Yet it’s a completely sober experience.
Oh, well, maybe next time.
— Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer
‘‘Holidays Rule,’’ various artists (Hear Music)
The perfect soundtrack for your hipster holiday party, ‘‘Holidays Rule’’ features classic Christmas tunes interpreted by indie rockers such as the Shins, Rufus Wainwright, the Civil Wars and fun.
Paul McCartney offers a warm, jazzy take on ‘‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),’’ while the Shins’ ‘‘Wonderful Christmastime’’ harkens to the Beach Boys’ sunny sound. Wainwright, with Sharon Van Etten, turns in a sultry version of ‘‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’’ that makes listeners want to cuddle by the fireplace.
The party will be kicking when guests hear ‘‘(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag,’’ an upbeat, horn-and-harmonica-tinged tune by Black Prairie featuring Sallie Ford. Other highlights include ‘‘Senor Santa’’ by Y La Bamba, which sets holiday sentiments to the tune of ‘‘Mr. Sandman,’’ and Andrew Bird’s happy, fiddle-enhanced version of ‘‘Auld Lang Syne.’’
— Sandy Cohen, AP Entertainment Writer
Rod Stewart ‘‘Merry Christmas, Baby’’ (Verve)
There’s not a dentist office in America that won’t be piping this album into its waiting room this holiday season. And that’s not a good thing, considering it comes from the man who gave us ‘‘Stay With Me,’’ ‘'Hot Legs’’ and ‘‘Young Hearts.’’
Rod Stewart’s first Christmas album is so safe, so tame and so unimaginative that it sounds like 100 other Christmas albums before it. There’s literally not one truly memorable (or even halfway engaging) arrangement on this disc, despite a roster of all-star talent that lends a hand.
Drenched in strings, leaning on jazz-combo stylings or tranquil acoustic guitars, this album starts off with the sleep-inducing ‘‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’’ and goes nowhere from there. Not even Mary J. Blige can save this rendition of ‘‘We Three Kings,’’ and Michael Buble’s duet with Stewart on ‘‘Winter Wonderland’’ doesn’t exactly break new ground, either.
The one modestly interesting track here is the title track, with an early ‘70s Jackson 5-style groove, with an assist from CeeLo Green and Trombone Shorty. Technology and recording studio magic enables Stewart to do a ‘‘virtual duet’’ with Ella Fitzgerald on ‘‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’’
A humble suggestion: take the $15 or so that you would have spent to buy this disc, and donate it instead to a charity helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy. THAT will give you the holiday feeling this disc is utterly incapable of creating.
— Wayne Parry, Associated Press
‘‘A Laurie Berkner Christmas’’ (Two Tomatoes Records)
If you have kids under the age of five in your house, this is probably the only Christmas album you need this year.
Never let it be said that this mother doesn’t know her audience. There are 15 tracks here, including three originals. Every song is simple, melodic and sung with an infectious joy that the preschool set immediately appreciates.
The best feature children singing along, like ‘‘Santa’s Coming To My House Tonight.’’
There are also a few traditional holiday songs for kids like ‘‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,’’ ‘'Frosty the Snowman’’ and ‘‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas.’’ Each features simple beats, a sing-song cadence, and even a muted trombone or two.
The only clunker is a cover of the spiritual ‘‘Children Go Where I Send Thee.’’ While I'm sure the kids will appreciate all the counting ("Two for Paul and Silas/One for the little bitty baby"), the Biblical references will likely zoom over their heads. Skip it and re-cue the opening track and try not to smile when Berkner belts out: ‘‘I like those J-I-N, G-L-E, B-E-double L-S bells!’’
— Rob Merrill, Associated Press
Tracey Thorn, ‘‘Tinsel and Lights’’ (Merge Records)
Christmas, of course, is a religious holiday, but it is also much more. It is a season of reflection, a time for quiet amid the ‘‘Tinsel and Lights,’’ which is the fitting name for this collection by Tracey Thorn.
Thorn, best known as the vocalist half of Everything but the Girl, has crafted an intimate and emotionally layered album that gracefully captures the season through non-standard Christmas songs such as Jack White’s sultry ‘‘In the Cold, Cold Night’’ and the melancholic ‘‘Snow’’ by Randy Newman. Two stand-outs are a rendition of Sufjian Stevens’ ‘‘Sister Winter’’ and an achingly beautiful version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘‘River,’’ in which Thorn’s textured contralto is supported by a horn arrangement conjuring the image of a brass band in the snow.Continued...