With the inescapable return of the holiday season, another eclectic batch of Christmas music releases is heaped upon us, for better or worse. Some of these Christmastime offerings may fill you with comfort and joy, while others could have you wishing for an early spring and pondering if this really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Colbie Caillat: Christmas in the Sand
(Universal Republic) – Colbie Caillat’s full-length holiday collection is everything you could want from a contemporary Christmas album. Christmas in the Sand is synchronously fresh, bubbly, and sentimental without sounding maudlin. Caillat has cleverly succeeded in crafting a delightful mix of old and new coastal California breeziness sure to warm the cockles of your heart throughout the entire Yuletide season. Christmas in the Sand is a surprisingly charming stocking stuffer and essential addition to any pop music fan’s Christmas music collection.
Cee Lo Green: Cee Lo’s Magic Moment (Elektra)
– This soulful and funk-a-licious holiday romp will absolutely spice up your present and future Christmas playlists. Even an overwrought version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Cee Lo’s overzealous diva and fellow The Voice judge Christina Aguilera can’t ruin this irresistible modern day classic. From the bouncy opener “What Christmas Means to Me” to the heartfelt rendering of “River,” Cee Lo’s Magic Moment sounds like the kind of Christmas album Elton John wishes he would’ve made before he turned into a cynical, acid-tongued, blowhard.
Lady Antebellum: On This Winter’s Night (Capitol)
– After dominating the airwaves and claiming the spot as country music’s best new trio, Lady Antebellum is teetering on the brink of overexposure with this unnecessary release of holiday standards. However, On This Winter’s Night sufficiently achieves its ultimate goal as a holiday gift surprise for Lady A fans, which simultaneously whets musical appetites for new music and further endears them to the country music masses.
Richard Marx: Christmas Spirit (TourDForce)
– Although the idea of Richard Marx recording a Christmas album at this point in his career may at first seem pointless and a little desperate, surprisingly Marx delivers a lushly layered and gratifying effort. These 13 tracks cohesively make the perfect romantic holiday soundtrack for sipping warm cider by the fireplace with the one you love most.
Scotty McCreery: Christmas with Scotty McCreery (Mercury Nashville/19 Records)
– This futile and obligatory exercise of holiday blandness falls flat. McCreery sounds emotionless as he mindlessly and effortlessly bleats out 11 dispassionate renditions of holiday ditties. Don’t bother unless you’re completely enamored with the 2011 American Idol winner or in need of a short winter’s nap.
Blake Shelton: Cheers, It’s Christmas (Warner Bros)
– Despite Shelton’s renewed enthusiasm from his run on The Voice, endearing duets with Reba, Kelly Clarkson, (and of course Miranda Lambert), aren’t quite enough to make this holiday album exceptionally good or bad. While there are some noteworthy highlights that are more than just typical holiday fare (“Santa’s Got A Choo Choo Train,” “Time for Me to Come Home,” and “The Very Best Time of Year”), ultimately, Cheers, it’s Christmas ends up sounding like little more than a mediocre country Christmas collection targeted specifically towards hardcore Shelton completists.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: This Christmas (Universal Music)
– No, this isn’t a joke. Obviously a marketing department’s attempt to appeal to fans of Grease, this dismal holiday collection (grossly marred with auto tuned vocals by Travolta) is better suited as a gag gift than as a tree trimming soundtrack, despite guest appearances by James Taylor, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand. This embarrassingly bad addition to Newton-John’s catalog sounds like a Donny and Marie holiday album gone horribly wrong.
A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years – Bringing Joy to the World (Big Machine)
– This series has continued to wane and become a bit of a disappointment since the first volume debuted in 1987 with notable performances by Sting, Madonna, Eurythmics, and U2. Unfortunately this latest mixed bag of various artist holiday filler is no exception, but at least a portion of the proceeds benefit Special Olympics. A few album highlights include tracks by Train, Michael Bublé, and Jason Mraz, but overall this collection is rife with non-essential holiday fodder that leaves you hoping Santa has something better loaded on his sleigh.