BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Every year, we wonder the same thing — whose version of “Jingle Bells” could possibly still make us care about the song? Answer: Lauren Daigle.
It’s challenging to balance tradition with individuality in holiday collections, but many artists, from Kacey Musgraves to Jennifer Nettles to R. Kelly, have managed to surprise with interesting arrangements, instant seal-of-approval guests and solid original songs.
As we sleigh ride through another holiday season, here are some potential additions to the playlist.
Amy Grant, “Tennessee Christmas”: In 1983, a 23-year-old Grant released her first Christmas album, and the memorable centerpiece was the sweeping melody and inherent melancholy of the song “Tennessee Christmas.” Now, nearly 20 years after her last all-new holiday release, the timeless contemporary Christian music legend has re-recorded the song in her still-sweet but huskier voice for this collection of 13 tracks. A mix of classics (a shuffling “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with husband Vince Gill, “White Christmas”) and instantly endearing new songs (“To Be Together,” “December”), the album stays true to Grant’s innate ability to fuse pensiveness and tenderness, especially on “Melancholy Christmas.” Her mandate when recording, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently, was to craft a record “that feels like it’s being written and played for an audience of one.” That intimacy is apparent throughout. A+
Frankie Valli, “‘Tis the Seasons”: While this is Valli’s first solo holiday album, the winking title suggests that the pulse still beats for the Four Seasons (also, groupmate Bob Gaudio produced the 13-song record, so clearly friendship reigns). At 82, Valli’s eyebrow-raising upper register has, naturally, dipped a bit, but his vocals on a sauntering “Winter Wonderland” and “The Christmas Song” are deliberate and emotive. Jeff Beck lends his distinctive guitar playing to “Merry Christmas, Baby,” but Valli’s voice isn’t suited to this faux-bluesy crawl. Crank up his sprightly “Jingle Bell Rock” and the busily arranged “Joy to the World/Do You Hear What I Hear?” instead. B+
Also new this year:
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, “Christmas Together”: It’s apparent that the affable country couple is having a blast on big band swinger “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “Marshmallow World,” while Yearwood nails a sensually coy version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
Pentatonix, “A Pentatonix Christmas”: Considering the massive success of 2014’s “That’s Christmas to Me,” a sequel was inevitable. “A Pentatonix Christmas” finds the a capella group joining with elder statesmen the Manhattan Transfer for “White Christmas” and, less appealingly, tackling Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter.”
Chris Young, “It Must Be Christmas”: A few originals dot this 10-song collection, which gives the country singer the chance to ably share the mic with Alan Jackson (“There’s a New Kid in Town”), Boyz II Men (“Silent Night”) and Brad Paisley (“The First Noel”).
Rascal Flatts, “The Greatest Gift of All”: Hard to believe this stalwart country trio hasn’t released a holiday album before this year. The band offers a few interesting nuggets, such as adding their kids’ voices to “Silent Night” and covering 4Him’s “A Strange Way to Save the World.”