ALBUM OF THE WEEK
BRIGHT EYES – A CHRISTMAS ALBUM
Bucking the trend of greatest hits and ‘winners-single’ releases this festive season is Nebraska-born indie outfit Bright Eyes whose A Christmas Album features a wealth of restyled classics such as White Christmas, Silent Night and more. Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott first released the record in 2002 with proceeds going to the Nebraska AIDS Project, but they have now given the album a wide release for your listening pleasure. The collection is incredibly emotional, though occasionally bordering on the morose. Stand-out tracks Silent Night and Have Yourself A Merry Little Question are wonderful, both incredibly delicate and unassuming, yet poignant. This is a sentimental, at times heart-breaking, collection which deserves a place in homes everywhere this festive season.
(Review by Holly McKenzie)
FOR FOLK’S SAKE – IT’S CHRISTMAS 2013
Continuing its annual tradition for the fourth year, music website For Folk’s Sake has created a festive collection of covers and original songs by upcoming artists. It opens with Patch And The Giant’s ragtime/Irish jig version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and ends with a psychedelic electronica journey to future Christmases with Time Frog 4000 by Emperor Yes. Most of the record is split between straight versions of carols like The First Noel and Joy To The World and some charming, Christmas-inspired ballads by sugary-voiced female vocalists, while Howard Carter’s instrumental Adagio from Corelli’s Christmas Concerto adds a touch of classical refinement. In contrast, Santa Says Relax by Joe Innes and The Cavalcade is a pop-culture-laden tribute to commercial traditions, sampling Santa Baby. The dirge-like re-imagining Silentish Night is one of the missed marks, but there’s no pleasing everyone all of the time.
(Review by Natalie Bowen)
MARY J BLIGE – A MARY CHRISTMAS
Putting her own recognisable R&B spin on well-known festive tracks is soul songstress Mary J Blige. A Mary Christmas is more light-hearted fare than the angst-filled songs the 42-year-old is known for. The 12-track collection features well-known songs including Little Drummer Boy, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer to more obscure tracks like the beautifully soulful Mary, Did You Know? and Petit Papa/Noel. Blige is joined by Jessie J on Do You Hear?, which they performed on The X Factor, Barbra Streisand on When You Wish Upon A Star and Marc Anthony on the bilingual Noche De Paz (Silent Night). Listeners may be baffled as to why My Favourite Things and When You Wish Upon A Star are on a Christmas album, but apart from that, A Mary Christmas is one for Blige fans to cherish.
(Review by Shereen Low)
KIM WILDE – WILDE WINTER SONGBOOK
Kim Wilde, Britain’s foremost green-fingered erstwhile princess of 1980s pop, joined the ranks of overnight internet video sensations when a stranger filmed her serenading London Underground passengers with her smash Kids In America, after what presumably was a very fun Christmas party. It was as unlikely a guerrilla gig as they come and the clip-on antlers made for first-class accessorising. Two million YouTube views later and the 53-year-old returns, rolling the pop calendar back a generation to duet with Rick Astley on Winter Wonderland, and to pair up with Nik Kershaw on Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree. Wilde, dad Marty and brother Ricky even get stuck into Fleet Foxes’s White Winter Hymnal. It’s delicious fun, and in party season that is all that matters.
(Review by John Skilbeck)
KELLY CLARKSON – WRAPPED IN RED
Wrapped In Red is Kelly Clarkson’s festive offering. The album consists of new songs including the title track alongside well-known classics, which bring a modern punchy sound that is instantly likeable. Former American Idol winner Clarkson, who co-wrote the up-tempo forthcoming single Underneath The Tree, shows her powerful rock-edge voice off to its full ability. Run, Run Rudolph and Baby It’s Cold Outside, where she duets with country music star Ronnie Dunn, tops off an album so festive it’s certain to soothe even the harshest Bah Humbug!
(Review by Rebecca Flitton)
SUSAN BOYLE – HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
It was almost inevitable that 2009 Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle would release a Christmas album, given her global success. Home For Christmas, her fifth release, features a novel duet with an Elvis Presley recording on O Come All Ye Faithful as well as a partnership with The Overtones and Johnny Mathis, which should delight fans of the Scottish songstress. Boyle’s beautiful voice is perfectly suited for simple carols but is clouded rather than enhanced by swelling strings and backing choirs on The Christmas Song and Miracle Hymn, the sole original track taken from her upcoming film, The Christmas Candle. Typically Su-Bo, Home For Christmas is a good stocking filler.
(Review by Natalie Bowen)
ERASURE – SNOW GLOBE
Synth-pop duo Erasure return with a Christmas album with a difference – the difference being it’s not particularly festive. The 13-track album is a mix of traditional classics such as Silent Night and White Christmas and the duo’s own compositions. There may be Andy Bell’s trademark vocals and synths-a-plenty courtesy of Vince Clarke, but just don’t expect any jingling bells, this is a rather more subdued affair. This is no bad thing though, simply making i one of the better Christmas albums out there. Snow Globe is a little dark, a little eerie but most importantly, more than a little good. Bleak Midwinter really does sound rather bleak, while one of the duo’s own tunes, Make It Wonderful, and Loving Man are highlights.
(Review by Polly Weeks)
LEONA LEWIS – CHRISTMAS, WITH LOVE
Everyone knows Leona Lewis as The X Factor winner with the big voice, so it’s no surprise the stand-out tracks on this Christmas album are the songs that match that talent. O Holy Night, Ave Maria and Silent Night are beautiful renditions of classics, her versions atmospheric and haunting from the first note until the last. Bringing more Christmas cheer is a very merry track called One More Sleep, which will have everyone rocking around their tree by the end. Tracks which may invite the skip button include Mr Right and Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), but back on form are Lewis’s version of White Christmas and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. All in all though, despite one or two crackers, Lewis’s album is a few party hats short of a festive fiesta.
(Review by Catherine Wylie)
JACK TOPPING – WONDERFUL WORLD
Simon Cowell must be quaking in his boots, with Jack Topping tipped to steal the Christmas number one spot from his X Factor winner. For his debut, the 11-year-old choirboy with the pure and angelic voice, who landed a record deal after he was spotted singing with the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir, has recorded his renditions of religious songs – The Lord’s My Shepherd, Ave Maria and Pie Jesu – along with modern pop tunes like Bruno Mars’s Count On Me, the Beatles’s Let It Be and You’ll Never Walk Alone. While his vocals work brilliantly on the classical tunes, they jar with the modern ones. Topping is the youngest solo artist to sign a contract with Decca Records and the youngest singer to be an ambassador for Save The Children – it’s an impressive back story, and with the likes of this album, he is sure to have a very bright future too.
(Review by Shereen Low)
BAD RELIGION – CHRISTMAS SONGS
Tis the season to be bored senseless by the seemingly endless stream of cheesy pop compilations and horribly rushed out Christmas cash-ins. So God bless California punk vets Bad Religion entering the fray and blasting the cobwebs out of the usual seasonal tunes – including O Come All Ye Faithful and White Christmas – with their power chords and breakneck pace. Christmas Songs is fun enough and better than most festive offerings, but as it’s all a bit samey and the musical nature comes across as a one-note joke, it may not stand up to repeated listens.
(Review by Steven Cookson)