Do you hear what we hear? 

Kyle Dillingham
A Very Kyle Christmas

Oklahoma’s
Musical Ambassador, Kyle Dillingham, doesn’t fiddle around on his
Christmas disc, as the album is no mere novelty. Solid musicianship
abounds on this intimate, acoustic affair, whose 14 tracks — a couple of
which are originals — come decorated with interesting instrumentation
not relegated to his signature violin. “Shall I play for you?” he asks
in “The Little Drummer Boy.” Yes, you shall, Kyle — this year and
beyond.

The Polyphonic Spree
Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One

One
wonders why it’s taken the white-robed Spree so long to do a Christmas
album. At the symphonic band’s best, majestic melodies are a specialty,
so why does Tim DeLaughter slow iconic tunes like “Winter Wonderland”
and “White Christmas” down to drudges? The John Lennon/Yoko Ono cover
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is a step in the right direction, but only on
“Carol of the Drum” does the group whip up the collective orgasmic
energy of which it is capable.

Katherine Jenkins
This Is Christmas

All I want for Christmas is Katherine Jenkins, but let’s be realistic. The Dancing with the Stars finalist
is first and foremost a mezzo-soprano from Wales who wails her way
through traditional numbers with a forceful, lovely voice that makes
even the angels shout, “Hark!” In other words, a total class act. I only
wish the occasionally trilling singer would sound like she’s having
more fun. “Santa Baby” finds her at her least guarded, but this album
appeals most to the classical crowd — witness the closing “Come What
May,” a duet with Plácido Domingo. I call front row!

Tracey Thorn
Tinsel and Lights

Best
known as half of Everything but the Girl, Thorn displays more
get-up-and-go than that ’90s chill-lounge duo; her powerhouse voice
remains. It sounds like a credibility-chunking idea, but her snowy disc
is marked by rather unique choices, from covers of Joni Mitchell’s
“River” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Sister Winter” to, most notably, “Hard
Candy Christmas,” which I didn’t initially recognize as a cut from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It works. When she does get around to recording a chestnut, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” she nails it.

Brooke White
White Christmas

I stopped watching American Idol in
season one, so this marks my introduction to Brooke White. Her White
Christmas — get it? — is surprisingly above average, even with its
obvious sheen of mass-market inoffensiveness. Bringing a folky, homey,
near-country approach to the bunch, she definitely puts her own spin on
old favorites — sometimes to a detriment, as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful
Christmastime” is reworked to a point of zero recognition. Her jaunty
take on Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is much better.

Various artists
Festivus

A compilation for the rest of us, Festivus collects 15 obscure — unless you're certifiably twee — bands for a jubilant romp of originals that are equally stripped-down and hopped-up. What else would you expect from a disc utilizing the talents of Skiffle and the Piffles? A little bit of everything, from lo-fi girl rawk (Piney Gir's "Every Day's a Holiday") and atmospheric chill (The Baubles' "The New Going Out") to surf-inspired balladry (Monnone Alone's "Everywhere at Once") and smoky-bar crooning (The Real Tuesday Weld's "Song of December"). Best of all is the plucky St. Veit, whose "Still Flyin'" soars as high as the fat man's sled. Give it to your fave hipster (but not me; I already have it, thanks).

Various artists
Merry Nickmas

Nickelodeon
gathers up various stars from its slate of kid-coms and other
programming for a mercifully brief collection of standards rendered so
studio-slick, it gave me diabetes. (Hey, that wasn’t on my list!) There’s no doubt Victorious’ Victoria Justice has pipes, but “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and others sport a lazy, Kidz Bop-level sequencing of 1s and 0s. Tween girls may swoon to the sounds of Big Time Rush, Drake Bell and the cast of How to Rock, but why encourage bad taste?

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Rod Lott

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