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A & E
Santa's got a mixed bag of new Christmas music

Friday, November 23, 2001

POP/ROCK

"NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL CHRISTMAS!" (UMG) My favorite Christmas single ever -- John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" -- is included here. So is my mom's -- "White Christmas" -- while my niece would probably prefer "My Only Wish (This Year)" by Britney Spears. That's exactly the cross-generational vote they're chasing here. And for the most part, they achieve it.


 
 
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But including Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song," the King's "Blue Christmas," Frank Sinatra's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" alongside newer cuts that range from awful (Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion) to, at best, inessential ('N Sync, Luther Vandross, Boyz II Men) can only leave you wondering if the Golden Age of Christmas Singles didn't maybe pass us by within a year or two of Springsteen's Spectoresque approach to "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town." Only Spears and Harry Connick Jr. turn in anything approaching greatness on the cuts recorded after "Do They Know It's Christmas?" And theirs are essentially novelty singles. (Ed Masley)

"MTV TRL CHRISTMAS" (Atlantic) This would be for people who aren't too picky about their pop. People who can tolerate 'N Sync alongside Weezer, Christina Aguilera with P.O.D. MTV probably should have released two different records -- one that rocks, one for the teen-pop/dance-pop crowd -- but instead they're mixed up together on one 16-song disc. TRL's entry is less about Christmas as a spirit than a theme.

Blink-182's "I Won't Be Home for Christmas" is a funny punk-pop romp with a chorus of "It's time to be nice to the people you can't stand all year/ I'm growing tired of all this Christmas cheer." Weezer does a slow grind through its own lonely "The Christmas Song." Willa Ford does her best Britney on "Santa Baby (Gimme Gimme Gimme)." Jimmy Fallon has some hardcore fun on "Snowball." And P.O.D. didn't understand the assignment at all on the industrial "Rock The Party." More traditionally, TLC takes a soulful "Sleigh Ride," Sugar Ray does a faithful skip through the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick," 'N Sync does its usual lush ballad shtick on "I Don't Want to Spend One More Christmas Without You" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa" rocks in the hands of Bif Naked. The good news is, nothing here is unlistenable, with the possible exception of Aguilera sounding like she's having a convulsion on "Angels We Have Heard on High." (Scott Mervis)

"A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS 5" (A&M) A rather ordinary -- some would argue hellish -- Christmas, really. Oh, it starts out fine with Macy Gray reviving Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." But things take a turn for the worse in the next cut in when Wyclef Jean decides it might be cool to do a medley of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Hot, Hot, Hot," for which I'd say it's safe to blame the weed. Most other tracks range from abysmal (Wyclef returning to rap on Stevie Wonder's butchering of "Merry Christmas Baby") to, at worst, inessential (Jon Bon Jovi wishing he could sing like Elvis on "Blue Christmas"). Still, if you dig beyond the coal, you'll find at least two presents in your stocking -- the Gray tune and Tom Petty's "Little Red Rooster." (Masley)

BARBRA STREISAND, "CHRISTMAS MEMORIES" (Columbia) Babs' first Christmas record since 1967 is meant to be enjoyed alongside the designer fireplace with the fine crystal and the biggest tree you can find for your big big house. Everything about it is top of the line, from the swelling 90-piece orchestra to the shimmering production to her exquisite renditions of not the traditional carols but new or largely unfamiliar selections by her "dear friends" Sondheim ("I Remember"), the Bergmans ("A Christmas Love Song," "Christmas Mem'ries") and David Foster/Linda Thompson ("Grown-Up Christmas List"). There's not a lighthearted or whimsical moment in the whole set, but plenty of breathtaking ones, including her second stab at "Ave Maria." Like buttah, of course. (Mervis)

B.B. KING, "A CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION" (MCA) Christmas and the blues have always been a winning combination and this 13-song collection of newly recorded material is no exception. King is at his best here, and in general, on the slower, more soulful material -- "Please Come Home for Christmas," "Christmas in Heaven," "Christmas Love" (an instrumental next-of-kin to "Georgia on My Mind") and, best of all, the classic, "Merry Christmas, Baby." "Lonesome Christmas" and the playful, optimistic "Bringing in a Brand Year" are well-delivered highlights of the cuts that find him stepping on the gas a bit. Proceeds from sales of the album go to City of Hope, a biomedical research and treatment center in Duarte, Calif. (Masley)

