — but they showcase her pure and angelic voice that seems way bigger than she is. The DVD includes her TV appearances, the audition tape that got her on the show and a post-competition interview. It will be fun to see where she goes from here.
ANNIE LENNOX, "A Christmas Cornucopia" (Decca).
You might say British pop icon Annie Lennox was born to do a Christmas album — after all, her birthday is Dec. 25. But it took awhile; this is her sixth solo album since Eurythmics. For it, she chose carols and songs that she's sung since she was little. "They're just in me," she writes, "so it was not an arbitrary selection." But they highlight her love of world culture, and they showcase her distinctive, smoky voice. Her concern for children is also represented by the African's Children's Choir, which appears on many of the selections, and by her own "Universal Child." The album has a vintage sound, with a modern twist — as she puts it, without "the glaze, and the overcommercialized festive gloop."
MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," with Natalie Cole and the Orchestra at Temple Square (Mormon Tabernacle Choir).
The latest in what has become a much-anticipated tradition, the CD based on last year's Christmas concert offers seasonal music at its finest. From the opening processional, "Come, O Come," featuring music by Mack Wilberg, through other traditional carols ("Holly and the Ivy," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"), popular favorites ("Grown Up Christmas List," "The Christmas Song") to the signature "Angels From the Realms of Glory," the collection sparkles with Christmas spirit. Natalie Cole adds class and distinction to familiar favorites. Richard Elliott has fun at the organ with "Good King Wenceslas." "Christmas Carols in the Air" takes you on a spirited worldwide journey. Wilberg's arrangement of "O Holy Night" is as pretty as you'll ever hear. To use Cole's favorite description, it's "unforgettable."
The same can be said for the companion DVD, which includes the entire concert, including narration and stories by award-winning historian and author David McCullough and the dancers. Truly a treasure.
STEVEN SHARP NELSON, "Christmas Cello" (GVC Records).
Steven Sharp Nelson does just about everything you can do with a cello, from playing it like a guitar to eliciting soulful sounds and deep feelings. Not surprising from someone who claims Victor Borge, Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin all as influences. His impeccable technique and evocative approach serve him (and listeners) well on this collection of beautiful carols, hymns and songs. Special guests include pianists Paul Cardall, Jon Schmidt and Marshall McDonald, guitarist Al Van der Beek and percussionist Giles Reaves. Songs include "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Simple Gifts," "Still, Still, Still," "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Winter Winds."
O'JAYS, "Christmas With the O'Jays" (Saguaro Road Records).
Soul superstars The O'Jays serve up "plenty of reasons to groove around the Christmas tree" with a Christmas album done with their inimitable sense of style. Included are holiday classics such as "The First Noel," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "What Child Is This," and a couple of brand-new offerings: "I'm What You Want" and "'Cause It's Christmas." The CD was "created with the best intentions and in good spirit," says Walter Williams Sr. That genuineness and heart-felt emotion comes through clearly.
BEN RUDNICK & FRIENDS, "It's Santa Claus" Bartlett Ave. Records).
The motto of Ben and Friends is "fun for all." They are clearly having a good time with this collection of classic Christmas songs such as "Jingle Bells," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Frosty the Snowman" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." There's some great picking on an instrumental "Greensleeves," and their original title song will get your toes tapping as well. It's an album that the whole family will enjoy. Lot of energy, liveliness and fun.
TERRY OLDFIELD, "Silent Night, Peaceful Night" (New Earth).
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