Seasonables: 30 days of tips, snips and just plain fun holiday news.
It's time again for Christmas music -- which means a new batch of holiday records.
Here are four that have come across the desk this fall (the first turned up in early October) with four more on the way next week. The good news so far: No "Little Drummer Boy."
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, "Christmas Comes Alive!" Recorded during last year's Christmas tour in Knoxville, Tenn., this 15-song disc kicks off with "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" and blasts along through swinging versions of "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bell Rock" and, of course, "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" -- all played with verve and volume by Setzer's horn-filled big band.
A rock 'n' roller to the core, Setzer cranks up Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run," covers Elvis' "Blue Christmas," pulls out "Fishnet Stockings" and even manages to turn "Stray Cat Strut" into a medley with "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." But the most amazing thing on the disc is a long instrumental version of "The Nutcracker Suite" that actually rocks. This one's your cool basic Christmas party record. Grade: A-
Indigo Girls, "Holly Happy Days": Amy Ray and Emily Saliers put fiddles, mandolins, banjos, harmoniums and accordions all over the music on this folk/country package. It contains a few traditional numbers, including nice versions of "O Holy Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" and a bunch of newer songs, including two from Ray and one from Saliers.
Among the record's high points: Chely Wright's "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)," which captures a different kind of holiday spirit; the fun "Mistletoe" written by Ray; and Woody Guthrie's "Happy Joyous Hanukkah," which I haven't heard for years. Indigo Girls fans will love this Christmas gift from Amy and Emily. Grade: B
Jackie Evancho, "O Holy Night": Ten-year-old Evancho already has a hit with this four-song EP/DVD package. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart -- a sign of the popularity of the crossover classical mezzo-soprano who placed second in this season's "America's Got Talent."
The four songs sound, to steal Howie Mandel's line, like Evancho has swallowed an adult. She's got a powerhouse voice that's the equal of Sarah Brightman, the easiest comparison to what Jackie's doing. There are two traditional carols, "Silent Night" and the title cut, "O Holy Night," and two classical numbers, "Panis Angelicus" and "Pie Jesu," and they're impressive.
The DVD runs about 12 minutes and is made up of her YouTube audition version of "Panis Angelicus" and four performances from the TV talent contest. Here's a prediction: Evancho is going to be around for a while. Grade: B
Ronnie Spector, "Ronnie Spector's Best Christmas Ever": Ronnie Spector is at the center of the greatest Christmas record ever, singing The Ronettes' versions of "Frosty the Snowman," "Sleigh Ride" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" on 1963's "A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector."
Almost five decades later, Spector still loves Christmas and brings her love for the holiday -- and reaching out to others -- to this five-song EP of old-school, mid-tempo R&B/pop originals sweetened with strings and horns. Spector's distinctive voice is lower than when she made her hits, but she still sounds simultaneously innocent and seductive.
Her love for the holidays permeates the disc, right down to her spoken tale in "It's The Time (Happy Holidays)," about her dad telling her Santa was coming down the fire escape in their New York building because the family's apartment didn't have a fireplace. Grade: B+