Christmas can be a strange time of year for music. Artists that we would never expect to put out Christmas albums seem compelled to do so, while others predictably make music that almost defines what the holiday is supposed to be about.
When Bob Dylan released a Christmas record (Christmas in the Heart) a couple years ago, a lot of us were almost scratching our heads in bewilderment, and this year, many people will be doing the same thing over Scott Weiland’s Christmas album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Softdrive Records). In addition to the title track, Weiland covers Christian classics like “What Child Is This?” and more whimsical standards like “Winter Wonderland” with obvious reverence and sincerity. But he just doesn’t really have the voice or phrasing tendencies suited for this type of music. This CD will find a home in a few stockings as a curiosity or just because of his STP/Velvet Revolver following, but Weiland will definitely never be a threat to Mel Torme. But he gets points just for doing it.
A Very She & Him Christmas (Merge Records) by She & Him – Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward – is a nice collection of mostly straight-ahead holiday readings of classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Blue Christmas.” With no surprises or particularly innovative versions of anything here, it pretty much sounds like, well, what you would expect a She & Him Christmas recording to sound like, which is Deschanel and Ward singing some Christmas songs. A good CD to put your Santa hat on and drink a cup of hot chocolate to.
Also along the lines of the more contemporary singer-songwriter type is This Warm December – A Brushfire Holiday, Volume 2 (Brushfire Records), featuring the likes of Brushfire artists Jack Johnson, G. Love and Rogue Wave performing both Christmas standards and new original holiday tunes. A nice listen, and G. Love’s “Christmas Cookies” is especially cool.
TobyMac’s Christmas in DiverseCity (ForeFront) features both new original material and excellent arrangements of Christmas classics by TobyMac and guests like Owl City and Leigh Nash, as well as tracks by such friends as Superherose and Arch Nemesiz. Kudos to the artist for expertly combining rock, hip-hop, R&B and everything in between on this 21st-century tribute to Jesus that is one of the season’s best productions.
A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume Two (Skaggs Family Records) is an excellent live CD and DVD package recorded at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Ricky Skaggs, his kids, his wife Sharon and her family of Whites turn in first-rate, spirited performances both vocally and instrumentally on holiday classics and other numbers. Like everything Skaggs (and apparently anyone related to him) does, this is an outstanding collection of music for both the stereo and TV set.
And speaking of virtuoso string players, violinist Mark O’Connor’s An Appalachian Christmas (OMAC Records) is an absolute delight, with both instrumental and vocal Christmas music. With guests that include the cream of the Nashville studio musician crop and singers Jane Monheit, James Taylor and Steve Wariner, O’Connor (who plays several instruments here, including drums) delivers a top-notch product, as usual.