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Holiday Gift Guide: Christmas Sounds

by Shawn Stone on December 12, 2013


A couple of old dudes are responsible for two of the most interesting holiday albums this year. Johnny Mathis, who’s been making smooth, velvety music since the Eisenhower administration, is offering up Sending You a Little Christmas (Columbia). And guess what: The 78-year-old crooner still sounds great. The songs are perfectly programmed, and the arrangements are tasteful. This is the appropriate educational gift for anyone who thinks Michael Buble’s or Rod Stewart’s terrible Christmas records are actually good.

The other (not quite as) old dude with a fine new release is Nick Lowe. His Quality Street: Seasonal Selections for All the Family (Yep Roc) is deadpan and tender, idiosyncratic and warm. Crafty guy, that Lowe. This record will charm even the Grinchiest.

Leona Lewis’ Christmas With Love (RCA) isn’t perfect. What she does to “White Christmas,” for example, shouldn’t happen to Diane Warren, never mind Irving Berlin. Still, the up-tempo numbers are exuberant in a Phil Spector-ish manner and Lewis—who does have a nice sound—gets into less vocal mischief away from ballads.

If you aren’t interested in anything new, Sony Legacy has a series for you: The Classic Christmas Album. These identically titled releases focus on longtime Columbia Records artists with multiple holiday albums—like Andy Williams, Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond—and put the best-loved tracks on single-disc compilations.

For Anita O’Day completists—and we’re out here—there’s the EP-length Have a Merry Christmas With Anita O’Day (Red). These recordings date mostly from the 1970s and ’80s (though the closer’s from the 1940s), capturing the jazz singer at the end of her long career.

The big pop Christmas album of 2013 is, by a wide margin, Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red (RCA). It’s a mix of old and new—like the title track—and it really will make you feel merrier. If that’s what you’re looking for, that is. If you don’t want to feel merry, there’s the Misfits’ EP Horror Christmas (Misfits), which has a loud, amusing cover of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and Bad Religion’s Christmas Songs (Epitaph), which sounds exactly like you think it would.