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Rock around the clock with Carey, 'Glee' and more

Selected holiday album reviews:
/ Source: The Associated Press

Selected holiday album reviews:

Mariah Carey, "Merry Christmas II You" (Island Def Jam)

Mariah Carey insists that Christmas is her favorite time of year, and it shows on "Merry Christmas II You," Carey's second holiday album.

The record is a mix of classics such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Holy Night." It also includes new recordings, including the first single, "Oh Santa!"

The stakes were high for Carey with this release. Despite the multitude of hits she has racked up over the years, one of her most enduring songs is "All I Want for Christmas Is You." The track has become a modern holiday classic, setting the bar for any new seasonal music Carey wanted to release.

This time around, the up-tempo "Oh Santa!" with its catchy hook, gives "All I Want for Christmas" a run for its money. On the single, Carey sings about a lost love, and how she longs for Santa to bring him back. "Santa is going to come and make you mine this Christmas," Carey playfully croons. The fun-filled track, which Carey wrote with her longtime collaborator, producer Jermaine Dupri (and Bryan-Michael Cox) showcases Carey at her best.

She seamlessly transitions from this pop tune to more heavy material which features the wide rang of her voice. In one of the more touching moments on the album, Carey teams up with her mother, Patricia Carey, who sings the chorus on "O Come All Ye Faithful," in operatic tones. Carey then switches to the R&B track, "When Christmas Comes.

Most of the songs on the album will fill your ears with holiday cheer, but Carey does hit a sour note, specifically on "One Child," a sappy song that comes toward the end of the album.

Luckily, Carey redeems herself with a new recording of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." The song was first released in 1994, but 17 years later, it is still a welcome addition to any holiday album.

With the release of "Merry Christmas II You," Carey proves that there is such a thing as building upon perfection.

— Alicia Quarles, AP Entertainment Writer


Susan Boyle, "The Gift" (Columbia)

Like a lot of presents received during the holidays, Susan Boyle's "The Gift" doesn't live up to expectations.

On the second album from the "Britain's Got Talent" sensation, Boyle offers up a selection of holiday classics, plus a few others, including Leonard Cohen's now-ubiquitous "Hallelujah" and the puzzling choice of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over."

The choice of music isn't the problem here. Surprisingly, it's her voice. While she became a YouTube sensation for displaying heavenly but powerful vocals on "Britain's Got Talent," here, she sounds like a timid child. She coos shakily and rarely uses the full potential of her voice. The arrangements don't help her out, sounding like dreary background music: You'll need a pick me up after listening to this all the way through.

In case you make it that far, put on "O Holy Night," the EP by her label mate, "America's Got Talent's" Jackie Evancho, to combat the holiday jeer. Though she actually is a child, Jackie has a magical, soaring voice that shows her fellow reality show contestant how a Christmas album should be done.

— Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Music Writer


"Now That's What I Call Christmas 4" (EMI)

You get what one would expect on the fourth installment of a "Now That's What I Call Music" holiday recording: A pop-centric variety of Christmas music performed by today's hottest acts.

This version comes with two discs. The first set is iTunes-friendly with artists like from Lady Gaga singing "Christmas Tree" to Rihanna's rendition of "A Child Is Born."

There's also a bonus CD with a collection of artists that might have contributed to "Now That's What I Call Music: The 1950s Edition." There are holiday renditions from Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby.

Between the two discs you can find a holiday song that fits your mood. "Now That's What I Call Christmas" is a great addition to anyone's library of holiday music.

— Alicia Rancilio, Associated Press


Annie Lennox, "A Christmas Cornucopia" (Decca)

Annie Lennox proves herself a pro at mixing old and new world sounds on her first holiday album, "A Christmas Cornucopia," which features a combination of English and French classics, along with an original song as well.

The album opens with "Angles From the Realms of Glory," to which Lennox adds a Middle Eastern sound, and "Lullay Lullay (Coventry Carol)," features some great new vocal twists to make it a dark emotional and whirlwind. "In The Bleak Midwinter" is a calm and sleepy tune, great for rocking the kids to bed.

Not wanting to stick too close to one culture she adds a French number, "I'l est ne le Divin Enfant," and incorporates German on "Silent Night."

Lennox traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to record with the African Children's Choir, who contribute to the albums backup vocals and add a beautiful and unique melody.

The only song written by Lennox is the last one of the album called "Universal Child," which is one of the weakest of the group, but still holds weight due to her incredible voice.

— Summer Moore, Associated Press


Indigo Girls, "Holly Happy Days" (Vanguard Records)

There aren't a lot of surprises on the Indigo Girls' "Holly Happy Days," but if you're out buying Christmas music, you probably aren't really looking to be shocked out of your proverbial stocking.