DESTINY'S CHILD, "EIGHT DAYS OF CHRISTMAS" (Columbia) Who needs 12 days? Destiny's Child's delivery is so rapid-fire they can get it over with in eight. In fact, with all their youthful energy and wild soulful abandon, they could have called this "Have Yourself a Jittery Little Christmas." It starts out great, with two fine originals: a funky title track full of go-girl attitude and "Winter Paradise," a lush and melodic showcase for their gorgeous voices that could be a new standard. But prepare for the old standards like "Little Drummer Boy," "White Christmas" and even "O Holy Night" to be worked over by DC's sometimes overly busy vocal arrangements and herky-jerky production. And we could have done without "Platinum Bells," on which they boast, "Ladies, remember long ago, we asked Santa to get us Christmas dolls/ but now this year the dolls are you and me." Oh well, they're redeemed by the beautiful a cappella finish of Beyonce's own little invention, "Opera of the Bells." (Mervis)

"A MOTOWN CHRISTMAS VOLUME 2" (Motown) The list of talent, of course, is amazing -- Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Miracles. It could've been a four-star holiday, but judging from the weaker moments on this album, Christmas didn't always fit the formula at Hitsville, U.S.A. It's got its share of shining moments -- Gaye's "The Christmas Song," performed at the Apollo, the Supremes' "Won't Be Long Before Christmas" and "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," the Miracles' soulful approach to "White Christmas." But toss in a couple of pleasant surprises from lesser-known artists Kim Weston and the Twist Kings and you still don't have enough to make up for such horrors as the Jackson 5's nails-on-a-chalkboard rendition of "Up on the House Top" or the lame 1980 attempt at funking up "The Little Drummer Boy" by the Temptations. (Masley)

THE TEMPTATIONS, "THE BEST OF THE TEMPTATIONS CHRISTMAS" (Motown) Apparently, Melvin Franklin had a thing for Christmas, judging from the frequency with which his bass notes make their way to center stage on these recordings. Franklin's goofy bass narration sinks an otherwise intriguing 1980 version of "The Christmas Song," while the group's 1970 version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" doesn't really need his help to suck. There are some highlights here, beginning with 1970 versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" and a surprisingly soulful stroll through "Let It Snow." The stuff from 1980, as you may have expected, isn't nearly as inspired, but there is a certain charm to Glenn Leonard's falsetto performance on "Give Love on Christmas Day." Even the best of the other cuts are, sadly, marred by Franklin's voice. (Masley)

TONI BRAXTON, "SNOWFLAKES" (Arista) Ms. Braxton has actually gone to the trouble of co-writing five of nine selections here, so give the girl a B, at least, for effort. Still, it's safe to say that nothing here will ever take the place of, say, "White Christmas." There's something inherently not very timeless about the references to Cristal in a song whose chorus kicks off with the festive lyric, "Holiday, celebrate, making out with my babe..." "Christmas in Jamaica" finds her teaming up with Shaggy (or Mr. Boombastic as she calls him), who raps and I quote, "We'll put on some jerk chicken later on tonight, girl, you know what I mean. That's right." Again, it's not exactly timeless. When she shoots for timeless on "Snowflakes of Love," it's an airball, more sappy than sweet. And the drama she brings to the cover of that Vince Guaraldi tune from "Peanuts" should give you a deeper appreciation of Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama." Still, for Braxton fans, it's not without its charms, including "Santa Please...," "The Christmas Song" and a version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" that feels more like a "Maudlin Little Christmas." (Masley)

