Kacey Musgraves “A Very Kacey Christmas”
With “A Very Kasey Christman,” country singer/songwriter Kasey Musgraves delivers her first holiday album, a collection with a real sense of warmth and nostalgia, and a tinge of heartbreak.
Musgraves keeps the arrangements simple and old school — the album sounds like something that one might find in the parents box of old holiday records. The charming retro vibe and Musgraves’ engaging vocals, along with smart song choices (mostly familiar covers, with a few originals).
It has appeal even if you’re not a big country fan. (CG)
Jane Lynch “A Swingin’ Little Christmas Time”
Retro seems to be the thing this year. “Glee” actress Jane Lynch has released “A Swingin’ Little Christmas Time,” and as the title suggests, the album’s predominant vibe is big band, with touches of jazz.
The lyrics and harmonies are ultra tight. Lynch proves herself to be quite an adept vocalist, and while there is a vein of humor and joy running through the album, there are also moments of solemn beauty, like Lynch’s exquisite take on “Coventry Carol.” (CG)
Loretta Lynn “White Christmas Blue”
Still sounding great at 84, country legend Loretta Lynn has released her first holiday album in 50 years with “White Christmas Blue.”
While light on the arrangements — a simple country backdrop that doesn’t get in the way of Lynn’s vocals — it’s a fun collection with familiar classics and a few newly written pieces (like the title song) that are simply charming. “White Christmas Blue” is nostalgic and evocative of yesteryear. (CG)
She & Him “Christmas Party”
Five years after the the duo She & Him released their popular “A Very She & Him Christmas,” the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are back with a followed, the aptly named “Christmas Party.”
She & Him retain their lovely low-key festive indie-pop vibe as they run through a dozen familiar chestnuts and lesser-known songs. Particular highlights include the obscure “Christmas Memories,” performed by Frank Sinatra, and a buoyant acoustic take on the Darlene Love standard “Marshmallow World.” The album opens and closes with two favorites: a lovely take on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and slow and swaying rendition of the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” (CG)
Amy Grant “Tennessee Christmas”
It would be easy to mistake Amy Grant’s new album “Tennessee Christmas” for just another of the seemingly endless stream of compilation rereleases that have been regurgitated on the artist in recent years since the title cut was a hit on her first Christmas album in 1983. This, however, is her fourth official holiday release not counting a holiday-themed greatest hits collection and even a Hallmark exclusive release back when those were still a thing.
“Tennessee Christmas” includes a mix of classics and originals that, though much simpler than any Christmas project Grant (who brings her Christmas tour with Michael W. Smith to Baltimore Sunday night) ever recorded — she made it entirely in her home studio over the summer — still works. The most refreshing surprise is that the veteran gospel singer, who’s always had a pensive side, doesn’t shy away from that here. Heard alone, new songs like “Melancholy Christmas,” “December” and “Another Merry Christmas” sound like real downers but in the context of the record, they work surprisingly well as refreshing contrasts to the more upbeat material. Even “Joy to the World” here sounds more like a Vince Guaraldi track than the fast and bombastic carol we usually think of.
There’s one real standout in the originals — the bubbly and catchy “Christmas For You and Me,” which, given the right traction opportunity, could be come a seasonal standard. Bah humbug to LifeWay, a Baptist retail chain, that decided not to sell the album because it wasn’t religious enough. Get it at Target instead — their version has two bonus cuts. (Joey DiGuglielmo)
Pentatonix “A Pentatonix Christmas”
A cappella vocal group Pentatonix, who first gained attention for winning the third season on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” are pretty amazing. You can’t listen to their new album “A Pentatonix Christmas” and not be confounded that everything you hear was created with vocal cords.
But while it’s all executed exceedingly well — the pitch is as stable as a steel bridge throughout and the arrangements are truly clever — this has more novelty than long-term appeal.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” bounces along to a mid-tempo Carribean rhythm. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” starts off rather promisingly but eventually picks up its tempo to such an alarming degree the ears feel practically bludgeoned by the end.
More effective (and listenable) are subtler cuts like “Coventry Carol” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” (Joey DiGuglielmo)