From sweetly sentimental to comically sarcastic, this year's new holiday CD releases run the gamut, and there are plenty to choose from. To help you decide which might best fulfill your musical Christmas needs, here is a sampling, as reviewed by Deseret Morning News critics.
MIKE BAIARDI; "Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Christmas Rock Classics" (Baby Rock Records) Baby Rock Records has made a name for itself with lullaby renditions of rock, metal and punk songs. This new album takes the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)," The Killers' "Great Big Sled," John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," among others, and makes them into lullabies with glockenspiels, vibraphones and mellotrons. Scott Iwasaki
JENNY OAKS BAKER; "O Holy Night" (Shadow Mountain) Impeccable technique, stellar arrangements, a glorious sound. Baker delivers it all. The former first violinist with the National Symphony offers 11 new arrangements by Kurt Bestor, Merrill Jenson, Lex de Azevedo and Dave Zabriskie, among others. Carols include "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella," "Ave Maria," "Hey Ho, Nobody Home," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Coventry Carol." This is one to listen to over and over; you'll hear something new each time. Carma Wadley
DAN BAND; "Ho: A Dan Band Christmas" (Reinearnate/Sony) Sarcastic holiday albums are nothing new. And this one isn't as tasteless as Larry the Cable Guy's CD (reviewed below), but there is a reason Band's album has a parental advisory sticker. He puts the X in Xmas. Actually, it's more of an R (as in R-rating). "Get Drunk & Make Out This Christmas," "Mrs. Claus" and "I Wanna Rock U Hard This Xmas" are a few of the suggestive songs. He also lampoons political correctness with "Christmakwanzakah" but then pleads for world peace with "Please, Don't Bomb Nobody This Holiday." S.I.
TONY BENNETT; "Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album" (Sony) Like the Energizer Bunny, Bennett keeps going and going. Now past 80, he has returned to the archives for this classic collection, which was originally released in 1968. Included are "My Favorite Things," "The Christmas Song," a medley of traditional carols, "White Christmas" and more. A bonus DVD contains five songs from Bennett's 1992 TV Christmas special. C.W.
JIM BRICKMAN; "Homecoming" (SLG Music) With two other Christmas CDs and a sampler tied to a book, Brickman's piano and holiday arrangements fit together like holly and ivy. Here, he once again touches sentimental heart strings with "Good King Wenceslas," "Deck the Halls," "Still Nacht" and "I Saw Three Ships." Violinist David Klinkenberg joins in on "Joy," vocalists Gerald Levert on "My Angel (Christmas)" and Richie McDonald on "Coming Home for Christmas." Put this in and cuddle the cold away. S.I.
CELINE DION; "These Are Special Times" (Columbia Records) Dion's voice and style made her the best-selling female artist of the '90s. She's still very hot but has now reached collector's status. Her multiplatinum Christmas album has been remastered and rereleased in this "collector's edition," which includes a bonus DVD of the 1998 Christmas TV special that accompanied the original. "O Holy Night," "Adeste Fideles" and "Ave Maria," as well as originals "Another Year Has Gone By" and "I'm Your Angel," are done in English, Spanish, French, Latin and Italian. Her duet with Andrea Boccelli on "The Prayer" has become a signature song. C.W.
DIAMOND RIO; "The Star Still Shines: A Diamond Rio Christmas" (World Label Group) The country superstar group presents a Christmas party wrapped in a CD. The mix of secular and traditional carols includes everything from fast-and-furious bluegrass on "Sleigh Ride" and a jazzy "Charlie Brown Christmas" to an emotion-filled "Christmas Song" and a down-home country "Christmas Time's a Comin'." The new "The Star Still Shines" presents a beautiful message. C.W.
JOSH GROBAN; "Noel" (Reprise) Groban has a gorgeous baritone voice and can use it with power and grace to pull maximum sound and emotion from music. This collection, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, continues that tradition with as pretty a "Silent Night" as it gets. Duets with Brian McKnight and Faith Hill and a pairing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are highlights. Comments from soldiers add a poignant touch to "I'll Be Home for Christmas." A couple of spots that seem overproduced are easily forgiven. C.W.