"SEASON'S GREETINGS" (Hip-O) Three CDs and still no "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"? That's no way to greet the season. No Bruce Springsteen, either. Or the Beach Boys. Or Sinatra. What you do get is Jimmy Durante recounting the exploits of "Frosty the Snowman" and plenty of other smile-inducing trips down memory lane with tunes you more than likely cut your Christmas teeth on, from a classic instrumental "Sleigh Ride" to the Harry Simeone Chorale's "Little Drummer Boy." No Nat King Cole, but Mel Torme drops by to do an awe-inspiring, velvety version of "The Christmas Song" (he wrote it, after all). The Supremes do it, too, and do a commendable job. They've thrown some rock 'n' roll in, too, most notably Chuck Berry's bluesy "Merry Christmas Baby," the Waitresses' ultra-quirky "Christmas Wrapping" and the ever-perky Brenda Lee's infectious account of the wonders of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." On the soul tip, Aaron Neville leaves tears on the microphone stand with his aching performance of "Please Come Home For Christmas," while the legendary Marvin Gaye brings soul to Christmas on a slinky instrumental "Christmas in the City." Now, as for the noise from the new kids' table (Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, etc.), most cuts fail to capture even half the magic of a guy like Burl Ives (or a lady like Ella Fitzgerald). (Masley)

NEW SONG, "THE CHRISTMAS SHOES" (Reunion) Last Christmas season, this five-man vocal group scored a No. 1 crossover hit with a tune titled "The Christmas Shoes" about a little boy who purchases red Christmas shoes for his dying mother. This tear-jerker motivated the band to record an entire album of new and classic Christmas tunes, and good thing, this one's a winner. Old favorites like "Away in a Manger" and "O Holy Night" have been reworked with intricate background harmonies and string arrangements that don't dilute the original melody, but enhance it. "What Child Is This" is laid down with a solid Celtic feel that works and leaves you humming along. New holiday entries "As the World Slept" and "Sing Noel" are soulful-pop ballads that let these guys showcase their astounding vocal talents and songwriting. The star of this disc is the unexpected "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The Dr. Seuss classic gets the royal treatment from the Symphony of London Orchestra that will leave even the grumpiest, greenest grinch smiling in holiday cheer. (Rosa Colucci)

JAZZ

"PLAYBOY LATIN JAZZ CHRISTMAS/A NOT SO SILENT CHRISTMAS" (Playboy Jazz) "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "White Christmas" are among the highlights of this recording that features a rotating roster of musician as diverse as trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and venerable conguero Poncho Sanchez who performed with his Latin Jazz Band at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild last week. "Sleigh Ride" and "Angels We Have Heard On High" features the rhythms of the Caribbean Jazz Project and Sheila E's playful vocals on "Santa Baby" provides a nice change of pace. What would a Latin recording be without Jose Feliciano singing "Feliz Navidad?" (Nate Guidry)

"JAZZY CHRISTMAS" (Vertical Jazz Records) David Benoit doesn't get the respect on piano he deserves but his reinterpretations of "O Tannenbaum" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" should quiet the critics who tend to place him in the smooth category. Bassist Stanley Clarke teams with drummer Ndugu Chancler and pianist Patrice Rushen for wonderful takes of "Christmas Time Is Here" and "We Three Kings." Rushen is another pianist who tends to get lost in the shuffle, but here she bristles, stacking melodies and counter melodies in wonderful little packages. But the highlight is the Latin-tinged "Let It Snow," which features percussionist Bob Conti and guitarist Federico Ramos. (Guidry)

"JUSTIN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS THREE" (Justin Time) From the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir to Hugh Raglin and the Oliver Lake Steel Quartet, this recording is worth having and holding on to. Saxophonist Pat LaBarbera distinguishes himself on "Christmas Waltz" and vocalist Jeri Brown will certainly prepare you for the holiday season on "The Christmas Song." The World Saxophone Quartet, featuring Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, David Murray and John Purcell, provides one of the funkiest versions of "Silent Night" you're sure to hear. (Guidry)

"CHRISTMAS JAZZ" (Verve) There are many pleasures among the 14 mostly holiday pop songs here from a Santa's sackful of jazz stars such as Ella, Satchmo, Coltrane, Bill Evans and the Basie band. Special treats on the cheerful side of things include guitarist Kenny Burrell's low-down blues treatment of the late, great Charles Brown classic, "Merry Christmas, Baby," and Louis Armstrong's humorous "Zat You, Santa Claus?" On a more serious note, we have vocalist Dinah Washington's stirring, soulful "Silent Night," and a tender solo version of "A Child Is Born" from piano giant Oscar Peterson. (Bob Protzman)

