New Holiday Music Playlist

December 18, 2012

albumHere are some new Holiday CDs at Central…

Christmas in the Sand/ Colbie Caillat

SoCal beach bunny that she is, Colbie Caillat recognized a gaping hole in our collective Christmas consciousness: thousands of seasonal records exist but not a one was made for the beach. And so her 2012 album fills a specific need — it’s a breezy, sunny holiday platter for those who never see a snowflake in their December. Colbie’s specialty is a light touch but she actually rocks a little bit harder here than usual, letting her duet partner Brad Paisley goose “Merry Christmas Baby” with his gnarly Telecaster and giving “Winter Wonderland” an insistent electronic pulse, elements that make Christmas in the Sand a little livelier than either of her full-length platters, but the casual brilliance of this unassuming but thoroughly entertaining holiday album is that it has a genuine personality. Apart from a couple of pretty good newly written tunes, the songs are familiar but the sound isn’t: Christmas in the Sand is lively, cheerful, and bright, the sound of the season for climates where there’s nary a cloud in the sky. And there’s never been a Christmas album like that before, so it’s something of an achievement for Caillat. -allmusic.com

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A Very Perri Christmas/ Christina Perri

Christina Perri’s second EP is a far cry from 2010’s Ocean Way Sessions, which featured a live rendition of her breakthrough, breakup calling card “Jar of Hearts” — Perri, a former café waitress with a golden voice, found her way into the limelight a when “Jar of Hearts” spilled over after a performance on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Enter 2012, and Perri has thrown her hat into the annual yuletide blitz with the unfortunately titled A Very Perri Christmas, which pairs five holiday staples with one seasonal original, the quite lovely “Something About December.” It’s fitting that Perri chose the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling” as one of the five, as her effortless, easy pop vocals owe a great deal to Karen Carpenter, and her renditions of oft-abused standards like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Ave Maria” are so refreshingly austere that they almost sound groundbreaking. In fact, it’s a shame that she stopped at just an EP.-allmusic.com

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On this winter’s night/ Lady Antebellum

Part of Lady Antebellum’s appeal is how they’ve mastered the quiet moments, sounding smooth even at their loudest. That aspect of their personality is absent on their 2012 holiday album On This Winter’s Night, about as big and bold a Christmas album as they come. Lady Antebellum’s approach is very modern, as they rely on secular standards from a variety of styles, copping Phil Spector’s jingling, ornate Wall of Sound for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” covering Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” swinging with blaring horns on “Blue Christmas,” even taking the time to slow down Mariah Carey’s jubilant “All I Want for Christmas Is You” down to a soulful crawl. Everything, even the pretty harmonies on “The First Noel,” is given a high-gloss sheen, which doesn’t make this an album for quiet snowy nights. This is a Christmas album for the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, a soundtrack for days of shopping, present-wrapping, and parties filled with good cheer.-allmusic.com

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Christmas/ Francesca Battistelli

Inspired by legendary jazz greats and current contemporaries like John Mayer and Sara Bareilles, singer/songwriter Francesca Battistelli set out to write pop, soul-infused music that would motivate and encourage listeners of any age. Her exposure to the arts began at a young age with her interest and involvement in theatre, music and dance, and at 15, Francesca began writing and performing her own songs. Francesca Battistelli s 11-track album, Christmas, produced by Ian Eskelin, is comprised of both classics and some newly-penned Christmas tunes. The traditional songs include: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Marshmallow World,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Child Is This? (First Noel Prelude),” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and “Joy To The World.” The new songs all co-written by Battistelli are: “Heaven Everywhere,” “Christmas Is,” “Christmas Dreams” and “You re Here.”-Amazon.com

