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It’s time to make the Yuletide gay (how appropriate, I must say). God knows some radio stations started the day after Halloween. And I started the day after that. For an extra buck – I mean to spread the holiday cheer – several queer magnets released Christmas albums this season. But will they light up your holiday?
Sarah McLachlan’s ethereal voice couldn’t be better suited for a Christmas collection full of somber newbies and classic covers. Along with a faithful rendition of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” complete with a backing children’s choir, McLachlan gracefully takes on Joni Mitchell’s lovelorn “River,” her voice smoothly sailing over guitar and synth beats. To some, it may sound like a boring endeavor, especially since McLachlan’s been known to use mostly organic instrumentation, but the songstress caresses each word with her warm, flawless falsetto. The bittersweet “Wintersong,” the only original track on the set, is classic McLachlan: A haunting piano performance complete with downer lyrics about how the holidays elicit memories of a loved one. The album steers clear of overly religious fodder and relies on a wintry mix of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the previously released version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night.” The weather’s wet, but McLachlan’s voice still burns bright among a melancholy mix.
The Divine Miss M’s adding some pizzazz to the holidays with her first-ever Christmas collection, filled with jazzy ditties, zingy numbers and religious tunes. “Cool Yule,” a chipper swing song, puts Bette’s personality on a pedestal, and gives us a reason to shimmy and shake. The big band zest of “Winter Wonderland/Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” with Christmas veteran Johnny Mathis pans out like a successful ping-pong match. Opening with a sample of “Little Drummer Boy,” the holiday-tinged version of “From A Distance” sounds as passionate – and appropriate – as the 1990 version. As a homage to Bette’s home in Hawaii, “Mele Kalikimaka” (meaning Merry Christmas) blends a Disney music-esque intro into a grass skirt swaying song. On an eclectic mix of holiday tunes, Midler sounds in fine form, and breathes new life into some Christmas classics – and spawns some potential ones herself.
“A Classic Christmas”
Wynonna’s by-the-numbers holiday album would fill the void of any average Joe looking for the Christmas basics. No snazzy dance numbers. No electronic beats. No techno tunes. But Wynonna’s voice works splendidly on keeping it classic – and religious – on such songs as “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “O Holy Night” and “White Christmas.” It’s like huddling around the fireplace and drinking Egg Nog with an old friend. The faithful instrumentation keeps the old-fashioned vibe alive, and it’s so rare to hear the Christmas tunes of yesteryear unhindered. And, here, Wy proves that her glorious vocal range can be spine-tingling whether she’s rocking out newbies or belting the basics.