Thurl Bailey, the former Utah Jazz forward who has found his niche in music, worked for a year on his latest album, "The Gift of Christmas."

"The idea for this holiday album came about last year," Bailey told the Deseret News. "I had discussed it with some friends and producers of mine, and I wanted to make a Christmas album that was close to my (musical) roots."

When he was growing up in Washington, D.C., Bailey listened to a lot of different music. "I loved the Jackson 5," he said. "And there was this rivalry going on with the Osmonds, and I loved them, too. So I had these two 45 singles of 'ABC' and 'One Bad Apple.'

"But I also was into the Whispers, the Stylistics, the O'Jays and Gladys Knight & the Pips. And later on, I found myself into Journey and Queen. So I had a lot of musical styles to choose from when making the Christmas album. I decided to stick close to rhythm & blues."

The idea was to take some traditional songs and give them a "Thurl Bailey twist," he said. "I wanted to personalize some of those songs. When choosing the traditional tunes ('Drummer Boy,' 'Silent Night,' 'O Holy Night' and 'White Christmas') I had to consider the audience. People in this area love Christmas. And I didn't want to go and ruin it for them.

"Instead, I wanted to do these songs and make them a part of me. I didn't want to just come in and sing them straight, but I also didn't want to come in and chop them up."

While producers Sam Cardon, John Hancock, James Marsden and Thomas Hopkins all had a hand in choosing and arranging songs on the album, Bailey turned to his daughter BreElle for one of her favorites, "Jolly Old St. Nicholas," which she sings as a duet with her father. "I also did an informal poll to see which songs my friends liked. And I'm pretty happy how it turned out."

Bailey's is just one of the many new holiday albums released this year:

ARTHUR & FRIENDS; "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" (Rounder Kids).

Arthur, D.W., Binky and the gang are all here singing their own humorous takes on "Jingle Bells," "The First Noel," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "What Child Is This?" and "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella." Most of the songs were taken from the PBS special "Arthur's Perfect Christmas." But it's not just a Christmas album. There's "Sevivon," "Chanakah, Oh Chanakah" and "Chanakah Blessing." And a Calypso take on "Here We Come a Wassailing." — S.I.

MICHAEL BALLAM; "Celebrating Christmas: 1,000 Years of Symbols and Songs" (Phoenix Productions).

Michael Ballam takes you on a fascinating holiday journey as he talks and sings his way through a millennium of Christmas music. Alone at the piano, he sings in Latin, French, German and English as he traces the development of carols and songs from the earliest "Gloria In Excelsis Deo" to "Good King Wenceslas" of 928 A.D. to the modern "Such a Small King" (1983) and "Wanted" (1993). All the familiar and some not-so-well-known sacred and secular songs are included in this three-disc set that is part music lesson, part history lesson, part language lesson and a whole lot of fun, adding context and meaning to a vital part of the celebration. — C.W.

MICHAEL and VANESSA BALLAM; "A Father-Daughter Christmas" (Phoenix Productions).

The Ballams make beautiful music together. And they've chosen songs that showcase their voices, as well as capture the feeling of family togetherness. There are several tender lullabies, including "Baby, What You Goin' To Be?" "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and "Mary's Lullaby." Their voices blend on pretty versions of "Gift of Love," "Star Bright" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas." They each do solos — Michael on "Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire" and Vanessa on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A bit more in the way of liner notes would be nice, but the music is full of emotion and feeling. — C.W.

THURL BAILEY; "The Gift of Christmas" (Big "T" Bailey Productions).

The former Utah Jazz man with the golden voice has created a quaint little Christmas album, with a nice blend of original and traditional holiday tunes. He's given "Little Drummer Boy" a rhythm & blues cadence and lends a gospel feel to "O Holy Night." As for originals, he gives a nod to the rescue workers in New York with "Grown Up Christmas List" and offers a shot of techno with two versions of "Merry Christmas to My Baby." — S.I.

SUZY BOGGUSS; "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (Loyal Dutchess Records).

