With understated instrumentation throughout the album, Thorn’s mellow voice also shines on her own pieces, such as the title song and the opening ‘‘Joy,’’ in which she honors the contrasts that many of us experience at holiday time: ‘‘It’s because of the dark/We see the beauty in the spark,’’ she says, ‘‘That’s why, that’s why/The carols make you cry.’’
— Michelle Morgante, Associated Press
Andre Rieu, ‘‘Home for the Holidays’’ (Hip-O Records)
There’s something wholesome and homey about the holiday offering from Andre Rieu, the Dutch violinist and composer.
The 14 songs on ‘‘Home for the Holidays’’ are smooth and soothing — he’s playing the violin beautifully over classics like ‘‘White Christmas,’’ ‘'Silver Bells’’ and ‘‘Ave Maria.’’
He’s joined by guest vocalists, too, and those tracks help break up the album’s instrumental and background music-sounding feel. Brazilian opera singer Carla Maffioletti, South Africa’s Kimmy Skota and Dutch-Australian soprano Mirusia Louwerse contribute to the songs, and they sound stunning throughout. That’s especially on ‘‘Old Toy Trains,’’ which is mellow and soft. You'll easily hit the repeat button.
And there’s more where that came from: There’s also a Target edition of the album with four bonus tracks and a DVD. Kick off your shoes and relax your feet — and your ears
— Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer
‘‘A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years Bringing Joy to the World’’ (Big Machine Records)
Like the tide, each holiday season flows with new music, and ebbs it away for the next batch the following year. That makes most of each season’s releases replaceable to all but the most devout fans of a particular artist. But that’s not usually the case with the ‘‘Very Special Christmas’’ series.
‘‘A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years Bringing Joy to the World’’ marks the anniversary of the series that began in 1987 as a means to benefit Special Olympics. Since then, it’s become one of the most successful charities in recording history, generating more than $100 million dollars for the organization.
This is the eighth installment of the series that began with Madonna, U2, and Run DMC reinventing the holiday music genre. And the latest roster shows no sign of breaking tradition with a solid set of 16 tracks.
Standout performances include Cheap Trick redoing their ‘‘I Want You to Want Me’’ as ‘‘I Want You For Christmas,’’ the seasonal crooning of Michael Buble on ‘‘It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,’’ and a live version of ‘‘Christmas Song’’ by the Dave Matthews Band. And then there’s Jewel, who offers her angelic tone to appropriately titled, ‘‘Angels We Have Heard on High.’’
In between, there are contributions from Rascal Flatts, Jason Mraz, Jordin Sparks, One Republic, and others.
— John Carucci, Associated Press
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, ‘‘This Christmas’’ (Universal Music Enterprises)
Anyone who is a fan of ‘‘Grease’’ will be intrigued by the idea of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John teaming up for a new Christmas album: Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen are together again!
‘‘This Christmas’’ features holiday favorites like ‘‘Baby It’s Cold Outside,’’ ‘'Winter Wonderland’’ and ‘‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’’ while Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Kenny G and James Taylor also make appearances. There’s also an original song called ‘‘I Think You Might Like It’’ written by John Farrar, the songwriter who penned ‘‘You’re The One That I Want’’ and ‘‘Hopelessly Devoted’’ from ‘‘Grease.’’ The tune is upbeat and snappy but isn’t nearly as good as its predecessors. It also probably won’t go down in the books of holiday classics.
Still, the album captures the chemistry between the two performers, will tickle ‘‘Grease’’ fans and it’s intended for a good cause. Proceeds go to Newton-John and Travolta’s respective charities: The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center and the Jett Travolta Foundation.
— Alicia Rancilio, Associated Press
Richard Marx, ‘‘Christmas Spirit’’ (TourDForce)
Richard Marx’s ‘‘Christmas Spirit’’ might be the perfect synopsis of Marx’s career: A few great songs mixed with some average tracks and a couple of middling ones, leaving you entertained enough but not yearning for more.
The album starts off out on a lovely note with a lush version of ‘‘The Christmas Song’’: Marx’s voice sounds sweet and tender and blends perfectly the lush arrangement of the classic song.
That note gets less endearing on other tracks as his thin voice starts to grate on you. His nasally pitch takes away from songs like ‘‘O Come All Ye Faithful,’’ and he’s not helped by the repetitive guitar chords on ‘‘Little Drummer Boy.’’Continued...