STEVE AND LISA JAMES; "Return to Christmas" (Hall & James Productions) Nostalgia is a big part of Christmas, and the Jameses do nostalgia well in a collection that ranges from doo-wop and rock 'n' roll to big band styles and beyond. It is actually the soundtrack from their seasonal production of the same title, with a number of original songs as well as traditional favorites. This talented husband-and-wife team, nationally recognized for their "Something Good for Kids" music series, is joined by the a cappella group Class Addition, which adds even more variety. C.W.
TOBY KEITH; "Classic Christmas" (Snow Dog Records) Toby Keith is one of the "good old boys" of country music, but he plays it pretty straight in this two-CD set. Not that he can't rock it when he needs to. The CDs are divided by style, with volume one containing the more secular songs and volume two the traditional carols. So, how do you like him now? Just fine, thanks. C.W.
KIDZ BOP KIDS; "The Coolest Kidz Bop Christmas Ever!" (Razor & Tie) Here is a collection of traditional and classic carols trussed up in pop renditions. Loyal versions of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Deck the Halls," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Blue Christmas," "The 12 Days of Christmas" and "Grandma Go Run Over by a Reindeer" and more happy-go-lucky kids choir versions. S.I.
ERICH KUNZEL & CINCINNATI POPS ORCHESTRA; "Tchaikovsky Nutcracker: Favorite Selections" (Telarc) Get this one for the whimsical cover featuring the Nutcracker Prince and some dashing mice. Get it for the informative liner notes that tell the story of the ballet and how it came to be written. Above all, revisit one of the season's favorites, done with the class and spirit by Kunzel and the Pops. C.W.
LARRY THE CABLE GUY; "Christmastime in Larryland" (Warner Bros.) One of the "Blue Collar Comedy Show" guys is up to his usual shenanigans on this album, which is modeled after an old-time radio Christmas revue. If you like "redneck" flatulent jokes mingled with lapdance commercials, complete with crude references and innuendo, then you'll like this. (It should have a parental-advisory sticker for suggestive language and maybe another about general tastelessness.) S.I.
KIMBERLEY LOCKE; "Christmas" (Curb) Kimberley Locke is a former "American Idol" participant and plus-size fashion model, so it's no surprise that she brings both an adult-contemporary sound and sense of style to her Christmas collection. There's lots of fun ("Up on the Housetop," "We Need a Little Christmas," "Frosty the Snowman") and romance ("Merry Christmas Darling," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Last Christmas") mixed in with traditional carols ("Away in the Manger," "Ave Maria"). Locke does especially well at soft and breathy, but she can also kick it. C.W.
LONESTAR; "My Christmas List" (Cracker Barrel Music) In 2003, country group Lonestar released its first Christmas album. This year, the band featuring new vocalist Cody Collins has a second. The catch is that it's only available at Cracker Barrel stores. "Joy to the World," "Away in the Manger," "Up on a Housetop," "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells" are rockin' country fun. "Silent Night," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "White Christmas" are in the country ballad vein. S.I.
DARLENE LOVE; "It's Christmas, Of Course" (Shout Records) For 17 years straight, Love has sung "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on Dave Letterman's Christmas show. Interestingly, that song is not included on this collection in which, according to the cover, "updates the holiday songbook with fresh versions of '70s and '80s neoclassics." She covers songs originally recorded by Tom Petty, XTC, James Brown, John and Yoko, and others. If that is your time and those are your people, you'll probably like this reminder that everything old is new again. There's a mix of pop, jazz and blues, songs with a bit of attitude, and her sultry voice tying it all together. C.W.
NATHAN MADSEN; "White" (Echo Mountain Records) An LDS new-age pianist and composer based in Idaho, Nathan Madsen may be familiar to patrons of The Roof restaurant in Salt Lake's Joseph Smith Memorial Building, as he has played there. His Christmas album features piano/synthesizer solos of traditional carols and original compositions that are evocative and tender. Madsen plays with good-hearted emotion, further evidenced by the fact that a portion of the proceeds will go to humanitarian aid. What this soft, peaceful collection lacks in polish, it makes up for it in sincerity. C.W.
MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER; "Christmas Song" (American Gramaphone) Mannheim Steamroller, led by Chip Davis, has made an industry of rearranging Christmas songs, finding a niche in the contemporary-instrumental vein. This year the band takes on "Let It Snow," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Even "Feliz Navidad" and "Frosty the Snowman" have been "steamrolled." And Davis has written a few of his own for this CD "Christmas Lullaby" with Olivia Newton-John, "Above the Northern Lights" and "Catching Snowflakes on Your Tongue." S.I.
ANDREW T. MILLER; "The Birth of Christ" (Sony) Miller's Christmas cantata gives a new and interesting voice to familiar characters in the Nativity story. The introduction by Liam Neeson (who also reads the account as told by Luke in the New Testament) sets events into the context of their times and our times. The story begins with the yearning for a Messiah, continues through the annunciation of John the Baptist, the annunciation of Christ, through the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. This version was recorded live in Dublin, bringing together Catholic and Protestant choirs (descendants of the same choirs Handel used to premiere his "Messiah"). C.W.
MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA AT TEMPLE SQUARE WITH SISSEL; "Spirit of the Season" (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) From the first notes of "Bring a Torch" cast as a processional in honor of its 14th-century ritournelle roots you know you're in for a treat. This was recorded during last year's annual Christmas concert (a DVD is also available), with Norwegian singing star Sissel, who brings an exquisite purity of tone and angelic quality to her music, blending well with the choir and orchestra on both traditional carols and Norwegian folk and other songs. It's all very fresh and wonderful. C.W.
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN; "Christmas Wish" (ONJ) This independent release (think about the "ONJ" label) is a genuine surprise. I confess that I find most new Christmas albums each year redundant, overproduced and lacking in imagination, but this one is sheer pleasure. That's primarily due to several new songs especially the heartfelt, pensive "Every Time It Snows," co-written by Newton-John and performed as a duet with Jon Secada. But also because the more traditional numbers are full of emotion, and even the brief, familiar piano interludes are joyous. (Available exclusively at Target stores.) Chris Hicks
OCTAPELLA; "Christmas" (Octapella) Filled with the tight, melodic harmonies and amazing vocal effects that make a cappella a local favorite, this collection features a fun mixture of traditional and original Christmas songs. The group brings infectious energy to traditional songs and offers a nice touch with the addition of the International Children's Choir. Such carols as "O Holy Night," "Once in Royal David's City" and "Joy to the World" are "octapized" in a nice way, and a fun toss-in at the end has all the songs the group wanted to include but didn't. C.W.
JOAN OSBORNE; "Christmas Means Love" (Womanly Hips/Time Life) This is Osborne's first Christmas album, and while it was expected she'd take the songs down the ol' blues highway, this collection winds up a tad lackluster and sterile. "Christmas Means Love" is a gospel-blues work but is on the cheesy side with the spoken-narration cliches. "Santa Claus Baby" has some nice harmonies but, surprisingly, loses its soul. Attempts to get soulful with "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" fizzle. The stand-out tracks are the reverent acoustic solo on "Angels We Have Heard on High" and the back-alley blues of "What Do Bad Girls Get?" S.I.
PSYCHOSTICK; "The Flesh Eating Rollerskate Holiday Joyride" (Rock Ridge) OK, you grinches! This one's for you, a little album filled with attitude toward all things jolly. "Red Snow," "Jolly Old Sadist" and "Jingle Bell Metal" are a few original titles that have nothing to do with any classic yuletide tunes. One track, "Silent Night," is a 25-second, thrash of the first two lines of that reverent German tune. The parental-advisory warning is correct. Don't expect sentimental; just metalmental. S.I.
JUAN CARLOS QUINTERO; "Joy to the World" (Tenure Records) Quintero's soothing acoustic Latin-jazz guitar proves to be a nice little twist on this collection of Christmas carols: "Jingle Bells," "Let It Snow," the album's title track, "Away in a Manger" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" are done with good-will finesse. Perfect to hear with a crackling fire and a cup of hot cocoa. S.I.
RELIANT K; "Let It Snow Baby ... Let It Reindeer" (Capitol) This Christian pop-punk Ohio-based band does Christmas with flair, keeping the song's spirits intact. The jazzy opening to "Sleigh Ride" gears up for a toe-tapping shuffle version. The midtempo rock of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the double-time, brat-punk take of "Angels We Have Heard on High"are sing-along material. It's all fun and to the point. S.I.