Suzy Bogguss has a stellar voice — crisp and clear, evocative, with exceptional range. And she uses it well on this collection that varies from a lively, up-beat "Mr. Santa" to a rocking "Two-step 'Round the Christmas Tree." She infuses some Western swing into a cheery "Winter Wonderland," teams up with Delbert McClinton for a mellow "Baby It's Cold Outside" and captures the wonder of childhood on her own "Through Your Eyes." There are also traditional carols, including a beautiful "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," a song that isn't heard nearly enough these days. — C.W.

JANICE BUCKNER; "Yuletide Favorites" (Moonlight Rose Publications).

JANICE BUCKNER; "Chanukah, Holidays and Heritage" (Moonlight Rose Publications).

New York guitarist Janice Buckner has received acclaim for her "Learn Along Songs" that target kids age 2-10. Her CD of Christmas songs includes both vocal and instrumental tracks to such standard childhood favorites as "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," Up on the Housetop" and "Frosty the Snowman." The same is true of her Chanukah CD, which includes traditional songs, including "Festival of Joy," "The Dreidel Song" and counting songs — "Mr. Shamash" or "Macabee Song" — as well as songs of other Jewish celebrations. There's a nice version of "Sunrise, Sunset" and a very pretty "Light One Candle," the Peter Yarrow song. Bruckner includes information about the holidays, for those who are less familiar. — C.W.

RACHEL BUCHMAN; "Shine Little Candles: Chanukah Songs For Children" (Rounder Kids).

Rachel Buchman is having a party, and you're invited. With narration to explain songs and traditions, and accompanied by her guitar — as well as fiddle and accordion — she sings a variety of traditional and festive Chanukah songs. Included are "Nu in the Middle," several dreidel songs, "Festival of Lights," and "What The Candles Say." She gets help from the children while she sings in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino, making it both fun and meaningful. — C.W.

DESTINY'S CHILD; "8 Days of Christmas" (Music World Music/Columbia).

Destiny's Child doesn't cover any new ground here. Fans of the trio will love this album, and others could probably swallow the nice little take of "Do You Hear What I Hear." But as far as the rest of the songs go, Mariah Carey could do better. And she did. Her 1994 Christmas album was a fresh sound of the time, but Destiny's Child is just doing the same thing. "White Christmas," "O Holy Night," "Little Drummer Boy" and the pretentious "Opera of the Bells" are some of the traditional works, while the album's title track and "Winter Paradise" are originals that feature the trio's whining delivery. — S.I.

SUMI JO; "The Christmas Album" (Erato).

With a Korean artist singing in English and German, and sharing the limelight with violinist Hiro Kuroski, Barbara Ochs, Gottfried Bach, the VokalEmsemble Kln and the Cappella Colonsiensis des WDR, this collection has true international flavor. Sumi Jo, who has received much acclaim in the world of opera, brings passion and virtuosity to classical works by Scarlatti , Bernhard and Mozart, as well as such traditional carols as "I Wonder as I Wander" and "O Holy Night" and two versions of "Silent Night" — in German and English. For a classical approach to Christmas, this one's hard to beat. — C.W.

DEAN KAELIN; "Christmastime Is Here" (Top of the World Productions).

From the opening "Angels We Have Heard On High" to the moving and mellow "The Secret of Christmas," talented Salt Lake musician Dean Kaelin invites you to have a merry, jazzy Christmas. There's a saxy version of "The Christmas Song," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," infused with a Latin beat, and an evocative "Winter Nights" (his own composition, featuring his son Steven on the flute). He kicks it up a notch for a wild "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," but the mood softens as daughter Sarah brings a warm and tender touch to a beautiful "Some Children See Him." — C.W.

B.B. KING; "A Christmas Celebration of Hope" (MCA).

The reigning king of the blues, along with his trusty guitar Lucille, brings some atmosphere to the season with "Please Come Home for Christmas," "Back Door Santa" and "Lonesome Christmas." And then, without singing a word, he lets Lucille take on the yearning with "I'll Be Home for Christmas." While some may want their blues a little more raw, King's "A Christmas Celebration" is a nice, rolling change. — S.I.

FRED KOCH; " 'Tis The Season: Holiday Songs For the Child In All Of Us" (Melody House).

