From the smokin' rendition of "Run, Run, Rudolph" performed by company members of Million Dollar Quartet to Bernadette Peters' ravishing vocals on "Jul, Jul Stadlande Jul," an offering from the company of A Little Night Music, the 12th edition of this album that raises money for BC/EFA delights and touches. As always, the songs are a mix of familiar, unfamiliar and original tunes performed by Broadway cast and company members. Other highlights include a medley of two Jerry Herman hits ("We Need a Little Christmas" and "The Best of Times") from the artists at La Cage Aux Folles; "Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas," written and performed by Rain's Joey Curatolo; and Phil Murray's "Another Geordie Christmas," delivered with panache by Carole Shelley and the folks at Billy Elliot.
Christine Lavin Presents: Just One Angel (Yellow Tail Records)
It's a rare disc that can be religious and secular, funny and touching, while also addressing the diversity of the season, and yet this album manages to not only do this, but do it stylishly. Among the highlights are "Won't You Please Stay for Christmas, Santa Claus?," a toe-tappin' country-western tune written and performed by Jeff Daniels; "Christmas Angel," Sue Matsuki's moving view of the holiday that comes from the perspective of the treetop decoration; Roy Zimmerman's laugh-out-loud funny "Christmas on Mars;" and Janis Ian's stirringly simple folk-infused anthem, "Joy."
A Christmas Carol: The Concert (Newport Classic)
Bob Christianson's score for this new incarnation of Dickens' classic has both bombast that brings to mind John Williams' film scores and delicacy that hearkens to songs of the Victorian era, and he filters them through a pop/rock sensibility. It's a surprisingly satisfying combination, as is Alisa Hauser's distillation and adaptation of Dickens' words for the both the narration and songs in the show. Broadway veterans Chuck Cooper, Daniel Reichard, Sean Palmer, and Merwin Foard are all in fine voice on the two-disc recording -- which could prove to be a holidaytime tradition both on stage and in people's stereos.
Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album (Columbia)
Picking out a favorite on this terrific collection of 12 songs from the cast of the hit FOX series will be rough for both fans of the show and for listeners who have never become hooked on the show. Chris Colfer and Darren Criss offer a smooth and warmly romantic version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," while Lea Michele offers up an equally seductive take on "Merry Christmas Darling." Elsewhere, k.d. lang and Matthew Morrison not only sound terrific as they deliver "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," but they also sound as if they're having a grand time with the tune and text. Similarly Amber Riley's R&B/gospel-infused "Angels We Have Heard on High" is equal parts artistry and just vocal joyousness.
Annie Lennox - A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca Records)
Lennox, known for her work at the front of Eurythmics, offers a truly unique collection of seasonal music. Deftly conceived, the disc's dozen tracks sound both medieval and contemporary, often simultaneously. Lennox's smoke-tinged vocals bring an ethereal warmth to many classics, including "The First Noel" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and adding richness throughout is the presence of the African Children's Choir. Mike Stevens has provided many of the orchestral arrangements and his work with Lennox on "Angels From the Realms of Glory" does make it sound as if a host of heavenly beings is just about to descend.
Everett Bradley - Holidelic (Big Black Booty Records)
Listeners might feel the need to break out their polyester for this 1970s-style celebration of everything Yule. Bradley's tunes will liven up anyone's familiar mix of music with pulsating rhythms that bring to mind the work of funk and soul greats like Sly Stone and P-Funk and clever conceits that put a fresh spin on familiar sentiments and conceits. Among the standouts on the 15 tracks are "New York Sleigh Ride," an incredibly catchy toast to an urban Christmas; "Sugar Rump Fairies," an oh-so-adult twist on Tchaikovsky; and "Fro Ho Ho," that finds the spirit of the season might just begin with a new 'do.
Lea DeLaria - Be A Santa (Warner Classics)
This jazz holiday disc showcases DeLaria's vocal talents and versatility marvelously. Whether she's intensely improvising in a tune like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," or offering an exquisitely heartfelt interpretation of "Christmas Time Is Here" (the theme from the A Charlie Brown Christmas special), this singer's brash musicality is undeniably compelling and joyful. Other highlights on the CD are a bluesy "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and the exceedingly amusing original tune "A Modern Christmas Tale," written by DeLaria and her equally gifted keyboardist collaborator Janette Mason, which puts a very pretty musical bow on some of the less pleasant aspects of the season.
Suzanne Carrico - What Christmas Time Means To Me (SuCa Productions)
Working with a four piece combo, including pianist and arranger Don Rebic, Carrico offers up a fizzy, champagne-like holiday cocktail with this 11-track CD. Carrico's breeze-y style beautifully suits such songs as "The Man With the Bag" as well as a medley of "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Let It Snow," which she delivers along with Booth Daniels. Additionally, her delicate vocal touch gives surprising weight to her delivery of more solemn selections, including "What Child Is This?," "Gesu Bamino," and the disc's closing track, a hauntingly solemn medley of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Christmas With the Puppini Sisters (Verve)
Sounding like modern equivalents to The Andrews Sisters -- with a rock-and-roll edge -- this trio starts things off with a swingin' take on Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Step Into Christmas." Other offerings include a playful "Santa Baby" that fully exploits the double entendres of the song's lyric, a buoyantly old-school rendition of "Let It Snow," a wonderfully island-sounding "Mele Kalikimaka" (complete with some fab ukulele playing), and a version of George Michael's "Last Christmas," which sounds as if it might have been written for World War II era Paris.
Bryn Terfel - Bryn's Christmas (Deutsche Grammophon)
The world-famous opera star demonstrates not only the power of his commanding baritone, but also its remarkable tonal range, on this two-disc release that contains classical and popular selections. The first disc begins with a majestic rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful" before shifting to "White Christmas," where a technological "miracle" allows Terfel to sing with the late Bing Crosby. Mack Wilberg's lush arrangement for "Away in the Manger" makes the song sound as if it might have come from the Straus canon and displays Terfel at his most vocally delicate. The album's equally splendid second disc contains both familiar and unfamiliar tunes, delivered with similar care, all sung in Welsh.
Bing Crosby - Christmas Sessions (Collector's Choice)
A treasure trove of previously unreleased material can be found on this delightfully retro disc where Crosby croons such secular favorites as "Jingle Bells" (in two versions), "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," and "Sleigh Ride." Crosby's voice isn't the only legendary one on the disc -- there are some fine duets with the likes of Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. The disc closes with one track that's a bit more modern than the others. It's a 1977 recording that Crosby made with David Bowie; a gorgeous medley of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth."
Berlin Voices - About Christmas (Hanssler Classic Records/Naxos)
The tight harmonies and careful vocal balancing of this quartet are not only exceptionally enjoyable but also extremely versatile on this ultra-modern holidaytime album. The group's terrific precision is perhaps most impressive with both an cappella "Stille Nacht" and a jauntily bouncy take on "Es kommt ein schiff, geladen," which has been given a grand Latin-infused arrangement by Wolf Kerschek. In English, the group stylishly offers up such traditional favorites, including "Joy to the World" and "Coventry Carol," and they even deliver a charming rendition of the Neil Diamond hit, "You Make Me Feel Like Christmas."