Christmas Collections Bring Sonic Season Greetings

by Robert Kinsler

New holiday music collections featuring a far-flung and illustrious group of talented artists are worth celebrating this season.

americana-christmas_2014Artists: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, more
Title: An Americana Christmas (New West Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Neil Young

Tell me more: The impressive line-up of greats featured on “An Americana Christmas” includes the late Johnny Cash, bona fide living legends from several eras (The Band, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Dwight Yoakam, the Old 97’s) and acclaimed newcomers (Nikki Lane, Robert Ellis, Luther Dickinson). The compilation features mostly-previously released offerings, but does include six new exclusive recordings including Canadian singer-songwriter’s affecting “Just Me and These Ponies (For Christmas This Year)” and Texas singer-guitarist Robert Ellis’ tender cover of Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper.” Information: NewWestRecords.com.

jamey-johnson-christmas-2014Artist: Jamey Johnson
Title: The Christmas Song (Big Gassed Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings

Tell me more: Country singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson packs plenty of punch in his five-song EP “The Christmas Song.” Armed with his resonant baritone vocals and freewheeling approach, the collection includes a softhearted version of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” swinging “Mele Kalikimaka” (featuring the Secret Sisters) and an original country-western waltz “South Alabam Christmas.” Information: JameyJohnson.com.

idina-menzel-christmas-2014Artist: Idina Menzel
Title: Holiday Wishes (Warner Bros.)
You might like if you enjoy: Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Idina Menzel

Tell me more: Broadway singer Idina Menzel’s “Holiday Wishes” finds the Tony Award-winning star lending her formidable soprano to a mix of both fun and touching Christmastime favorites. Singing with power as well as emotional depth, Menzel’s renditions of the playful “Baby It’s Cold Outside (a duet with Michael Bublé) and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are the perfect counterpoint to “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “December Prayer” (a new song co-written by Menzel) and “Silent Night.” An exclusive Target edition of “Holiday Wishes” features two bonus tracks. Information: IdinaMenzel.com.

renee-fleming-christmas-2014Artist: Renée Fleming
Title: Christmas in New York (Universal Music Classics)
You might like if you enjoy: Renée Fleming, Kiri Te Kanawa, Rufus Wainwright

Tell me more: With an impressive cast of supporting players including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Chris Botti, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and singer Rufus Wainwright, legendary opera singer Renée Fleming’s takes listeners to New York to celebrate the holidays. The powerful “In the Bleak Midwinger” (a duet with Wainwright), jazzy “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells” (a sterling duet with Broadway singer Kelli O’Hara) are among the highlights on the 13-track collection. Information: ReneeFleming.com.

johnnyswim-christmas-2014Artist: Johnnyswim
Title: A Johnnyswim Christmas (Big Picnic Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Johnnyswim, Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Bright Blue Gorilla

Tell me more: Talented husband-and-wife duo Johnnyswim’s digital-only holiday collection is definitely worth a download. “A Johnnyswim Christmas” showcases the couple’s heartfelt soul-meets-blues vocals positioned amid nuanced arrangements that bring an authentic warmth to oft-heard gems such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The standout is the original song “Christmas Day,” with Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez’s vocals blending with otherworldly seasonal magic. Information: Johnnyswim.com.

downton-abbey-christmas-2014Title: Christmas at Downton Abbey (Warner Bros.)
You might like if you enjoy: Julian Ovenden, Kiri Te Kanawa, Choir of Kings College Cambridge

Tell me more: Those who enjoy traditional Christmas carols and hymns have a clear choice this holiday season when seeking out a new title to add to their music collection. “Christmas at Downton Abbey” is an inspired collection that includes 45 tracks across two discs. From the joyful “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and contemplative “In the Bleak Midwinter” (both featuring Choir Of Kings College Cambridge) to tenor Julian Ovenden’s soaring “The Sussex Carol” and “O Holy Night” to a festive “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” delivered by “Downton Abbey” cast member Elizabeth McGovern the collection even includes a spoken word Christmas story read by actor Jim Carter (who plays Charles “Charlie” Carson on the popular British period drama). Information: WarnerBrosRecords.com.

dave-koz-christmas-2014Artists: Dave Koz & Friends
Title: The 25th of December (Concord Music Group)
You might like if you enjoy: Dave Koz, Johnny Mathis, Trombone Shorty

Tell me more: Smooth jazz saxophonist has gathered a who’s who of pop and jazz artists on his latest holiday music collection “The 25th of December.” A warm instrumental version of “The First Noel,” a swinging “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” featuring the great Johnny Mathis (who at 79 still sounds terrific), and a poignant “O Holy Night” featuring singer-guitarist Jonathan Butler are among the standouts. Information: DaveKoz.com or ConcordMusicGroup.com.

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