What the album does have in abundance is what's made Amy Ray and Emily Saliers who they are: beautiful harmonizing and incredible instrumentation. "Holly Days" is chock full of fiddles, mandolins, banjos and, of course, acoustic guitar. The strongest tracks are the most traditional, including the chills-inducing "O Holy Night," "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and an understated take on "Angels We Have Heard On High" perfect to trim a tree to. The songs penned by the Girls have their trademark down-home sound, which works best on Ray's mournful "Mistletoe," but comes across as a bit hokey on Saliers' "Your Holiday Song." It's the holidays, after all, though, and sometimes hokey is exactly what you're looking for.

— Karen Hawkins, Associated Press


Ronnie Spector, "Ronnie Spector's Best Christmas Ever" (Bad Girl)

OK, that's probably overstating things, but then again Ronnie Spector has recorded some of the greatest Christmas rock music of all time, so she's entitled to a pass for the hyperbole. It's hard to believe it was all the way back in 1963 when the leader of the Ronettes gave us versions of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "Sleigh Ride" and "Frosty The Snowman" that remain integral parts of the holiday celebration even today. (Does "Ring-a-ling-a-ling-a Ding Dong Ding" ring any bells?)

Her voice is no longer that of a precocious teenager, but it's still smooth, sultry and unmistakably Ronnie. The CD is only five tracks long, but the point here is that Ronnie Spector is once again singing Christmas songs again, and new ones at that.

"My Christmas Wish" and "It's Christmas Once Again" strive mightily to recapture the boppy '60s vibe that marked her original classics — right down to the trademark "Whoa-oh-oh-oh"s she sprinkles them with. "Light One Candle" is a more introspective song, and the title track is suitably pleasant.

More than anything, this is a small serving of holiday musical comfort food, served up by someone who wrote the original recipe.

— Wayne Parry, Associated Press


Shelby Lynne, "Merry Christmas" (Everso Records)

No matter if you've been in the business for several decades or are still staking out ground, an album chock full of holiday songs — originals and, of course, covers — is one sure way to eke out more sales and get some coveted air time amid the commercials and jingles.

Shelby Lynne is a latecomer to the holiday party, but the 11-song platter was worth the wait. With nine classic tracks — "Silver Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" among them — along with a pair of originals penned just for the CD, her full, rich voice is warm and lustrous. The instruments are subdued but buoyant, wrapping her vocals like a favorite muffler and mittens.

One of the originals, "Xmas," is a bluesy acknowledgment that not all Christmas memories are warm and fuzzy. The song is like a slow burn, gaining strength and ferocity that evokes not just Dusty Springfield but Nina Simone in its delivery.

Throughout the album, Lynne's evocative lyrical play is a respite to the traditionally saccharine holiday tunes.

— Matt Moore, Associated Press


Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., "Christmas With The Rat Pack" (Capitol/EMI)

Why settle for an Xmas album from a modern-day retro crooner when you can spend a cool Yule with the Rat Pack in their prime on this collection chosen from '50s and '60s holiday recordings. by Frank, Dino and Sammy.

Sinatra is more crooning choirboy than world-weary bad boy as he displays his vocal mastery on sacred carols such as "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" as well as secular songs like his own rarely heard "Mistletoe and Holly," but the white-bread choral interludes can be an unnecessary distraction. Sinatra is at his romantic, gently swinging best on "The Christmas Waltz," enhanced by a lush Nelson Riddle arrangement.

Martin's relaxed, slightly suggestive vocal stylings are well suited for "Let It Snow!" and "Winter Wonderland." He gets playful on "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer," even giving Santa a thick German accent, but is surprisingly sensitive on a tender medley of "Peace On Earth/Silent Night."

Davis is full of entertaining surprises. He performs the obscure "Christmas Time All Over The World" with a children's choir singing holiday greetings in languages from Armenian to Norwegian, adds the rare introductory verse to Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," and romps through a jazzy uptempo arrangement of "Jingle Bells" punctuated with brassy big band bursts.

This is a joyful holiday album — Sinatra even got the songwriter's permission to change the lyrics to give a more upbeat ending to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" — that's a pleasant way to ring-a-ding in the holiday season.

— Charles J. Gans, Associated Press


Various artists, "World Christmas Party" (Putumayo)

The best thing about this holiday CD, apart from the opening reggae track that wishes listeners an irie Christmas, is that it breathes new life into classic Christmas songs. Poncho Sanchez gives a groovy, Latin twist to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Deck the Halls" is delivered in Portuguese and there's a Hawaiian version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." There's also a bluesy take on "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" and a jazzy rendition of "Carol and the Kings." This 12-song collection would make a perfect holiday party soundtrack, even for guests who are sick of the songs of the season.

— Sandy Cohen, AP Entertainment Writer