JON SECADA; "A Christmas Fiesta" (Big Records) Cuban-American singer/songwriter Jon Secada puts a Latin funk/soul/pop twist on the season. This makes for some interesting juxtapositions on the many snow songs, such as "Sleigh Ride," "Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland." Other songs include "This Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and, as you would expect, "Feliz Navidad." A lively, energetic mix that showcases Secada's range and style. C.W.
SISSEL; "Northern Lights" (Denon) A complete celebration of winter, this one features a few traditional Christmas songs along with other tributes to the season, done in Sissel's incomparable style. Originally performed as a PBS special, it also features a duet with Jose Carreras, "Quando Sento Che Mi Ami," done in Spanish and English, as well as several traditional Norwegian and Scandinavian songs. Packed with beauty, joy and warmth perfect for cold winter days. C.W.
SISTER HAZEL; "Santa's Playlist" (Rock Ridge) Sister Hazel maintains its folk-blues-rock style with this 15-track disc filled loaded with cool yule hits: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy," "White Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silent Night." While the band does take liberties with the arrangements, the songs are harmonically straightforward and recognizable. A nice addition of Joni Mitchell's "River" and the album-closer "O Holy Night" makes this one of the better holiday albums this year. S.I.
TIM SLOVER; "Messiah: The Little Known Story of Handel's Beloved Oratorio" (Silverleaf Press) A book/CD combo that offers a delightful, behind-the-scenes look at how the "Messiah" came to be, as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Sir David Willcocks, singing the famous work. The text takes you to the London debut in 1843, brings in other key players and traces the life and times of Handel. It makes you appreciate the gorgeous music even more. C.W.
STAPLE SINGERS; "The 25th Day of December" (Riverside Records) Back in the day, they were dubbed "God's greatest hitmakers" one of the first gospel groups to cross over to the pop charts in a big way. This Christmas album, recorded in 1962 and long out of print, has been remastered for this reissue. There are carols, such as "Joy to the World," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night," as well as classic spirituals, such as "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "Wasn't That a Mighty Day" and "The Virgin Mary Had One Son." There's also an original song by the group's founder, Roebuck "Pops" Staples: "There Was a Star." C.W.
PAIGE STROMAN; "Christmas Lullabies to Create Memories" (Extreme Dreams) It's easy to imagine Paige Stroman sitting in a rocking chair singing these songs to her baby. The Texas-based singer is known for her gentle, sweet voice, which is a perfect fit for the tender, soft mood she creates here, a mix of original songs ("Christmas Lullaby," "My Rocking Chair," "Christmas as It's Meant to Be") and traditional carols ("O Come Emmanuel," "Away in a Manger," "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night"). C.W.
TAYLOR SWIFT; "Sounds of the Season: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection" (Big Machine) This is only a six-song extended play CD, but it does the job. Country singer Swift's "Last Christmas," "Santa Baby" and "White Christmas" are sure-fire hits. Her version of "Silent Night" is a little heavy on arrangement, but the other two songs on the album, "Christmas Must Be Something More" and "Christmases When You Were Mine," are Swift originals that fans will find safe and comfortable. S.I.
PAM TILLIS; "Just in Time for Christmas" (Stellar Cat Records) Tillis' sweet-and-sassy style has taken her far in the world of country music. That style is plentiful on lots of soft-and-mellow arrangements of favorite Christmas songs, but she also throws in an eclectic mix of rockabilly, soul, jazz and pop. Her famous dad, Mel, joins her on a fun "Rockin' Christmas Medley." Original songs "Beautiful Night" and "Light of the World" capture a nice spirit, but there's still some twang on songs like "Pretty Paper." C.W.