HARRY ALLEN, "CHRISTMAS IN SWINGTIME" (BMG) The smooth tenor sax stylings of Harry Allen are highly listenable, with his Lester Young-Stan Getz-like warm, soothing sound on the soft stuff, and a nice bit of grit on the swinging numbers. Allen's joined by a sparkling, mainstream-to-bop rhythm section of organist Larry Goldings, drummer Jake Hanna and guitarist Peter Bernstein on a program of 13 numbers, all but "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" being familiar pop songs. Standouts are sweet ballads such as "White Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and Johnny Mandel and Alan and Marilyn Bergman's too-seldom performed "A Christmas Love Song." (Protzman)

"MAXJAZZ HOLIDAY" (MAXJAZZ) For those who prefer their holiday music sung, this just might be this season's best vocal album -- in any genre. MAXJAZZ has assembled an impressive roster of singers, each of whom -- performing two songs apiece -- delights and moves the listener on a mixture of 15 secular and sacred songs. LaVerne Butler, Carla Cook, Christine Hitt, Philip Manuel, Rene Marie and Mary Stallings are backed by trios led by such outstanding pianists as Bruce Barth (who also plays two instrumentals), Cyrus Chestnut and Mulgrew Miller. Cook is the show-stopper with inspirational readings of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "Silent Night." (Protzman)

DAVID BENOIT, STANLEY CLARKE & OTHERS, "JAZZY CHRISTMAS" (Vertical Jazz) There is some nice variety here from three different piano trios (led by David Benoit, Patrice Rushen and Paul Smith), a quintet featuring tenorman Pete Christlieb and a rarely heard (trombone-like) euphonium, and a quartet on which acoustic guitarist Federico Ramos is the lead soloist. Each group plays two songs. Highlights include Rushen, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Ndugu Chancler's lovely "Christmas Time Is Here" and exotic "We Three Kings"; Smith, drummer Joe LaBarbera and bassist Jim DeJulio's "Jingle Bells" that's as jolly as St. Nick himself, and Ramos and colleagues' nicely understated rendition of "Little Drummer Boy." (Protzman)

"MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT: A SMOOTH JAZZ CHRISTMAS" (GRP) A veritable feast for contemporary (or "smooth") jazz fans, as many of the music's heavies get together. Chart-makers-all, they are: Lee Ritenour, Will Downing, Joyce Cooling, Gerald Albright, Al Jarreau, Marc Antoine, Richard Elliot, David Benoit, Joe Sample, Dave Grusin, Jeff Golub, Diana Krall. Krall? Well, even though Krall's a mainstream musician, everyone wants the red-hot pianist/vocalist on their recordings these days. Lots of the usual lightweight, easy listening stuff, with several notable exceptions: Guitarist Antoine's sensitive solo interpretation of "What Child Is This?" guitarist Jeff Golub's lightly funky "Here Comes Santa Claus," pianist David Benoit and a string quartet on "The First Noel," and pianist Dave Grusin's stirring and melodious "Suite de 'Nuestra Navidad.' " (Protzman)

COUNTRY

GARTH BROOKS, "THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS" (Capitol) Garth Brooks' gift to himself this Christmas is escape from the music industry and the start of his new job as a TV and film producer who's home in time for dinner with the kids. The title of "The Magic of Christmas" is a little confusing, it's essentially the soundtrack for his Dec. 2 TNT holiday special, "Call Me Claus," starring Whoopi Goldberg. On it, Brooks clowns through "Zat You, Santa Claus?" and wails on the show's rock 'n' rolly title track. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is a sentimental country gem that keeps the disc, if not the special, grounded in middle America. (John Hayes)

38 SPECIAL, "A WILD-EYED CHRISTMAS NIGHT" (CMC International) This lump of coal starts with predictable rock versions of Christmas classics. Peel back the flimsy paper and you'll find several original chestnuts inside, but nothing that revives that old Van Zant family spirit. The covers could have been done by any local bar band in America. "Hallelujah, It's Christmas!" is at least an original tune. Don Barnes' "It's Christmas and I Miss You" is a solid guitar song that might have sparkled if it had been released in 1983, and Donny Van Zant's "That Old Rockin Chair" is a personal tribute to his mom, who's no longer around to share Christmas with the family. (Hayes)

