'A Different Kind of Christmas'
Naughty: You're probably not familiar with many of the artists on these 23 tracks. Audio Stepchild? Renzo Charlez? Freshwadda Brooks? Have all of these great hip-hop artists been hiding on the North Pole until now?
Nice: This comp comes courtesy of Hoopla Worldwide/LRT/ INgrooves Fontana, all imprints we had also never heard of before now. But some of the participants have affiliations with Parliament Funkadelic and Nappy Roots. The beats here mostly have a G-Funk feel with little samples of carols thrown in and the rhymes are super positive. Check out 1st Blood and Buffalo Stille's "Some Kentucky Bourbon on Christmas Eve" and Da Product and J Bill's "It Seems Like We Forgot" for some of the most festive holiday hip-hop since Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis."
'Isn't This World Enough??'
Naughty: The problem with this post-record-industry cli-mate is that there aren't enough Scroogey label CEOs to say, "Yer holiday song stinks!" Therefore, this 14-song comp from the Nettwerk Music Group has a few stinkers from Ash Koley and Jay Brannan. Bah humbug!
Nice: The title track, by the Scottish six-piece Admiral Fallow might not be the most obvious holiday song (sample lyric: "You don't need to hang your hat on belief in bumper stickers") but there's something classic about it that makes it malleable, the way that "Put a Little Love In Your Heart" kind of became a holiday staple after it was used in "Scrooged." Also worth noting: This comp kicks off with a rockin' Fun. tune!
‘Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10’
Naughty: Is Sufjan Stevens trying to take up all our free time this season? Sure, this is a gorgeous collection of 58 holiday-ish tracks (we say “ish” because how is Prince’s “Alphabet Street” a holiday song?) But keep in mind that Stevens recorded these songs over six years. Listeners may want to pace themselves too.
Nice: There are a few songs on here that are the sonic equivalent of sugar plums dancing in your head. Draw the curtains, plug in your tree and zone out to the beautifully textured 10-minute plus opuses “Christmas Unicorn” and “The Child with the Star on His Head.”
‘Cheers, It’s Christmas’
Naughty: His role as a coach on “The Voice” has earned Blake Shelton a new fanbase of people who wouldn’t ordinarily like his brand of country music. That said, if you don’t ordinarily like his brand of country music, you won’t like this album.
Nice: Shelton is such a likable personality that this is highly tolerable stuff. Plus, he handpicked some of the most likable side-kicks to guide his sleigh, like Reba, Kelly Clarkson, his wife Miran- da Lambert and the king of palatable Christmas charisma, Mich-ael Bublé, who co-wrote one of the songs here. Basically, the cover pic of Shelton in front of the fireplace says it all: It’s old-fashioned, steeped in tradition, comfortable and it’s not exactly cool.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton John
If this collection came out in 1980 then may-be there would be a reason for it to exist, but in 2012 there’s no need for these 13 tracks, most of which are standards, with the exception of an original that’s being touted as a sequel to “You’re The One That I Want.” The song is called, “I Think You Might Like It.” Spoiler alert: You won’t. Sure, they had chemistry in “Grease,” but that was in 1978. The forced smiles while sipping cocoa on the cover shows what kind of chemistry they have now. We don’t like to be Grinchey, but this is the sonic equivalent of reindeer poop.
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Best of the rest
“Holidays Rule” Various
Naughty: Speaking of compilations that start with a song by Fun., the “We Are Young” trio have spread themselves too thin for the holidays. With their track, they take a “Sleigh Ride” down Broadway and make an ill-advised turn into ‘80s territory. Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten also deserve a lump of coal for their empty version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Nice: This one delivers the most bang for your buck. The Shins run McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” through a Beach Boys filter and turn it into something great. McCartney himself is on here too. Other great performances include Calexico, Eleanor Friedberger and Andrew Bird.
“Merry Christmas, Baby”
Naughty: Stewart exhumes the voice of Ella Fitzgerald for a duet of “What Are You Do-ing New Year’s Eve”? Let’s just hope there is no “live” performance, a la Virtual 2Pac.
Nice: Rod’s light rock swing is actually contagious, and you may find yourself saying, “Hey, play that again!” about the original song that Stewart co-wrote, “Red-Suited Super Man.” Then you’ll realize what you just said and lie that you were just kidding. Cee-Lo, Mary J. Blige, Bublé and Trombone Shorty also turn in notable cameos.
“Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One”
The Polyphonic Spree
Naughty: The Polyphonic Spree are known for featuring upwards of 20 members, but leader Tim DeLaughter doesn’t quite maximize the potential of all of his choral worker elves here.
Nice: Though many of these 13 tracks are familiar songs, the Spree drastically reimagine many of them to great effect. “Silver Bells,”?featuring School of the Seven Bells, is a dreamy 7-minute symphony that captures the exhausting wonder of the season through the sleepy eyes of a child.