The songs are mostly familiar childhood favorites, but Koch gives them some interesting stylistic twists — a Cajun version of "It Must Be Santa," a Dixieland Jazz approach to "Up On the Housetop," a "Feliz Navidad" full of Latin feeling. There's a Middle-Eastern sounding "Hanukkah Medley," and a bit of a Celtic feel to "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." He mixes in some instrumental tracks, including a jazzy "Oh, Come Little Children," an acoustic "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and a lively version of "Sleigh Ride." The children's chorus that helps him out will appeal to young listeners, but the variety here will please older ones as well.— C.W.

DAVE KOZ and Friends; "A Smooth Jazz Christmas (Capitol)

Smooth jazz is what Dave Koz promises, and that's what he delivers on this collection of mostly old favorites, mixed in with a few original offerings. There's some guitar, some keyboards, a little flugelhorn, a few vocals and a lot of sax as he as his friends — David Benoit, Rick Braun, Kenny Loggins, Brenda Russell and Peter White — slide from song to song, conjuring up visions of cozy fires, outdoor fun and old-fashioned traditions. There are a few Latin beats, some Boogie Woogie and a bit of the blues on such favorites as "The Christmas Song," "Little Drummer Boy," "White Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride." Plus, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Starlight Foundation, which serves seriously ill children and their families. — C.W.

MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER; "Christmas Extraordinaire" (American Gramaphone).

It's been six years since the last Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album. But Chip Davis and the band have begun right where they left off. "Hallelujah" smacks of the classic "Deck the Halls" arrangement, and "Faeries" from "The Nutcracker" takes on a new funky style that breathes new life into a sometimes overdone classic. Nice surprises are the Spanish carol "Fum, Fum, Fum" and Johnny Mathis' guest vocals on "O Tannenbaum." Award Steamroller another sure-fire winner with this new album. — S.I.

MICHAEL McLEAN; "The Forgotten Carols Anniversary Edition" (Shadow Mountain).

Ten years ago, Michael McLean launched a project that has evolved into a local holiday tradition — a story of a lonely nurse who discovers Christmas with the help of an eccentric patient and characters in the ancient Christmas account that have largely been forgotten. It began as a book and CD and has evolved into a stage production. Now McLean's back with an anniversary edition, with songs that have been added and performances by Art Allen, Glenn Yarbrough, Tammy Simister Robinson and Katie Thompson, who have appeared in the theatrical production. It makes a nice new package. — C.W.

ANNE MURRAY; "What a Wonderful Christmas" (Straightway).

This two-CD, 28-cut set features traditional songs and a traditional sound from husky-voiced Anne Murray. Newly recorded material features performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as backgrounds by both a children's choir and a gospel choir. There's a nice message in "The Season Will Never Grow Old" and "Christmas Wishes"; the rest are a mix of well-known carols. With a two-CD set, it might be nice to group secular songs on one and religious favorites on the other; the every-other-one on both CDs is a bit of a mood breaker. — C.W.

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN; "The Christmas Collection" (Hip-O).

Australian singer Olivia Newton-John has been singing Christmas songs "on the beach, around the piano and under the Christmas tree" for the past 20 years but has never recorded a full-length Christmas album until now. Her soft, breathy style lends itself well to such traditional favorites as "The First Noel," "Silver Bells," "What Child Is This" and "O Holy Night." She squeezes out some tight harmony with country superstar Vince Gill on "(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays" and "Away In the Manager." Her pairing with Kenny Loggins and Clint Black doesn't work quite as well. But there's a nice mixture of sounds and styles throughout the album that keeps interest high. — C.W.

JAMIE BAER PETERSON; "Rejoice Greatly" (self-published).

Jamie Baer Peterson's operatic training is evident in this collection of classical holiday music. She demonstrates great range and tone quality on works by Handel, Schubert, Mozart, Faure and others. Also showcased is the work of David Fletcher, who did a number of the arrangements, plays the piano and harpsichord accompaniment and also wrote the gospelesque "Weepin' Mary." Peterson, a native of Minnesota now living the New Jersey, and Fletcher, who lives in New York City, both have Utah ties. Their collaboration results in music full of grace and dignity.— C.W.

