This year's selection of holiday CDs features big names (Lady Antebellum and CeeLo Green), veteran and new artists, and plenty of stylistic variety. Here's how this year's holiday albums shake out.
Lady Antebellum: "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol Records) — Combining familiar holidays favorites, the appealing vocals of this group's three members and slick production should make "On This Winter's Night" a hit with Christmas music fans this year and beyond. Rating: 3 stars.
CeeLo Green: "CeeLo's Magic Moment" (Elektra Records) — Green's uncommon creativity is put to good use here. There's the cheerful rocking R&B bounce of "What Christmas Means To Me," a festive version of "White Christmas" and a nicely rocked-up take on "Run Rudolph Run." Such songs help deliver the magic promised in the title of this album. Rating: 4 stars.
Various Artists: "Holidays Rule" (Hear Music) — Want a little diversity in a holiday album? Try "Holidays Rule." With contributors ranging from the Shins to Irma Thomas (with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) and Paul McCartney (with Diana Krall), this album pretty much rules. Rating: 4 stars.
Scotty McCreery: "Christmas with Scotty McCreery" (Mercury/19/Interscope Records) — Lady Antebellum and Blake Shelton are bigger names, but McCreery outdoes those country peers by bringing fresh approaches to oft-covered songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Jingle Bells" and "Let It Snow." Rating: 31/2 stars.
Blake Shelton: "Cheers, It's Christmas" (Warner Bros. Records) — Shelton saves this album by occasionally straying from tried-and-true material, as he teams with Reba McEntire on the aptly titled "Oklahoma Christmas," Michael Bublé on the silky ballad "Home," and Kelly Clarkson on "There's A New Kid In Town," a song that splits the difference between hymn and pop ballad. But much of the album offers the usual treatments of standards such as "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "Jingle Bell Rock," and there's no reason to raise a toast to that sort of predictability. Rating: 2 1/2 stars.
Other Worthy Releases
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: "This Christmas" (UME Records) — The co-stars of the movie "Grease" do a suitable job with holiday favorites such as "White Christmas," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and especially a lyrically playful version of "Baby It's Cold Outside." Rating: 3 stars.
Christina Perri: "A Very Merry Perri Christmas" (Atlantic Records) — Although she has been bunched in with middle-of-the-road popsters such as Jason Mraz and Train, Perri has shown signs of challenging her fans with her music. So it's a bit surprising that "A Very Merry Perri Christmas" is pretty middle of the road. The six songs here are sweetly rendered, but a little too safe for their own good. Rating: 2 1/2 stars.
Katherine Jenkins: "This Is Christmas" (Reprise Records) — If you're looking for a vocal album in more of a classical/theatrical vein, "This Is Christmas" is your ticket. Jenkins brings her mezzo-soprano to stately versions of "O Come O Come Emmanuel," "Away In A Manger," and "Hark The Herald Angels." Rating: 3 stars.
Brooke White: "White Christmas" (June Baby Records) — By adorning most of these songs (three originals and a mix of Christmas favorites) with piano or acoustic guitar, her pretty voice and light backing vocals, White provides a nice change from the heavy production of many holiday albums. Rating: 3 stars.
Emily Hurd: "Any Given Day" (www.emilyhurd.com) — Hurd wanted "Any Given Day" to be a holiday album that was suitable for any time of year. She's met that objective by avoiding holiday standards and instead penning rootsy songs that show why Hurd has been a winner or finalist in several national songwriting contests. 3 1/2 stars.
The Eastern Sea: "First Christmas" (self-released) — This Austin, Texas-based band brings an energetic folk-pop sound to the holidays with this album. A couple of originals — "This is Christmas" and the title track — are highlights. Overall, "First Christmas" is an enjoyable stylistic change-up of an album for holiday listening. Rating: 31/2 stars.
The Jay Unger & Molly Mason Family Band: "A Fiddler's Holiday" (Rounder Records) — This is a live one — as in a concert recording from this bluegrass-centric group, which gets judicious backing from an orchestra on a song set that features five originals and a few standards. The music captures the Christmas spirit, but "A Fiddler's Holiday" is actually universal enough to be played year-round. Rating: 3 1/2 stars.
Spongebob & The Hi-Seas: "It's A Spongebob Christmas Album" (Viacom International) — An odd duck among this year's Christmas albums, "It's A Spongebob Christmas Album" falls somewhere between "Sesame Street" and "Beavis and Butthead." Some occasionally warped humor is welcome here, but there's a little too much kitsch, which makes this album wear thin after a couple of listens. Rating: 2 1/2 stars.
Various Artists: "Festivus" (Highline Records) — Featuring artists signed to this London-based indie label, the quality and style of the songs on "Festivus" are all over the map. Fortunately, there are enough good moments to make "Festivus" worth a listen for indie pop fans. Rating: 3 stars