If ever there was a year when soul-soothing holiday music was needed, this is it.
Although there still isn’t a worthy successor to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” there are some memorable aural moments from some unlikely sources – such as Sia and Cheap Trick.
Here are some new possibilities to add to your Christmas playlists.
Hanson, “Finally, It’s Christmas.” Fans have been waiting 20 years for a new Hanson Christmas album, and “Finally, It’s Christmas,” with its four original tracks and eight updated classics, delivers. It’s been a challenge for Zac, Isaac and Taylor Hanson to shed the “kiddie hit” tag of two decades ago (“MMMBop,” lest you forgot), but it’s about time they received recognition for their musical chops, evident on the rootsy title track and a version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” that resonates with guttural pleading and angelic harmonies. These guys have such a deep appreciation for music, it’s no surprise they’ve tackled Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” and Aretha Franklin’s arrangement of “Winter Wonderland” – both, unsurprisingly, well. A-
98 Degrees, “Let It Snow.” The quartet of Nick Lachey, Jeff Timmons, Drew Lachey and Justin Jeffre released this collection in October, filling an 18-year gap since their first holiday offering, “This Christmas.” If you were a fan of the innocuous pop harmonizing of their heyday, you’ll be ecstatic to learn that nothing has changed. Among the dozen tracks is a standard finger-snapping take on “What Christmas Means to Me,” a rockabilly infused “Run Rudolph Run” and a title track that gets buried under too many layers of harmonies. The guys are at their most winning on the original track, “Season of Love,” which features whizzing synthesizers, subtle brass and a pumping beat straight out of 1998. B-
Lindsey Stirling, “Warmer in the Winter.” It’s the fourth studio – and first Christmas - album for the engaging violinist, who has carved out a solid mainstream career since her breakthrough on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010. It’s too bad such a unique artist didn’t have a more focused vision here. The transition from her lovely instrumental on “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” to the title track, which sounds like a cross between a Tony Bennett throwaway and a New Orleans street jam (Trombone Shorty guests), is uncomfortably jarring. Her version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” is also a weird hybrid of electronica, strings and singer-actress Sabrina Carpenter, who offers about as much sinister gusto as a marshmallow. And even the most talented musician should never, ever remove the vocals from Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and turn it into upgraded Muzak. C+
Blake Shelton, “Cheers, It’s Christmas.” The re-release of his 2012 album adds a handful of tracks, including “Home” with Michael Bublé and “There’s a New Kid in Town” with Kelly Clarkson.
Alabama, “American Christmas.” For its first Christmas album in 21 years, the band ( which is playing three nights at the Fox Theatre in April ) has updated its “Christmas in Dixie.”
Josh Groban, “Noel – Deluxe Edition.” The 10th anniversary version of an album that has sold nearly 6 million copies includes six previously unreleased songs, including four new recordings.
Pentatonix, “A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe.” The a cappella group’s “A Pentatonix Christmas” has sold nearly a million copies since its release last year, so this seemed like a good time to re-release the album and tack on five new songs.
Reba McEntire, “My Kind of Christmas.” A year after releasing a holiday album of the same name, the queen of country is reissuing with a few new songs featuring guests Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Darius Rucker and Lauren Daigle.