"A COUNTRY SUPERSTAR CHRISTMAS 4" (Hip-O) Stick this one in the stocking of the country traditionalist you love the most. Round 4 of Hip-O's annual holiday grog celebrates the season by reaching into albums from Christmases past, pulling out sparkling ornaments and rewrapping them for this collection. Sure, it's cheap to recycle Christmas gifts, but I won't tell if you won't. This year, George Strait sets the pace with a cuddly slow dance under the mistletoe titled "I Know What I Want for Christmas" from his 1999 "Merry Christmas Wherever You Are." Dolly Parton pulls "Hard Candy Christmas" from "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" soundtrack, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band offers an old-school arrangement of "Silver Bells" from its 1997 "Christmas Album." "Come on Christmas" is a lonely lament from Dwight Yoakum's 1997 album of the same name, and Kathy Mattea finds the Christmas star on "There's a New Kid in Town" from a 1993 country compilation disc. (Hayes)

MICHAEL MCDONALD, "IN THE SPIRIT: A CHRISTMAS ALBUM" (MCA) If you haven't figured out yet that things are changing on Music Row, look who's shacking up there now. Former Steely Dan sideman, Doobie Brother and hit middle-of-the-road duet crooner Michael McDonald is part of Nashville's new wave of artists who are so far removed from down home that they don't even bother claiming to be country. That said, McDonald's new holiday album is filled with the distinctive voice and jazzy style that have kept him on stage for some 30 years. None of these songs sound like Christmas, even the ones with "Christmas" in the title -- imagine a "White Christmas/Winter Wonderland" medley that sounds in places like "What a Fool Believes." My holiday prediction: McDonald fans will love it, Christmas fans will snub it, and country fans will say, huh? (Hayes)

CLASSICAL

SUMI JO, "THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM" (Erato)

This disc is the pick of the litter this holiday season, not just because of soprano Sumi Jo's unaffected and sweet singing, but due to its varied and excellent offerings. Jo performs a range from a cappella arrangements of traditional carols to a cantata for soprano and orchestra (an Alessandro Scarlatti cantata and a nice lesser-known work by 17th-century composer Christoph Bernhard). She also performs carols, including "O Holy Night," with fortepiano accompaniment. Her singing is then alternated by anything from a four-voice Bach chorale to purely instrumental music, such as a Vivaldi violin concerto and a Mozart symphony. It's the perfect diverse disc to throw in the machine, whether you are interested in background music or foreground listening. Ensembles Cappella Coloniensis des WDR and VokalEnsemble Koln are flawless and the sound is round and warm. (Andrew Druckenbrod)

BENNETT, CHURCH, DOMINGO, WILLIAMS, "OUR FAVORITE THINGS" (Sony) From the department of "Much better than it looked" comes this star-studded holiday affair with Tony Bennett, Charlotte Church, Placido Domingo and Vanessa Williams. It's not exactly a foursome we were clamoring to see together, but the disc is well-conceived and tasteful. Actually, it's interesting to hear four voices from four distinctly different singing backgrounds: jazz, pop, opera and English choral. All put their best foot forward to showcase their own background, joining in a rendition of "Silent Night." Domingo continues to blow one away with his evergreen voice. He joins Church with a spectacular "O Holy Night." The CD is subtitled "Christmas in Vienna." It was recorded live in the musical capital's Konzerthaus last year with the Vienna Symphony under Steven Mercurio, the Ralph Sharon Quartet and a children's choir. (Druckenbrod)

MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER, "CHRISTMAS EXTRAORDINAIRE" (American Gramaphone) Over the years, Mannheim Steamroller's schleppy arrangements and synthesizer manipulation have managed to make even '80s synth-bands and disco seem sophisticated. This disc amounts to just bad, overproduced, sterile arrangements that sap the life out of classic tunes. On this, its latest holiday album, Mannheim steamrolls over favorites such as "White Christmas," the Hallelujah Chorus and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" It's chintzy -- there's simply no other way to put it. If shopping crowded malls isn't enough for you this holiday, by all means buy this disc. It's sure to turn your house into a Muzak-filled mall. (Druckenbrod)

