By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
By Julie Seabaugh
By Julie Seabaugh
Sounds Like: Saccharine harmonies on top of overproduced backing tracks. This disc may be responsible for more cavities than all the candy canes in the world. Christmas in Harmony is relentlessly, aggressively cheery; you either surrender to the Christmas spirit or get trampled by it.
Notable Tracks: The best thing that can be said about this collection is that it doesn't revisit the Wilson sisters' seasonal hit "Hey Santa!" Although, ending the disc with the wordless, non-holiday track "Our Prayer" (the opening cut on the Beach Boys' Smile) is a nice nod to the Wilsons' papa, Brian.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Driving unwanted holiday guests from your home.
Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas II You
Better Known As: Songstress, actress, perfume peddler, Mrs. Nick Cannon and proprietor of 1994's Merry Christmas.
Sounds Like: Since this is the product of Mariah, the queen of over-singing, expect lots of silky vocal melisma on sacred tracks like "The First Noel/Born Is the King (Interlude)." The mood is more party-like on the funky "Here Comes Santa Claus" medley.
Notable Tracks: The cheerleader stomp of first single "Oh Santa!" kicks things off with a bit of manicured hip-hop flava. Carey also revisits her 1994 hit "All I Want for Christmas Is You" with an "extra festive" version of the Phil Spector-indebted song.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Psyching yourself up for that last trip to the mall.
Shelby Lynne, Merry Christmas
Better Known As: Tough-to-peg singer-songwriter who mixes country roots with a jazzy sensibility and an avowed love of Dusty Springfield.
Sounds Like: A mix of low-lit jazz ("Christmas Time Is Here"), cheery folk ("Christmas Time Is Coming") and a little barroom blues (the Lynne-penned "Xmas"). Much of the collection is strong and the selections well-arranged, but due to either Lynne's effortless cool or a blasé sense of duty, several of these interpretations fall flat.
Notable Tracks: Opening track "Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland" nails the classic-country vibe, with double-tracked vocals and some Chet Atkins-worthy guitar strums. Lynne even handles "O Holy Night," a vocalist's true test, with grace and aplomb.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Sneaking a nip of Jack Daniel's into the family eggnog.
The Boy Least Likely To, Christmas Special
Better Known As: British indie duo of singer Jof Owen and instrumentalist Pete Hobbs, whose 2005 debut, The Best Party Ever, won many hearts with its cheeky twee pop.
Sounds Like: Sweetly sung lo-fi bedroom pop, with plenty of twinkly glockenspiel, wheezy accordion and breathy vocals. Hobbs and Owen fill this collection with mostly original songs, and they lend a fun, jangly sensibility to the season's soundtrack.
Notable Tracks: "George and Andrew" imagines a modern meeting between Wham!'s George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, as a tune eerily reminiscent of "Last Christmas" plays in the background.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: The December meeting of your arts and crafts group.