What Is Christmas To You
Miguel Antonio (Universal)
An instant antidote to jaded feelings about Christmas commercialism is the sound of a young voice singing earnestly about the season. Local singer Miguel Antonio's clear voice cuts through the four tracks on his debut EP. His Oh Holy Night conjures Jackson 5-era Michael Jackson, and What Is Christmas To You, written by Karen Lim, is quite original. A promising debut. Check him out live when this EP's officially launched on Wednesday at Timbre @ The Substation, 7.30pm. Entrance is free.
Midwinter's Eve: Music For Christmas
The London Chamber Orchestra (Sony)
The distinguishing characteristic of The London Chamber Orchestra's instrumental Christmas album is its recessed sound quality. Most of the tracks sound beautifully distant, as if listened to from beyond the doors of a massive cathedral, and conjure quietly pastoral Sunday afternoons. There are a few exceptions, such as the unexpectedly incisive Deck The Halls, but this is generally a laid-back album. That's not a criticism per se, but makes Midwinter's Eve more suitable for family listening than party playlists.
John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John (Universal)
They were a great onscreen duo in 1978's Grease, and that chemistry pays off again for John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in This Christmas. Travolta's voice is decent but not awesome, while Newton-John is in great vocal shape but sings in a slightly dated style. What saves this album is the collaborations. Tony Bennett and The Count Basie Orchestra give Winter Wonderland oomph, James Taylor lilts through Deck The Halls, and Chick Corea makes This Christmas less predictable.
Katherine Jenkins (Decca)
This Is Christmas
Katherine Jenkins (Warner)
It's naturally confusing when two Christmas albums by the same artist are released together. In Katherine Jenkins's case, the reason's quite simple.
My Christmas is a compilation by her old record label, Decca, of various festive-related tracks dating back to 2004, although only O Holy Night, Silent Night and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas are truly Christmassy. This Is Christmas, however, is a new Christmas album released by Jenkins's current label, Warner, and is more overtly festive thanks to tunes such as Deck The Halls, The Christmas Song and I Wish You A Merry Christmas.
In spite of its tenuous festive connection, My Christmas has been thoughtfully compiled. There are two versions of Ave Maria, neither of them by Schubert.
The Gounod version is remarkable in its tasteful simplicity, depending largely on an organ and allowing Jenkins's voice to shine. This is Christmas is pleasantly upbeat, with Santa Baby and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, standing out. But the main highlight is, curiously, not a Christmas song - Come What May, from the 2001 Moulin Rouge soundtrack, is a glorious duet with Placido Domingo.
Christmas In The Sand
Colbie Caillat (Universal Republic)
What Colbie Caillat lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for in sweet cheerfulness. Unfortunately, that's not quite enough to make Christmas In The Sand memorable even though Every Day is Christmas (featuring Jason Reeves) and a bubbly Baby It's Cold Outside (featuring Gavin Degraw) are fun and will please fans. The title track is probably the best in this entire Christmas outing.
Merry Christmas Baby
Rod Stewart (Verve)
Rod Stewart's already proven with each release in his The Great American Cookbook that he can do classic songs. And when it comes to Christmas songs, delivery matters more than sheer vocal quality.
So it's no surprise that his first festive album, Merry Christmas Baby, is very good. Check his Auld Lang Syne to hear him reach some notes you wouldn't think he'd be able to reach.
He doesn't actually need duet partners but they are a nice bonus on the album. Michael Buble and Mary J Blige appear, but Merry Christmas, Baby, with CeeLo Green and Trombone Shorty, is the gem. The only questionable inclusion is an artificial duet with the late Ella Fitzgerald, spawned in the studio from old recordings, and splicing in trumpeter Chris Botti to replace Fitzgerald's old partner in crime, Louis Armstrong.
The album doesn't need the gimmick so Stewart, and producer David Foster, should have had better judgment.
CeeLo's Magic Moment
CeeLo Green (Elektra)
Impeccable taste combined with a quirky sense of humour makes all the music CeeLo Green touches turn to gold, and his first Christmas effort is no exception.
CeeLo's Magic Moment is a sparkling roller coaster of upbeat R&B and pop, but also slows down for a nice White Christmas. His duet with Rod Stewart and Trombone Shorty, Merry Christmas, Baby, which is the title track for Stewart's Christmas album, also appears here.
A Verry Merry Perri Christmas
Christina Perri (Atlantic)
Christmas songs suit Christina Perri's distinctive voice very well, provided they aren't traditional tunes. She co-wrote Something About December and it's quite distinctive. Bittersweet Merry Christmas Darling is beautiful and sad, without ever being cheesy, and is the album's best track. But Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is mediocre. And in Perri's hands, Schubert's Ave Maria is painfully thin, flat and plain awful.
'Tis the Season
A common party trick is to put on an a capella track and have your guests blink in disbelief when you tell them that only human voices are involved. Local group Vocaluptuous easily achieves this effect with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas on 'Tis the Season. All 10 songs on the album sound spontaneous and feature first-rate singing.
Andre Rieu (Polydor)
Violinist Andre Rieu leads his Johann Straus Orchestra through mostly standard instrumental Christmas fare, with the exception of the title track, which Rieu composed in memory of the time he first met his wife, Marjorie, in Brussels. There are some vocal pieces but they are the side dishes, not the main course.
Various Artists (Hear)
In terms of sheer hipness, Christmas Rules (released as Holidays Rule in some countries) really does rule. It brings together a diverse bunch of interesting artists, yet manages to sound coherent. Everything comes together because it was all done specifically for this album and handled by the same producers.
Paul McCartney pretty much does what you'd expect on The Christmas Song, but Black Prairie, featuring Sallie Ford, gives a whole new garage rock twist to The Man With The Bag. An absolute must-buy this Christmas for anyone adventurous.