LEON RUSSELL; "Hymns of Christmas" (Leon Russell Records/Navarre).

This album was originally released in 1995, but Russell, who now has the rights to his older works, has remastered this passionate, instrumental album and rereleased it. It kicks off with "Oh, Holy Night" (other artists refer to this song as "O Holy Night"), "We Three Kings," "Away In a Manger," Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night," just to name a few. The works are meticulously orchestrated, not too busy but very majestic. — S.I.

JON SECADA; "The Gift" (Epic).

The big orchestral arrangements on this album could have easily overshadowed Secada's smooth, seductive vocals. But the production trio — Emilio Estefan Jr., Antonio Molina and Secada — made sure that wouldn't happen. "Cradle in Bethlehem," O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night" are some of the more reverent works. "Joy to the World" is light and vibrant. And the two Spanish songs, "Cuando el Tiempo nos Castiga" and "Noche de Paz" ("Silent Night"), are perfect. Thankfully, this album doesn't focus on vocal gymnastics but rather straightforward singing and arrangements. — S.I.

BARBRA STREISAND; "Christmas Memories" (Columbia).

For her first Christmas album in 35 years, Barbra Streisand has opted for a collection of lesser-sung, non-traditional songs — other than "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Ave Maria." But as the liner notes point out, she's always been drawn to music that "evokes bittersweet, wistful longing." And that's exactly what you get on such songs as "I Remember," "Snowbound," "Christmas Mem'ries" and "Grown-up Christmas List." A couple of the songs are brand new: "Closer," a tender love song; and "One God," a tribute to faith and devotion. But if the songs

aren't as recognizable, the voice certainly is. Few singers surpass Streisand for clarity of tone, distinctive sound and stylistic approach. — C.W.

.38 SPECIAL; "Wild-Eyed Christmas Night" (CMC International).

Taking a cue from brother Johnny Van Zant and the boys in Lynyrd Skynyrd, who released a Christmas album last year, .38 Special, lead by Donnie Van Zant, has released its own. And it keeps the Southern-rock-with-a-pop flavor alive. Rebel takes of "Jingle Bell Rock," "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Little Drummer Boy" are staples, but "That Old Rockin' Chair," written for Van Zant's late mother, and "A Wild-Eyed Christmas," are warm originals. Sentiment finds it way into reverent versions of "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." — S.I.

AARON TIPPIN; "A December to Remember" (Lyric Street).

No one can put the twang in country quite like Aaron Tippin, and here he brings that same flat-out, no-apologies country feeling to Christmas. There are a few familiar songs and carols: "Jingle Bell Rock," "Blue Christmas," "Away In the Manger," "Silent Night." But the rest are Tippin originals (some written with the help of his wife, Thea, who also sings on several). Only Tippin might come up with "It's A Good Thing Santa Ain't Single," but his "It's Way Too Close To Christmas To Be This Far From You" and "A December To Remember" are tender ballads. And you can put on your boots and kick up your heels to "Mama's Getting Ready For Christmas." — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Country Superstar Christmas 4" (Hip-O).

With contributors such as George Strait, Toby Keith, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt and Sammy Kershaw, the sound is traditional country all the way. There are old favorites: the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band serves up a folksy version of "Silver Bells," Tritt's very simple arrangement of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" captures the flavor of that song well and Steve Wariner's "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" sparkles with feeling. The country songs — including John Berry's "Christmas Morning," Dwight Yoakam's "Come On Christmas" and Michael Martin Murphey's "Two Step 'Round The Christmas Tree" — cover the range from love lost to love found, with a few celebrations of family, friends and the season thrown in. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "An FM 100 Continuous Soft Hits Christmas, Vol. 1" (Simmons Media Group).

