Hear Me Out... for the Holidays: Mariah's holiday spirit carries sequel. Plus: Indigo Girls and 'Glee'

By Chris Azzopardi

Mariah Carey, 'Merry Christmas II You'

Sequels usually suck, but Mariah Carey's not going down with that sleigh on her cleverly titled offshoot to her "Merry Christmas" behemoth. That 16-year-old album spawned "All I Want for Christmas is You," a modern-day classic whose new "Extra Festive" version is, well, extra-noisy or something. More obviously, the diva's "Auld Lang Syne" sounds ready to ring in the New Year on a gay disco ball, as its slow preface surges into an arms-up thumper. Beats percolate on first single "Oh Santa!" too, with its old-school bounce and school-yard chant, but this wouldn't be a Mariah album without big, goopy ballads - and "Merry Christmas II You" is padded with them: "One Child," one of two new tracks produced by "Hairspray" composer Marc Shaiman, builds to a belting climax; there's also opera-singer mom, Patricia Carey, on "O Come All Ye Faithful" and a live, chill-propelling "O Holy Night." But part two's no classic, especially with the awkward Michael Jackson-borrowed "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)." The spirit's there, though - and that goes a long way. Grade: B-

Indigo Girls, 'Holly Happy Days'

That the Indigo Girls recorded their first holiday album in Nashville is only appropriate - they've never sounded this downright country. "I Feel the Christmas Spirit," a bluegrass sing-along, is a toe-tappin' good time. What follows is similar in style but stripped to their much-adored acoustic sound: "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)," written by Chely Wright, adds a jazz twist, while "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is simple and understated, intertwining Emily Saliers and Amy Ray's voices like holiday magic (Janis Ian, Brandi Carlile and Mary Gauthier add harmonies to the album, too). But what's really special about "Holly Happy Days" (besides the cool packaging with lyrics of the three new tunes written on ornament cut-outs) has more to do with the duo's rarely recorded song selection. One of those, Beth Nielsen Chapman's "There's Still My Joy," is stunningly bittersweet - just how we like our Girls. Grade: B+

'Glee: The Music - The Christmas Album'

Before "Glee" conquers the world (because it will), it's conquering Christmas - the gay way, with a dude duo doing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" together (aw, cute!). On the holiday-themed release from the cast of TV's biggest, queerest drug, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and possible-new-loverboy Blaine (Darren Criss) charm in a refreshingly gay take on the classic. Otherwise, "Glee" plugs carols into the show's formula for frothy bouncers and over-the-top ballads: a jazzy, dance-made "Jingle Bells"; pop fave "Last Christmas" and a soaring "O Holy Night," sung by pipe queen Lea Michele (duh). Even the show's knack for mash-ups gets play on this disc with "Deck the Rooftop," a groovy romp. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is an odd fit, especially since "Glee" is known for, you know, singing, but it's the only real coal in this collection - one sure to make the yuletide gayer. Grade: B

Also Out

The Superions, 'Destination... Christmas!'

Something weird's to be expected from The B-52s' Fred Schneider, whose side project with two other musicians - known collectively as The Superions - is one strange, creepy, horny, electro-fused spin. The perverted "Santa Je T'aime" answers the question, "Why did Ol' Saint Nick favor Rudolph?" And other novelty songs are just as whacky. If Christmas got punk'd, this would be it.

K atharine McPhee, 'Christmas Is the Time... (To Say I Love You)'

Back to basics, and out from the trendy trench, is where the "American Idol" loser lands on her simple 10-tracker. The songs on her third album, mostly made of classic carols, are structured to conjure pre-fad-following McPhee, who sings her little heart out and, with sole original "It's Not Christmas Without You," pulls at ours.

The Puppini Sisters, 'Christmas with the Puppini Sisters'

What'd Christmas sound like in the '40s? Like the Puppini Sisters third disc, with 10 tracks that're as fresh as new snow. The British trio (who aren't really sisters) rework them with a retro twist, jazzing up "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and putting the breaks on 1980s Wham! hit "Last Christmas." Even Mariah's "All I Want for Christmas is You" is revived - in boogie-woogie style.

Wilson Phillips, 'Christmas in Harmony'

If you held on for one more day, then pay-off's finally here: Wilson Phillips, the all-girl group who ruled the early '90s, are getting into the spirit with their first holiday LP. The title couldn't be truer - harmonies are their thing, especially on songs like opener "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" - but the album's as safe as giving a gift card.

Reach Chris Azzopardi at chris@pridesource.com.
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