Michael Buble, ‘Christmas’
The crooner’s sex appeal isn’t just surface hotness, though no one’s going to fault his boyish features. It’s all over “Santa Baby,” taking the typically-for-chicks tune and adding some machismo to it – baby becomes “bubby.” And instead of a sable, he wants a manly watch. With his deep drawl, and his tongue firmly placed in his cheek (don’t get any ideas about getting your bells jingled), the time-traveling troubadour pulls off the Eartha Kitt classic most charmingly. Then again, he does justice to most of the classics – 14 of them, and a new one called “Cold December Night” – on his first full-length Christmas album, a project the Frank Sinatra-meets-Dean Martin singer was made for. It’s why songs like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” both beautifully orchestrated by schmaltz master David Foster, fit his classic-sounding voice like hand and glove. To play up his old-soul appeal, he invites the Puppini Sisters for a very merry ’60s-styled swing on “Jingle Bells.” He stretches his chords on a divine “Ave Maria,” has a “White Christmas” with Shania Twain and does a lovely, for-the-fireside version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Most surprising is his poignant change-up of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” pulling back on the pep and zeroing in on the lonely lyrics of desperation for a lover who’s away during the holidays. But not Buble. He sounds right at home for “Christmas.” Grade: B+
‘Glee: The Christmas Album, Volume 2’
Not to be a Grinch, but is more “Glee” music really at the top of anyone’s Christmas list? But here you have it anyway: 12 tracks from a TV show so in love with itself that every few months we must be reminded of how awesome they think they are. The McKinley High kids are best when they’re not being themselves – you know, gleeful. A standout on the second disc of Christmas songs from the glee club is, predictably, Rachel’s (aka Lea Michele) appropriately gloomy reading of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” just her peerless voice and a piano. Moments of minimalism trump all else: “Let It Snow” is a charming duet between Chris Colfer’s Kurt and Darren Criss’ Blaine, with ad-libs, finger snaps and a similar whimsy to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from the first set. But the strongest of all the songs doesn’t even belong to a New Directions gleek. Instead, that honor goes to “Glee Project” runners-up Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell, who sing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” like they’re trying to win their way in (this stirring tour de force should do it). The rest? As tacky as those Christmas sweaters grandma knits. “Extraordinary Merry Christmas” isn’t extra ordinary; it’s Christmas-through-Katy Perry trash. Same goes for “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” originally a 1984 charity song that just sounds hokier in their hands, and the ’80s romp “Christmas Wrapping” is completely lacking in melody. And they wonder why Sue Sylvester hates them. Grade: C
Dave Koz, ‘Ultimate Christmas’
‘Tis the season for the saxophone. Dave Koz’s fourth Christmas album is essentially a cash-grab compilation gleaning tracks from his three previous holiday albums – “December Makes Me Feel This Way,” “A Smooth Jazz Christmas” and “Memories of a Winter’s Night” – that tacks on two newbies: an intro and an outro (woopty doo!). Definitely not for people who get enough of this on the elevator, this smooth-jazz collection still offers some nice twists in composition, taking “Please Come Home For Christmas” into a bluesy direction with “Idol” finalist Kimberly Locke’s singing. But it’s a package that, despite tradition, needs some shaking up.
She & Him, ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’
She & Him make this Christmas their own with carols that aren’t cookie-cutter, taking gentler approaches to the same-old. Part of why it works without sounding monotonous is Zooey Deschanel’s darling, no-frills voice, a force that pulls you in with just the first few notes of “The Christmas Waltz,” tiptoeing in softly with guitar and a beautiful lilt that’s delicately matched. More standard fare is just as solid: the intimacy on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” captures the song’s nostalgia and “Silver Bells” is performed prettily just with a ukulele. “A Very She & Him Christmas” is a very nice surprise – even for the hipsters who hate Christmas music.
Carole King, ‘A Holiday Carole’
The legend shows her age on her first studio album in 10 years, disappointedly without a single new tune from the songwriting prodigy. Even her voice, ironed flat throughout, is a let down. “My Favorite Things” tries to recapture King’s piano-pop work but comes off as a note-flubbed hack job. The over-enunciated ding-dongs on “Carol of the Bells” do it a disservice, though the choir helps conceal King’s weathered voice. Laughably awful, “Sleigh Ride” sounds more suited for an episode of “Mister Rogers.” Not until the coda, “New Year’s Day,” is there a truly memorable song that isn’t upset by a completely off-key vocal. “A Holiday Carole,” unfortunately, is the coal of Christmas.