Ahhh, nothing says Christmas like a snowy lawn, a gaggle of wrapped gifts under the tree, a toasty fire, and the Oak Ridge Boys singing “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
Wait ... wha?
If your holidays are made all the merrier by the country-gospel quartet best known for “Bobbie Sue,” “American Made,” and “Elvira” tackling Christmas chestnuts and originals, then your perfect gift arrived six years late as it did my desk only a week ago. 2005’s “Christmas Cookies” features 14 tracks by the Oak Ridge Boys, with the focus squarely on the vocals and understated down-home musical accompaniment. Even better, double up on the down-home fun by buying any of the group’s six previous Christmas CDs, beginning with 1982’s “Christmas” through 2002’s “An Inconvenient Christmas.”
Oak Ridge Boys fans would also do well to pick up “A Farmhouse Christmas” by Joey + Rory, a country music duo featuring husband-and-wife vocalists Rory Lee Feek and Joey Martin Feek. The pair, which opened for Loretta Lynn during her Toledo stop in mid-April, recorded 12 Christmas songs that are a mix of new material and covers of newer tunes (a fragile version of “Away in a Manger” being the lone exception). Some of the selections include “Let it Snow (Somewhere Else),” Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December,” “Blue Christmas,” and “Come Sit on Santa Claus’ Lap.”
Christmas is meant for families and Ricky Skaggs gathers his musical clan (real-life family and friends) together again in a Nashville performance recorded for “A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume Two.” Among the 10 songs are “Silent Night,” a vocals-only version of “The First Noel,” the acoustic “Flight to Egypt,” “Christmas Time’s a Coming,” and “Light of the Stable.” A bonus DVD of the full concert — featuring 26 songs — is also included.
Also in the country vein is “A Merry Little Christmas” EP by Lady Antebellum performing six Christmas classics: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “All I Want For Christmas is You,” “Blue Christmas,” “On This Winter’s Night,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “Silver Bells.”
Jazz guitarist and keyboardist Chris Standring and pop-jazz vocalist Kathrin Shorr teamed up for “Send Me Some Snow,” a collection of 10 new holiday songs they cowrote. Beginning with the opening title track, this is a breezy disc, perfect as background music for Christmas parties or during a holiday baking session, with Shorr’s sometimes torchlit, sometimes playful vocals bringing old-school class to the retro-cool music.
The same can be said of “A Very She & Him Christmas” by the duo She & Him — she being actress Zooey Deschanel (500) Days of Summer, Elf, and Fox’s New Girl) and singer-songwriter M. Ward. This is holiday music as kitschy Rat Pack tribute, a collection that works because of Deschanel’s enchanting though not-quite polished delivery and Ward’s musical production. Basically, if you like Deschanel and post-modern irony, you’ll appreciate this CD, which includes “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas," and "Christmas Wish."
A wink and nod to that same post-modern life is also present in David Ian's "Vintage Christmas." It's a mellow, jazzy jaunt through holiday mainstays, including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Let it Snow," an instrumental version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" that sounds like it should have been included on Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, and "I'll be Home for Christmas." Aluminum Christmas trees are optional.
"Wow Christmas" is a new, two-disc Christmas set in the series of WOW compilations of Christian artists. Some of the performers included in this collection are Casting Crowns ("Joy to the World"), Steven Curtis Chapman ("O Little Town of Bethlehem"), Third Day ("Born in Bethlehem"), Sanctus Real ("Silent Night"), Newsboys ("Jingle Bell Rock"), Amy Grant ("I Need a Silent Night"), Jars of Clay ("It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"), and Michael W. Smith ("Gloria").
On the secular side of Christmas -- should we call them Xmas CDs? -- there are, as expected, several new offerings this year.
Sure to top the wish list of the tweens and young teens is Justin Bieber's "Under the Mistletoe," which features seven songs the 17-year-old pop and R&B singer co-wrote, including the poppy puppy-love song "Mistletoe," which isn't half-bad if you earnestly give it a chance. The album also features the Mariah Carey-Bieber duet on her holiday staple "All I Want for Christmas," as well as a modern version of "Little Drummer Boy," complete with solo raps by Bieber and Busta Rhymes, that nearly ruins this Bieb's Holiday Christmas party.
Fellow Canadian Michael Buble classes Christmas up with his first holiday album, "Christmas," a collection of mostly traditional and classic songs. Buble does his best Bing Crosby by way of the Rat Pack, with a smooth and fun (think Dean Martin's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") delivery. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "White Christmas," "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Santa Baby," "Silent Night," and "Ave Maria" are among the 16 songs on "Christmas."
Speaking of Dean Martin, the singer returns from the grave with a new holiday CD, "My Kind of Christmas," which includes all the Deano classics -- "Baby, it's Cold Outside," the aforementioned "Rudolph," "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" -- as well as a duet with Scarlett Johansson on "I'll be Home for Christmas."
Carole King is finally in on the Christmas album bandwagon with the punny "A Holiday Carole," which also happens to be her first studio effort in a decade. There are standards ("Carol of the Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Do You Hear What I Hear") and some new songs as well ("Christmas in the Air," "Christmas Paradise," and "New Year's Day").
Chicago released its third holiday offering with "Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three," which features the band's version of yuletide gems such as "Wonderful Christmas Time" (featuring Dolly Parton), "I Saw Three Ships" (featuring America), "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and "O Christmas Tree."
And if that's still not enough to sate your appetite for holiday cheer, there are new Christmas albums by Mannheim Steamroller ("Christmas Symphony"), a second holiday record from the Glee cast ("Glee: The Music -- The Christmas Album, Volume 2"), as well as the cast of Jersey Boys ("Seasons Greetings: A Jersey Boys Christmas by Jersey Boys"), Tony Bennett ("The Classic Christmas Album"), and various artists performing on "No. 1 Christmas Hits: Xmas 2011."
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.