Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Christmas Releases for 2013, Part Two

Yesterday's post offered information about some of the most popular new holiday albums released so far in 2013. Here's the rest of the list:

Christmas Songs, Bad Religion
There aren’t many active bands left out there from the early days of punk, which is one of the reasons Bad Religion deserves mention. Founded in 1979, this Los Angeles band frequently includes holiday songs in their sets, and they recently released their first holiday album, Christmas Songs. Those are two more reasons. The band’s lead singer, Gregg Graffin, has had a thing for Christmas music since he first joined his church choir, and he and the rest of his band do a solid job on this short (less than 20 minutes, total) collection of holiday classics. Bad Religion’s always been on the more mainstream side of punk, and this album doesn't try to change any of that. But if you like your holiday fare delivered with a slightly jagged edge, give this album a spin on the streaming player below. (Incidentally, if you're a fan of punk rock and holiday music, be sure to check out Rotten Christmas, a terrific Punk Rock Christmas Blog by Nice Guy Eddie. I've added it to my list of links on the right-hand side of this page.)

Christmas with Judy Collins, Judy Collins
Originally trained as a classical pianist, Judy Collins changed her musical direction in the early 1960s after being introduced to the music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and, through them, the growing folk music scene. Known for her interpretations of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," she's written, recorded and performed music of many different styles, including four Christmas albums. This is the fifth. Released on October 22, Christmas with Judy Collins is essentially a repackaging of her 2000 CD All on a Wintry Night, with the addition of the song "Angels In The Snow" and a different version of "Amazing Grace."  Send in the Claus.

Snow Globe, Erasure
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke, the two principals of the British synthpop duo Erasure, have apparently been wanting to do a Christmas album for years, but, according to Clarke, they resisted the temptation until they could be sure they were able to offer something new and unique. "Everything about Christmas has been written already," Clarke explained. Their first holiday album Snow Globe was released this week, and it doesn't take long to figure out the unusual angle the pair came up with: horror, loneliness and despair. "We thought it would be more interesting to look into the darker side of the season," says Clarke. "For a lot of people, Christmas is not a happy time." Neither, for that matter, is an album with tracks titled "Bleak Midwinter," "Blood on the Snow," and "There'll Be No Tomorrow" – or one promoted with a sinister looking video that takes place in what appears to be a cross between a delapidated monastary and Dracula's castle. Check out the video for "Gaudete," the album's  first single:

When asked about their inspiration for Snow Globe, Clarke told The Hollywood Reporter it was "[t]his idea of someone singing it in the subway [who is] homeless, old and sad."

And a Ho! Ho! Ho! to you guys, too!

Of course, first impressions can be deceiving. Indeed, on further listen, there is considerable beauty on Snow Globe – and a measured amount of holiday cheer as well. If Clarke and Bell wanted to make something different, I'd say they've rung that bell.

Fans of the band will want to check the Erasure Information Service website starting December 1, to access Erasure's holiday advent calendar, which will offer downloads and other specials each day through December 25. More information about the new album is also available in Billboard magazine.

Winter Loversland, Tamar Braxton
Another artist releasing her first holiday record this year is singer and reality television personality Tamar Braxton, the youngest sister of R&B icon Toni Braxton. Although less than 30 minutes long, Winter Loversland features ten tracks, including Braxton's take on such classics as "Silent Night," "Santa Baby," and "Merry Christmas, Darling." It also includes "She Can Have You," an original tune co-written by Braxton that several reviewers say sounds more like a standard break-up song than a genuine Christmas tune. But Braxton disagrees, noting that the song "is about being alone on Christmas and this is a personal experience for me." Singersroom quotes Braxton as saying: "I was the girl who was alone and upset on Christmas because I'm by myself. Every person goes through (it) one time or another in their life. It just seemed like I kept meeting the same man with a different face ... seriously. I'm not male bashing. That's just my experience." Quick! Somebody get this woman a new sprig of mistletoe!

Under the Influence:  Holiday Edition, Straight No Chaser
If you're a fan of a cappella music, you've no doubt heard of Straight No Chaser, the professional a cappella group that got its start in the mid-1990s on the campus of Indiana University. They've previously released two holiday albums, Holiday Spirits (2008) and Christmas Cheers (2009). In 2010, they released a box set called All I Want for Christmas, which included those two albums plus a DVD of a recent concert performance. This year, however, things got slightly confusing. In May, the group released an album of non-Christmas material called Under the Influence, This was followed in late October by Under the Influence: Holiday Edition, an EP that contains eight holiday tunes and appears to have nothing in cxommon with the May release. There's also Under the Influence:  Fan Edition, which includes the contents of the May album plus eight non-Christmas bonus tracks; and Under the Influence: Ultimate Edition, which includes everything on the Fan Edition plus the eight holiday tunes from the Holiday Edition. (I miss the good old days when records were an impulse purchase and didn't require detailed instructions!) Still, the Holiday Edition, while short in duration, is long on spirit. CeeLo Green lends his voice to "White Christmas"; Otis Redding returns to lend his voice on "Merry Christmas, Baby"; and Sir Paul McCartney guests on a new version of "Wonderful Christmastime" that's actually slightly less abominable than the original. (WARNING:  There's at least one version out there that's worse than the original. Naturally, I've included it on my 2013 holiday mix, which will be posted on my website next Thursday.)

Musical Gifts, Joshua Bell and Friends
With his latest album Musical Gifts, renowned violinist Joshua Bell returns to a concept he introduced on his 2009 album At Home with Friends – and it works even better here. Bell imagines himself at home for the holidays and opening his hearth to a succession of talented friends, each of whom adds a unique musical gift to the mix. The result is a collection of bold new takes on a vibrant mix of holiday favorites, featuring a guest list that includes Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss, Kristin Chenoweth, trumpeter Chris Botti, jazz greats Chick Corea and Branford Marsalis, opera stars Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and the aforementioned a cappella group Straight No Chaser. Here's a clip of the track "O Holy Night," featuring Kristin Chenoweth:

I'm reasonably sure this list of new releases is incomplete, but hopefully it provides some small sense of the diverse mix of holiday music being recorded and released in 2013. If I've missed anything you think should be added, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

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