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Holidays Rule/ Various

Collections of holiday music are a lot like the holiday season itself: not without some magic, but after a few of them you kind of know what you’re in for. While that may sound like a cynical assessment, it’s not meant to be. Holiday music, Christmas songs in particular, become pervasively ubiquitous, with countless renditions of ageless seasonal tunes showing up every year some weeks before Thanksgiving and sticking around until the year changes. Holidays Rule attempts to shake up the standard holiday listening with a cross section of artists ranging from ragtag indie acts to legitimate pop icons having a go at time-honored Christmas classics and wintry holiday songs. The collection features contributions from 17 diverse acts, and at its best, the material succeeds in offering an exciting perspective on songs we’ve all heard in every shopping center and dentist office around the holidays since what feels like the beginning of time.  Fun. open the set with a slickly produced pop-friendly version of “Sleigh Ride.” The pristine arrangement and enormous drums drive the song and turn an often benign tune into something actually pretty exciting. Likewise the Shins take on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” does not disappoint, re-envisioning the song in a overt homage to Brian Wilson’s saturated Pet Sounds-era productions. McCartney himself shows up a few tracks later with a sweet and standard reading of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Eleanor Friedberger from Fiery Furnaces offers the weirdest selection with “Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me.” The song begins in a regular faux jazz-pop style, breaking down into an overly long section of hypnotic dubbed-out chanting and marimba vamping. More than once on Holidays Rule, bands turn in dire, almost depressive renditions of public domain songs. Calexico’s melodramatic over-orchestrated take on “Green Grows the Holly” and the Civil Wars’ indie folk dirge “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” both drag the collection down with their heavy-handedness. Though the collection has several standouts and a few duds, much of Holidays Rule is as straightforward as it comes, with unremarkable versions of holiday songs by very good names like the Fruit Bats, Holly Golightly, and Irma Thomas backed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, among others. At its best, the collection is spirited fun, and at its worst it’s inoffensive background music, but it falls short of the adventurous spin on the holiday times it sets out for.-allmusic.com

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Merry Christmas, Baby/ Rod Stewart

Hard as it may be to believe, but Rod Stewart has gotten through five decades without succumbing to a holiday album. That streak ends in 2012 with the release of Merry Christmas, Baby, an easygoing and chipper collection of secular seasonal standards. A couple of carols are thrown in for good measure but these songs — “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings” presented as a duet with Mary J. Blige — along with a mildly incongruous “When You Wish Upon a Star,” slide by easily on the mellow big-band swing of the rest of the record. Song for song, Merry Christmas, Baby is very much of a piece with Rod’s ongoing Great American Songbook series, with Stewart not straying from the familiar form of these songs and producer David Foster laying on all manner of soft, soothing sounds, whether it’s acoustic guitars, synthesizers, strings, or a children’s choir on “Silent Night.” Very rarely does this hint at the Rod of the ’70s — and when it does on the closing “Auld Lang Syne,” its intro given a spare folky treatment reminiscent of his Mercury work, it’s a bracing, effective reminder of Stewart’s skill as a singer — and instead relies on a gladhanding charm that suits the season, not to mention Stewart in his crooning dotage. -allmusic.com

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Home for Christmas/ Celtic Woman

Celtic Woman’s fourth holiday collection, which features the talents of Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe, Máiréad Nesbitt and for the first time since 2007, Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, arrives just a year after 2011’s German-exclusive Celtic Family Christmas. Offering up the usual mix of amiable holiday pop (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Winter Wonderland”) and triumphant, faith-based classics (“Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “We Three Kings”), Home for Christmas doesn’t deviate at all from the formula, which after selling over six-million records worldwide, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.-allmusic.com

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Cheers, It’s Christmas/ Blake Shelton