RANDY TRAVIS; "Songs of the Season" (World Entertainment) It's been 18 years since Randy Travis last did Christmas. He's still pretty much the same old down-home country singer he was back then. If anything, there's more gospel influence, which you'd expect since he has been singing more gospel lately. It shows up on "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and his original "Our King." His "Labor of Love" puts a different twist on the birth of a savior. His "Nothin's Gonna Bring Me Down (at Christmas)" is an up-tempo spoofy look at the holidays. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Celtic Sojourn Christmas Live" (Rounder) What started as a public-radio program has entertained listeners for nearly 20 years, and bringing the program to CD and filling it with Christmas songs is genuine fun. Carols sung by Celtic artists give the music a homey feel. While the entire album can bring tears to the eyes, standout tracks include "Silent Night," "Three Kings," "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "The First Noel." The song list also includes "Shalom Aleichem" for those who celebrate Hanukkah. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Christmas Break" (Telarc) This collection is billed as "a relaxing classical mix," and that's exactly what it is. Featuring artists and songs previously recorded on the Telarc label, it offers nice variety as well as a soothing sound. Pianist Michael Chartok, harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, Laurie Monahan and the Empire Brass, the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (on two songs), etc. Good music for quiet times, nicely capturing the spirit of the season. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Classic Soft Rock Christmas" (Time Life) "Step Into Christmas" (Elton John), "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way" (Jim Croce) and "I Believe in Father Christmas" (Greg Lake) were originally released in the '70s. Jon Anderson's "Jingle Bells" and Air Supply's "The First Noel" are from the '80s, and Chicago's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Kenny Loggins' "The Bells of Christmas" and B.J. Thomas' "Silent Night" represent the '90s. America ("White Christmas"), Christopher Cross ("A Dream of Peace at Christmastime") and Carly Simon ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") are from 2000 and later but still have that '70s feel. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Disney Channel Holiday" (Walt Disney Records) Disney's flavors-of-the-month artists Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, the Cheetah Girls and Corbin Bleu are among the stars that appear on this holiday album. Cyrus does "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," the Brothers do an original "Girl of My Dreams," the Cheetah Girls do "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Corbin Bleu sings "This Christmastime." Also on tap are Aly & AJ, Jordan Pruitt, Cyrus' dad Billy Ray and Ashley Tisdale. The album is sweet and clean and will get the kids in the spirit if they aren't already. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "FM 100 Christmas VII" (Bonneville International) As it has done in the past, the FM100 radio station has combined selections from artists who appear in this year's mini-Christmas concert series, with proceeds going to support the Road Home Homeless Shelter. This is some of the best in local music, covering a broad spectrum, from Dean Kaelin's jazzy "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" to Ryan Shupe's folksy "Joy to the World" to Alex Boye's soulful "The Christmas Song." Hilary Weeks, Jon Schmidt, Chris Rice, Paul Cardall, Cherie Call, Kurt Bestor, Moosebutter and more also participate. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Fred Claus: Music From the Motion Picture" (Warner Bros.) While the film is getting mixed reviews, the soundtrack is pretty good. With vintage Christmas tunes the Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride," Doris Day's "Here Comes Santa Claus," the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" the soundtrack would be a run-of-the-mill Christmas album. Add Leigh Nash's "The First Noel" and Russ Morgan & His Orchestra's "I Want You for Christmas," with a dash of Guy Lombardo's "Auld Lang Syne" and a tablespoon of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," and this album stands pretty strong. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Home for Christmas: Voices From the Heartland" (Rounder) There's an eclectic mix here, ranging from the sweet harmony of Riders in the Sky ("I'll Be Home for Christmas") to the R&B sounds of Wilson Pickett ("Jingle Bells") to Sam Moore ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town") to the energetic bluegrass of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (a medley of traditional carols). A good selection for mixed company. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Love's Holiday: A Gospel Christmas" (Time Life) Soulful rhythm & blues make this album a hit-and-miss addition to holiday collections. With Luther Vandross' soothing "O Come All Ye Faithful," Gladys Knight & the Pips doing "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and the Mighty Cloud's "Silent Night," the album moves. Alicia Keys' "The Little Drummer Boy" becomes the piano-laden, head bobbing "Little Drummer Girl." But Christina Aguilera sounds a little forced with "Angels We Have Heard on High" and SWV's take on "Oh Holy Night" is a bit over the top. Whitney Houston's "Joy to the World" ends the album with a flash. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Malt Shop Memories Christmas" (Rhino/Time Life) Christmas is a good time to wax nostalgic. Put this CD on and watch the older folks lose themselves in memories. Helping them along will be the Drifters' "White Christmas," Frankie Vallie & the Four Seasons' "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," the Everly Brothers' "Silent Night," Bobby Darin's "O Come, All Ye Faithful," Little Eva's "I Wish You a Merry Christmas," and the Temptations' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Mary Did You Know?" (Curb) This compilation album features "17 inspirational Christmas songs from today's top country artists." LeAnn Rimes, Diamond Dio, Alabama, Jo Dee Messina, Collin Raye, Billy Dean, Clay Walker and Josh Turner among them. Lonestar sets the mood with "Reason for the Season." Vince Gill's "Breath of Heaven" is pretty (he surely can hit the high notes!). Kenny Rogers and Wynonna team up for the title cut. Randy Travis adds a gospelesque touch with "Go Tell It on the Mountain." These are a nice mix of mostly previously recorded songs from Curb artists. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Mary's Lullaby: Christmas Songs for Bedtime" (Shadow Mountain) The ethereal quality of this soft, soothing music reminds you that the season is, after all, about the birth of a baby. Mostly traditional carols, with both vocals and instrumentals. Featured are Amy Gileadi, Becky Williams, Marcus Bentley, Sarah Sample, Mindy Gledhill, Paul Jacobsen, Mikel Azpiroz, Debra Fotheringham and Ryan Tanner. The title cut, performed by Cherie Call, adds a very nice finish. C.W.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Monster Ballads Xmas" (Razor & Tie) The '80s was the time of hair bands that released a slew of party songs, but they also recorded an array of Christmas songs:. Skid Row's "Jingle Bells," Twisted Sister and Lita Ford's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Nelson's "Jingle Bell Rock" and Dokken's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" are full of the spandex bravado, but the capper is Stryper's live-and-cheesy "Winter Wonderland." Fun for a party, and with the addition of Queensryche's "White Christmas" and Cinderella's Tom Keifer's "Blue Christmas," it's not just for dudes and dudettes. S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Stockings by the Fire" (Starbucks Entertainment/EMI) This album, available only at Starbucks, is a good all-round collection. Ray Charles & Betty Carter lead the pack with "Baby, It's Cold Outside," along with Sarah McLachlan's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," Frank Sinatra's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae's take on Joni Mitchell's "River," Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and Mahalia Jackson's "Do You Hear What I Hear?" S.I.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Wreck the Halls, ... And Christmas for All: The Holiday Tribute to Metallica" (Christmas Rock Records)
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Wreck the Halls, Hell's Bells of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to AC/DC" (Christmas Rock Records)
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Wreck the Halls, The Green Days of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to Green Day" (Christmas Rock Records Following the success of the "Rockabye Baby!" series, where pop and rock bands get their songs remade into lullabies, the "Wreck the Halls" series with Christmas versions, complete with jingle bells, pianos and other mellow instruments. While it's fun hearing Metallica's "Master of Puppets," Green Day's "Holiday" and AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" toned down for family holiday gatherings, it's not as charming as the lullaby renditions. S.I.
LUIS VILLEGAS; "Guitarras de Navidad" (Tenure Records) Much like Juan Carlos Quinteros' acoustic Latin-jazz guitar album, Villegas' "Guitarras de Navidad" gives Christmas a little habenero spice. His flamenco-laced renditions of "Carol of the Bells," "Little Drummer Boy" and an up-tempo, piano-highlighted "Jingle Bells" add to the festivities. The Brazilian coffee-house rendition of "Feliz Navidad" and desert-night visions of "We Three Kings" are nice south-of-the-border additions. S.I.
DIONNE WARWICK; "My Favorite Time of Year" (DMI/Rhino) This is a reissue of a 2004 album, with Warwick lending her fabulous voice to the usual suspects "White Christmas," "Silent Night," etc. along with "My Favorite Things," from "The Sound of Music" (not the first Christmas album to co-opt that song, of course). One original tune is a duet with BeBe Winans, "I Believe in Christmas," co-written by Winans. There's also a nice duet with Gladys Knight on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." C.H.
YO YO KIDS; "Yo, It's Christmas" (Razor & Tie) Parents and kids can enjoy the urban groove of hip-hop and rap with a holiday flair with family-friendly jams of "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls" and "Silent Night," along with authentic samples and beats. Hopping tracks include "Holiday Bounce," "Sledding Song" and "Trick Out the Tree," as well as a house-party version of "12 Days of Christmas" which keeps the idea but alters the lyrics. S.I.