All proceeds from this collection, compiled by FM100 (known for its traditional "100 Hours of Christmas" broadcasts each year), will benefit the homeless. The CD showcases a number of local artists — in fact, many of the songs were recorded during live "mini concerts" at the station's Airwaves Radio Cafe. There's nice variety from such artists as Jim Brickman, Kim Bracken, Michael McLean and Peter Breinholt. Jon Schmidt offers up a light and lovely "I Saw Three Ships;" Voice Male chips in with a harmonious "The Christmas Song;" Donny Osmond's "Mary Did You Know?" has a powerful message; Paul Cardall's "Silent Night" is soft and pretty. Others featured include Eclipse, Lex de Azevedo with Millennium Choir, David Tolk and the Utah State University Chamber Singers. It's a nicely conceived, well carried-out addition to the music repertoire. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Season of Soul and Sounds" (Epic).

Seven of these 13 holiday songs are originals. And they don't work as well as the other six, which are Christmas staples. Still, Ruff Endz "Christmas with You" and Sarai's "Here Comes Christmas" are the highlights. You might want to stay away from the pretentious wailing of Brad Young's "Joyful Joyful," which is based on a sluggish version of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. And the Mariah Carey-like warbling of Jordan Brown's "Silent Night" can't hold a candle to Macy Gray's laid-back rendition of "Winter Wonderland." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "A Winter's Solstice: Anniversary Edition" (Windham Hill/RCA).

More than 25 years ago, the first Windham Hill "Winter's Solstice" compilation album was released. So, what better way to celebrate the season than with an anniversary edition. This album compiles all new recordings by guitarist Steve Erquiaga ("Greensleeves"), guitarist/piano duo Will Ackerman and Philip Aaberg ("Beneath the Trees"), pianist Jim Brickman ("Shades of White") and violist Tracy Silverman ("The Gathering"), just to drops some names. The album flows well and is especially good when cozying up to a fire during those cold winter nights. — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Celtic Christmas: Anniversary Edition" (Windham Hill).

As with the "Winter Solstice Anniversary Edition" album, this new "Celtic Christmas" album celebrates the anniversary of the first "Celtic Christmas" collection, with new compositions by "Celtic Christmas" veterans pianist Phil Cunningham ("Newton Hill") and the group Nightnoise ("Ar Pont Nevez"), and such newcomers as the West Ocean String Quartet ("Cailin Na Gruaige Doinne") and violist Liam O'Flynn ("Sliabh Na Mban"). And just like the previous "Celtic Christmas" releases, these works are emotional selections that bring to mind Christmas on the moors and lit fireplaces in the coventries without the overplayed traditional works. — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "MTV TRL Christmas" (Atlantic).

With offerings from some of the hottest names on the charts — including Christina Aguilera, TLC, Sugar Ray, blink-182, Smash Mouth and 'NSYNC — this is not what you might consider traditional Christmas music. There's a Gen-X sound that is both self-indulgent and satiric as Simple Plan delivers its "Christmas List" and blink-182 lets you know "I Won't Be Home for Christmas." A few old favorites show up — Aguilera's "Angels We Have Heard On High," TLC's "Sleigh Ride," Bif Naked's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." But the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Canon" closes things out with more traditional flavor. Parents who want an introduction to groups their kids are talking about can find it here. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "No Wrapping Required: A Christmas Album" (Lyric Street).

Serving up a mixture of country, gospel and a bit of jazz, "No Wrapping Required" features veterans (Ricky Skaggs on "The Reunion Song," Porter Wagoner with "Tennessee Christmas") as well as some newer artists (SHeDAISY does "That's What I Want For Christmas," Rascal Flatts kicks in with a medley built around "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"). Sonya Isaac has three cuts, including a very pretty "Mary Did You Know." Kree and Rosie O'Donnell try for a humorous effect on "Do You Hear What I Hear" (they'd have done better to play it straight) — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "NOW That's What I Call Christmas" (UMG Recordings).

Christmas from A to Z — from Gene Autry to Boyz II Men, from Elmo & Patsy to Luther Vandross — is what you get in this 36-song, 2-disc compilation that highlights the pop connection to the holiday. Disc One contains many of the old classics: Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song," Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas," Burl Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas," the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling." Disc Two captures the "newer" side, with the likes of John and Yoko, Bruce Springsteen, Mannheim Steamroller, Harry Connick Jr., Britney Spears, 'NSYNC. There are a few traditional carols tossed in, but the for most part, these are the secular songs of Christmas. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Our Favorite Things" (Sony).

