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story.lead_photo.caption Bluesman Keb’ Mo’ has recorded his first Christmas album, "Moonlight, Mistletoe and You." (Concord Records)

Many love the classic Christmas recordings of Nat "King" Cole, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and the Philadelphia Orchestra; others look forward to a new set by the a cappella group Straight No Chaser.

It has been 25 years since Mariah Carey released Merry Christmas (Sony Legacy) and the song "All I Want for Christmas Is You," which is a much-recorded favorite. A deluxe edition of Merry Christmas adds a second CD with unreleased performances from 1994's St. John the Divine Benefit Concert, rarities and more.

Last year, there was a strong pair of winners among new releases -- John Legend's A Legendary Christmas (this year's Deluxe Edition adds four songs) and J.D. McPherson's bah-humbug meets warm and fuzzy set Socks.

What's new this year?

Let's start with four-time Grammy Award winner Keb' Mo', whose style embraces blues, R&B and Americana.

(Concord Records)
(Concord Records)

This welcome new voice in Christmas music recorded Moonlight, Mistletoe & You (Concord) in the heat of summer. How did he and the other musicians get in the holiday mood?

"We brought a Christmas tree, a snowman and funny hats into the studio," he says. "We lit candles."

When it comes to writing Christmas tunes, Mo' (real name Kevin Moore) says the process is no different from writing any other song.

"Christmas is full of different feelings and emotions, and we wanted to bring the most annoying and the most beautiful aspects of Christmas to this album."

The humorous "Christmas Is Annoying" taps into those frustrating moments, while the title track is warm and romantic. Blues fans will find something to like, too, with "Santa Claus Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus Blues."

A few well-chosen covers and collaborations bring an additional depth.

"I reached out to the fans for some ideas and picked a few from their suggestions," he says. "I chose songs I could relate to. Charles Brown's 'Please Come Home for Christmas' has been done a million times, but not the way I have done it."

A way-cool version of "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" with Melissa Manchester is also a highlight. "We recorded that about 12 years ago and just touched up the track. Her voice was perfect."

Gerald Albright and Beth Nielsen Chapman also are guests.

"Christmas makes everyone's hearts a little lighter and I wanted to contribute to that and spread a little joy, some love and compassion," Mo' says.

Here's some more holiday music:

• The McCrary Sisters, A Very McCrary Christmas (Rounder). Freda McCrary says the sisters' album "is about wanting people to love and care again." To that end, the women gather some cool guest stars -- Alison Krauss on the wondrous "O Come O Come Emmanuel," Jerry Douglas and Keb' Mo' on "Away in a Manger," Shirley Caesar on rousing "Joyful, Joyful" and Buddy Miller on "What Child Is This?" The McCrarys are inspiring singers; their vocals ring with reverence and joy. A rousing "Go Tell It on the Mountain" is a gospel workout that gets right to the heart of the season. A striking original by Regina McCrary, "Here I Am Look, Send Me," will make listeners feel the spirit. Rated: A

• Los Lobos, Llegó Navidad (Rhino). The gifted and influential Los Lobos shine on Llegó Navidad. It is mostly a variety of Latin American tunes with some obscure American ones. So, the holidays are celebrated with the sounds of salsa, ranchera, Tex-Mex, cumbia and more, and most are sung in Spanish. The sound is more Los Lobos than jingle bells, and that makes this offering especially fresh and inviting. "Christmas and You," a band original, is old-school soul in its vibe. This lively set (in the spirit of Lobos' La Pistola y la Corazon) is a warm, cheerful adventure. A-

• John Basile, Silent Night (CD Baby). It may sound like a gathering of guitarists, but Basile plays all the music here, including midi jazz guitar and acoustic and electric guitars fused with digital recording techniques. His approach to 11 Christmas classics and one original varies from the waltz arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to an improvisational-feeling "What Child Is This?" Rated: B

• The Imaginaries, Hometown Christmas (Imaginaries Music). The Oklahoma Americana duo Maggie McClure and Shane Henry offer a fresh take on "White Christmas," a kicky "Merry Christmas Baby," a sweet "It's Christmastime Again" and a cool rockabilly-flavored "Up on the Housetop," a song that doesn't get covered much these days. Standouts among originals: the Motown-flavored "First Thing on My Christmas List" and wonderful pop/soul "Kiss for Christmas." Rated: B+

OTHER PROSPECTS

• Idina Menzel, Christmas, a Season of Love (Decca). Idina Menzel, known for her Tony Award-winning role in Wicked and as the singer of "Let It Go" from the animated film Frozen and on Frozen II's soundtrack, assembles what is likely to be a holiday blockbuster. Guests include Ariana Grande on "A Hand for Mrs. Claus" and Billy Porter on "I Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." Opening with "Sleigh Ride," Menzel's program also includes "Oh Holy Night" and "Ave Maria," along with songs about Hanukkah and New Year's Eve ("Auld Lang Syne").

• Various artists, Blues Christmas (Putumayo). Kenny Neal's yearning "I'll Be Home for Christmas" opens this set, which taps the holiday spectrum with nostalgic, romantic and melancholy songs. Charles Brown sings "Christmas Comes But Once a Year," but his best-known song, "Please Come Home for Christmas," is covered ably by Chuck Leavell. Also cool: Nathan & The Zydeco Cha-Chas' "I Don't Want You Just for Christmas," Earl King's "Santa, Don't Let Me Down" and Kenny Neal's "Lonesome Christmas."

• Lea Michelle, Christmas in the City (Sony Masterworks). The tunes for the former Glee star's holiday set are focused on songs she heard growing up in New York. Selections include a collaboration with Broadway star Cynthia Erivo on "Angels We Have Heard on High." Other tunes: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Silent Night," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Christmas in New York."

VINTAGE REISSUES

• Eugene Ormandy led the incomparable Philadelphia Orchestra through a pair of Christmas music albums that have been reissued on one CD. The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings (Real Gone) includes 1962's The Glorious Sound of Christmas and 1964's A Christmas Festival. Both have been remastered and have new liner notes.

The Christmas music of Chet Atkins, whose fingerpicking style has been an inspiration to generations of guitar players, has been compiled for a two-CD set.  (AP
The Christmas music of Chet Atkins, whose fingerpicking style has been an inspiration to generations of guitar players, has been compiled for a two-CD set. (AP

• The great Nashville, Tenn.-based guitarist and producer Chet Atkins has a two-CD set, The Complete RCA Victor and Columbia Christmas Recordings (Real Gone) There are 50 songs that draw mostly on Christmas with Chet Atkins (the 1961 and 1976 versions) and East Tennessee Christmas.

Style on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: New Christmas albums

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