Now that he’s a big television star, Blake Sheldon decided it was time that he acted the part. And so, Cheers, It’s Christmas, a holiday album timed for the Christmas season of 2012, just so happens to arrive during the thick of The Voice‘s third season. Shelton does not play it cozy and country here; he takes the time to make this a splashy celebration, inviting his wife Miranda Lambert in for a duet on one track and her band Pistol Annies for another, keeping it country with Reba McEntire and keeping it Sinatra with  Michael Bublé, perhaps straying a bit too far from home by singing with Trypta-Phunk, but feeling right at home with Kelly Clarkson. Such a long list of guests can’t help but bring to mind those star-studded seasonal variety shows from the ’70s and, in a sense, the record is stuck in that notion of cross-platform crowd-pleasing, trying to be a little bit of everything to everyone, but that’s by no means a bad thing, as Shelton has an easy charm that carries through any bumps in the road. It’s designed to be classically Christmas, with even its handful of new tunes constructed to sound classic, and Cheers, It’s Christmas does indeed wind up somewhat out of time, sounding like a perennial even upon its first listen.-allmusic.com

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Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas/ Various

Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas, released in 2012, followed four volumes of Now That’s What I Call Christmas, which were issued from 2001 through 2010. Those four discs reached across several decades for classic and contemporary Christmas music. This one, as the title suggests, leans on later releases and will be useful for younger listeners tired of hearing their parents’ and grandparents’ established favorites. While many of these songs are OK-to-good originals (Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Mittens,” One Republic’s “Christmas Without You”), many selections are covers of older songs (Demi Lovato faithfully does Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” for instance) and interpretations of traditional compositions (including Carrie Underwood’s “The First Noel” and Sugarland’s “Silent Night”). The oldest cut comes from the long-running Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” (1996) closes the disc in instrumental, theatrical form.-allmusic.com

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Thanksgiving Playlist, that’s what’s cookin’!

November 15, 2012

Here are some tunes to listen to while you prepare your Thanksgiving feast!

Cornbread and Butterbeans/ Carolina Chocolate Drops

Genuine Negro Jig is perfectly recorded, balanced between the best sound this century can deliver and the rustic, throwback feel of an old-time string band in action at a picnic, dance or rent party in the ’30s. That’s the accomplishment here. The next step, if the Carolina Chocolate Drops are willing to go there, is to stretch things from being a great facsimile to being a natural extension of an ongoing tradition. That’s when revival changes into evolution.-allmusic.com

Roll Plymouth Rock/ Beach Boys

Quibbles aside, everything about this package is richly detailed, immensely pleasing, and overall a wonderful experience. All of the CD editions include copious bonus tracks, such as nine minutes of a cappella vocals (“SMiLE Backing Vocals Montage”), whose beauty and fragility will help listeners realize that the Beach Boys obsessed just as much over their vocalizing as their music. Deluxe editions add essays from several angles, reminiscences from those who were there, and original artwork and photos from the period. True, no one will ever know what effect a SMiLE release in spring 1967 would have had on music or pop culture, and with the music so circular and the lyrics so obtuse, it’s likely that SMiLE would have become merely a curio of psychedelic excess rather than a work that transformed culture. But regardless, it shows Brian Wilson’s mastery of pure studio sonics and his ability to not only create distinctive pop music, but give it great beauty as well. Those qualities have inspired musicians for decades, and it’s clear they will continue to do so.-allmusic.com

Home/ Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

“Hot and heavy pumpkin pie… Ain’t nothing please me more you,” Edward and his Magnetic Zeros profess. This song has all the charm in the world, and sounds like something the settlers would have sung while caravanning along the Oregon Trail. Formed in 2007 by Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert, the mammoth 11-piece outfit embraces “the Summer of Love” with enough period beards, fonts, and Eastern mysticism to launch a thousand “Magical Mystery Tours,” but despite all of the analog equipment and peacenik grandstanding, standout tracks like “Home,” “Desert Song,” and the aforementioned “40 Day Dream” sweep you up in their grandeur like a patchouli tornado and dare you to take your clothes off and jump in the lake with them.-allmusic.com