Tony Bennett, Charlotte Church, Placido Domingo and Vanessa Williams may seem like a disparate group — and they are — but they complement each other nicely on this program, which was recorded in Vienna, Austria, last Christmas. They each have solos — songs chosen well to accommodate their individual styles. But there are also a variety of duets and trios that add a lot of variety and interest. Church and Domingo team up on a lovely "O Holy Night," Bennett and Williams combine on "White Christmas," Bennett and Domingo do "The First Noel" and they all get together for a powerful "Silent Night." — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Season's Greetings: the Millennium Collection" (Hip-O).

This three-CD box set features holiday songs culled from Motown, A&M, MCA, Verve and Universal records. Artists such as the Temptations ("Silent Night" and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), Bing Crosby ("White Christmas"), Bryan Adams ("Christmas Time"), Vince Gill ("It Won't Be the Same This Year") and Chuck Berry ("Merry Christmas Baby") have been gathered together, along with Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas," Jimmy Durante's "Frosty the Snowman" and Brian McKnight's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Simply The Best Christmas Album" (Erato).

The best? That might be stretching it a bit, but this is an awfully nice collection showcasing the classical side of Christmas. The two-disc set features such powerhouses as Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, London Brass, Chanticleer and more. Music ranges from traditional carols such as "O Tannenbaum," "O Little House of Bethlehem" and "Jesus, The Light of the World," to selections from Tchaikovsky, Corelli, Vivaldi to sacred music of Bach, Bizet and Handel. — C.W.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Swinging Christmas" (Rhino).

Let's talk about swing — original swing. You know, Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Les Brown. This compilation has them all. Prima's "Shake Hands with Santa," Armstrong's "Cool Yule," Hampton's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and Brown's "Let It Snow, Let It Snow" will bring back memories of big-band night clubs during the holidays, as does the modern swing of the Manhattan Transfers' "Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season (Medley)." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "VH1: The Big '80s Christmas" (Rhino).

Remastered in all its shining glory, Rhino adds this Christmas album to its "The Big '80s" series. Billy Squier's "Christmas Is the Time to Say 'I Love You,' " which was seen on early MTV; the Waitresses' sneering "Christmas Wrapping," Squeeze's "Christmas Day" and Los Lobos' instrumental "Rudolph the Manic Reindeer" are definitely the highlights, although Bob & Doug McKenzie's "12 Days of Christmas" ranks up there with, well, as Bob would say, "Stairway to Heaven." — S.I.

VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Wasatch Christmas" (Greenland).

Another example of the exceptional talent found in our area, this collection features both previously and newly recorded material woven together in a way that is bright, varied and distinctive. Starting out with Sam Cardon's "Sounds of the Season," one of the prettiest medleys of Christmas hymns out there, the CD includes folky renderings from Peter Breinholt, light and airy instrumentals from Paul Cardall and David Tolk, and beautiful vocals from James Conlee, who teams up with various different artists. Celtic flavored Kirkmount also proves to be a master of the medley and Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband add spirited interpretations. Definitely a keeper. — C.W.

KIRK WHALUM; "The Christmas Message" (Warner Bros.).

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum has gathered some of his friends for a Christmas outing. Guitarist Phil Keaggy appears on Whalum's original "The Christmas Message" and Whalum's brother Kevin sings leads on the funky take of "The Little (Ghetto) Drummer Boy." Smooth renditions of "The First Noel," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "We Three Kings" are other highlights of this mellow little album. — S.I.

GEORGE WINSTON; "December: the 20th Anniversary Edition" (Dancing Cat/Windham Hill).

This album was originally released in 1982, but it still holds up. Winston's dreamy piano sets the mood with "Thanksgiving" and rings with joy on "Carol of the Bells." The "Night" opus that ends with the music-box like "Minstrels" provides the perfect tone for the ultimate Winston arrangement of "Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel." In addition to the works originally released on "December," Winston added two new tracks — "A Christmas Song" and "Sleep Baby Mine." — S.I.

E-MAIL: [email protected]