Sting and Bob get you ready for the holidays
STING If on a Winter's Night (Deutsche Grammophon)
Here's how you hedge your bets with a Christmas album. Sting pulls a George Winston here by delivering a seasonal album that should have a shelf life beyond that last carton of eggnog in your fridge. If on a Winter's Night does kick off with a new version of "Gabriel's Message," the hymn Sting first recorded for the first A Very Special Christmas compilation back in 1987. Sting's voice is deeper this time around; and instead of that monotonous electronic rhythm he surrounds his voice with acoustic instruments. This collection of primarily traditional tunes spans several centuries and includes a pair of Sting originals (the Celtic-laced "The Hounds of Winter" and "Lullaby for an Anxious Child," co-written by Dominic Miller). It's a quiet, sometimes somber, contemplation of winter.
BOB DYLAN Christmas in the Heart (Columbia)
Confession: I didn't snag a copy of this disc in time so my frame of reference comes from hearing selections on an NPR broadcast. But, hey, this is a fundraiser album, and I couldn't in good conscience not tell you about it. It's too precious. Bob Dylan croaks Christmas classics in that weather-beaten voice of his as background singers surround him with syrup. Hearing Dylan's version of "Must be Santa" is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. If it's hard to tell whether Dylan is serious or just being campy, that's exactly the charm. Maybe Tom Waits will gives us some jingles next year.
OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN Christmas Wish (EMI)
This 22-track Christmas album, originally released in 2007, will please fans of adult contemporary radio. If the sound of duets by Olivia Newton John with Jon Secada, Jim Brickman, Michael McDonald and Barry Manilow puts you in the holiday spirit, Christmas Wish is your ticket (to schmaltzy pop). Instrumental of traditional Christmas songs serve as interludes between standard holiday fare ("Silent Night," O Come All Ye Faithful") and several original songs, including a few co-written by John ("Underneath the Same Sky," "Christmas on My Radio.")
Also dusted off by EMI for the holidays:
THE BEACH BOYS Christmas Harmonies (Capitol)
Most of the songs on this new 15-track compilation were culled from 1964, including the Beach Boys' now classic "Little Saint Nick," by far the most memorable song here. Brian Wilson produced most of the sessions so there's a spark of his emerging creative genius in the vocal and instrumental arrangements to this set of primarily original material.
THE CHIPMUNKS Christmas with the Chipmunks (Capitol)
As a toddler my eldest sound was afraid of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't be Late)." Seems the sound of bandleader Dave yelling at Alvin sent a chill into his young soul. Maybe we should have bought him that Hula-Hoop. This compilation collects 20 Chipmunks holiday classics.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Christmas Classics by the Fire (Capitol)
This DVD offers a "virtual fireplace" to fire up on your TV while you groove to an hour's worth of holiday classics by such by Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and other singers from the era. Choose from three different scenes. Drinks not included.
NAT KING COLE The Christmas Song (Capitol)
This new compilation gets its title from one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. (Note: "The Christmas Song" is not to be confused with "The Chipmunk Song"). Included here is Cole's 1961 solo version. (Seems he recorded the song four times.) Nineteen more Nat King Cole chestnuts are roasting on this open fire of holiday cheer. (Santa, you can cross a present off my list for that one.)
VARIOUS ARTISTS Merriest Time of the Year (Capitol)
This 15-track digital-only compilation available at iTunes offers familiar favorites from the Capitol vaults, including the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Dave Koz, Peggy Lee and Lou Rawls. Nothing unusual here -- unless you count having Kenny Rogers and Sinéad O'Connor on the same album.