Thankful/ Caveman

What do an indie rock quartet and a professional wrestler have in common? No, this isn’t the beginning of a groaner, but rather a genuine inquiry about what inspired Brooklyn band Caveman to reference WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware with the title of their full-length debut, Coco Beware. No immediate connections emerge upon listening, but the moods and textures of the record prove every bit as colorful as the pugilist namesake’s costumes and novelty parrot. Combining the sparkling majesty of later-era Animal Collective and the lush experimentation of TV on the Radio with the warm yearning of the Shins, Caveman cover an ambitious territory in the album’s ten-track, 36-minute run, balancing potentially conflicting elements like four-part harmonies, tribal drums, trickling keyboard, hazy guitars, and a lyrical focus on friendship and growth. Summer fades into fall with the moody, Talking Heads-meets mantra mashup “Thankful,” enveloping the mysterious refrain “Thankful all my friends with remorse” in shimmering guitar and propulsive conga drumming.-allmusic.com

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/ Vince Guaraldi

Combining the whimsical yet elegant compositions of Vince Guaraldi and the mellow, restrained playing of George Winston, Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi is a mostly happy marriage of the composer’s and performer’s styles. On much of the album, Winston tends to tone down the breeziness of Guaraldi’s performances, opting for a gentler, reflective approach that sparkles on “Skating” and “Young Man’s Fancy,” but tends to make “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Treat Street” sound a bit washed out. However, sprightly renditions of “The Masked Marvel,” “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” “Peppermint Patty,” and “Eight Five Five” more than make up for the occasional lag and spotlight Winston’s virtuoso piano playing. Though it’s not necessarily intended as a best-of Vince Guaraldi collection, Linus & Lucy could certainly be used as one; however, it’s Winston’s distinctive style that makes it one of the best solo piano new age albums of the ’90s.-allmusic.com

Making Pies/ Patty Griffin

While 1,000 Kisses finds Griffin blending covers in with her own compositions for the first time, she proves to be a first-rate interpretive singer (her version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” actually improves on “the Boss”‘ original), and her own songs are splendid, especially the moving widow’s lament “Making Pies” and the moody lead-off track “Rain.” And regardless of who wrote the material, Griffin’s voice — a tower of strength capable of expressing remarkable emotional vulnerability — remains a wonder to behold. 1,000 Kisses finds Patty Griffin at the top of her game, and one can only hope we don’t have to wait four years for the follow-up.-allmusic.com

Thanksgiving filter/ Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers are a band that likes to do things the old-fashioned way. They proudly proclaim that they record their music “on glorious two-inch analog tape,” they still think in terms of albums with two (or four) sides, and their sound is firmly rooted in the traditions of Southern rock and the blues. They also hark back to a time when rock bands made an album every year followed by a tour, and if the DBTs haven’t quite held firm to that schedule, since they broke through with Southern Rock Opera in 2001, they’ve managed to release six studio albums, a live CD/DVD, another DVD-only live set, and a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks, all while keeping up a demanding touring schedule. Any band that busy is likely to believe it deserves a rest every once in a while, and in a sense, 2011’s Go-Go Boots feels a little bit like a working vacation.-allmusic.com

Thankful/ Josh Groban

Vocalist Josh Groban delivers his first Christmas themed album with 2007’s Noel.  Once again produced by longtime “man behind the curtain” David Foster, the album features more of Groban’s  dewy, supple vocals set to Foster’s cinematic orchestrations. As per the holiday theme, these are primarily classic tunes of the season including such chestnuts as “Silent Night,” “Ave Maria,” and, of course, “The Christmas Song.” However, also included are a few lesser-known traditional songs as “Panis Angelicus” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Similarly, while most of the productions here should appeal to longtime fans of Groban’s particular classical-crossover sound, some cuts like soft rock inflected “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and the Celtic folk leaning “Little Drummer Boy” do expand upon the Groban/Foster palette in a pleasing way. Notably, also showcased here are guest appearances by country superstar Faith Hill, R&B stalwart Brian McKnight, and perennial holiday backing band the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.