PHIL KLINE, "UNSILENT NIGHT" (Cantaloupe) Each holiday season produces one or two "different" discs, and this one by composer Phil Kline takes the cake. In 1992, Kline created an ambient composition that consisted of a few dozen people strolling around New York's Village with boom boxes playing parts of a Kline composition. The idea, repeated in subsequent years, was to act as, or subvert the role of, a Christmas caroling party. "The audience was us and whoever happened to be passing by," he says in the liner notes. Only the music isn't carols but clouds of pointillist, slow-moving sound. Kline has reproduced the effect of the concert as best as possible in a studio for this recording. If you are looking for something different this Yuletide, this is it. (Druckenbrod)

"A CLASSICAL KIDS CHRISTMAS" (Classical Kids) Classical Kids is the brainchild of producer Susan Hammond, her attempt to make classical music compete with the Barneys and Raffis of the world in gaining young children's attention. Her works, such as "Beethoven Lives Upstairs," combine music with storytelling. This disc does the same for Christmas, using music and monologue innovatively to capture the attention of children. (Druckenbrod)

"CHRISTMAS WITH CHANTICLEER" (Teldec) Chanticleer's glitzy sound has never rubbed me the right way. Its lack of edge, aural patina and uniformity of phrasing reminds me of the starburst camera lens of the '70s. But it makes for good Christmas music, I guess, especially when tempered by the incomparable soprano Dawn Upshaw. She is the substance to the all-male choir's fluff and the final result is decent. Some favorites are here, but there's also a sampling of relatively unknown works that are a treat to hear. Upshaw is marvelous in her usual understated manner of delivery, which always focuses on the words, but she's not on enough tracks to highly recommend this disc. (Druckenbrod)

TALLIS SCHOLARS, "CHRISTMAS CAROLS AND MOTETS" (Gimell) In this reissue of a classic disc, the Tallis Scholars show how it's done with exquisite performing of Renaissance carols and motets. Directed by Peter Phillips, the vocal group that uses women and men in the Renaissance setting tackles English, German and Italian works. Particularly intriguing are three versions of the "Coventry Carol" on the disc, one in old English. The group is best at florid polyphony, which it showcases in multiple settings of the "Ave Maria," including a sumptuous one by Josquin des Pres. These aren't your jingling Christmas tunes, but a wonderful and refined addition to the Christmas cheer by one of the world's great ensembles (coming to the Renaissance and Baroque Society Dec. 8, by the way). (Druckenbrod)

TODD WILSON, "A JOYOUS CELEBRATION!" (Cleveland Orchestra) There's been a lot of renovation at Severance Hall in the last few years. The hall, home to the Cleveland orchestra, underwent a much ballyhooed and largely successful renovation. Less discussed was the reinstallation of its organ renamed as the Norton Memorial Organ. This recording is the first solo one on the reworked instrument. A collection of Christmas themes played by organist Todd Wilson, it's a little muddled in sound quality, but you can't beat the organ for holiday music, background or not. The disc has hearty arrangements of carols such as "Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Adeste fideles" other works by Widor and Dupre, Brahms and Bach. (Druckenbrod)

CITY OF LONDON SINFONIA, "JOHN RUTTER: MUSIC FOR CHRISTMAS" (Hyperion) The British composer Rutter has always been too predicable and preachy for me, and his carols are no exception. But they are certainly not without merit and this CD does justice to his vocal output for Christmas with mellifluous singing by Polyphony and solid conducting by Stephen Layton of the City of London Sinfonia. Works such as "Mary's Lullaby," "Donkey Carol," "The Very Best Time of Year," "What Sweeter Music" and "Star Carol" are just some of the pieces on this album. Whatever your feelings about Rutter's conservative style, there's no denying that his creativity for the Yuletide season is unparalleled in modern composers. It's worth picking up this disc just to freshen up your holiday collection. (Druckenbrod)

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