Merry Christmas, Baby/Verve
Once upon a time in rock ’n’ roll history, Rod Stewart was one of the genre’s bad boys.
He was also one of rock’s most successful artists thanks to hits such as “Hot Legs” and “Maggie May.”
In recent years, though, Stewart has been taking the easy route music-wise, recording his renditions of songs from the Great American Songbook.
That’s fine and dandy, especially when you consider that the singer is approaching 70.
I’m not going to fault the guy for his musical direction. Just about everyone settles down and matures as they get older.
What’s truly amazing though is that up until this year Stewart had never recorded a Christmas album.
For most established artists, the recording of a collection of holiday songs early in their career has been a no-brainer.
Stewart must have missed that memo, though, because here he is at 67 releasing his first yuletide collection.
The mood of “Merry Christmas, Baby” is a lot closer to Stewart’s more recent releases than anything from his ’70s and ’80s heyday.
There is one lone original song here, the mediocre “Red-Suited Super Man,” but there are some good moments.
Stewart’s duet with CeeLo Green on the album’s title track is quite good, as are classic takes on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Blue Christmas.”
His duet with Michael Buble on “Winter Wonderland” leaves a bit to be desired, although that’s more Buble’s fault than Stewart’s.
If you’re a Stewart fan and looking for a collection of classic holiday tunes sung in an equally classy way by Stewart, then you definitely could do worse than this CD.
Key Tracks: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Merry Christmas, Baby,” “Blue Christmas”
A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years/Big Machine
A quarter-century ago, a group of the biggest music artists of the day got together to record some holiday songs to benefit the Special Olympics.
The resulting album, “A Very Special Christmas,” was a smash success as far as holiday albums go.
Many of the tracks from that release, including RUN-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas, Baby,” have become contemporary classics themselves.
That initial compilation has spawned numerous sequels, and on the 25th anniversary, we get yet another collection.
Somewhere along the way, though, it seems that the basic idea of simply recording some holiday songs has become lost in the shuffle of commercialism.
Let’s start with the fact that the second track on this new album is actually called “Something in the Air (Coca-Cola 2012 Christmas Anthem).”
Really? We need to stick a soft drink advert right in the middle of a charity album? I’m hoping Coca-Cola made a huge contribution to Special Olympics in return for being able to include a lyric about “raising a Coke in celebration.”
Once we make it past that blatant bit of commercialism, the album is a mixed bag of holiday hits.
Among the good stuff are Cheap Trick’s “I Want You for Christmas” (which is a clever redo of the band’s hit “I Want You to Want Me”), OneRepublic’s “Christmas Without You” and Dave Matthews Band’s live version of “Christmas Song.”
Easily forgettable are Train’s horrid “Joy to the World” and Jordin Sparks’ uninspired “Do You Hear What I Hear,” which was done so much better by the late Whitney Houston on the first charity compilation.
It appears that the well may finally be running dry on this series, especially when you get a soft drink commercial two songs in.
Key Tracks: “I Want You for Christmas,” “Christmas Without You,” “Christmas Song”
The Classic Christmas Album series/Sony Legacy
With the holidays now in full swing, you’re likely either digging through your collection of holiday music or looking for something new yet familiar to play.
Legacy has you covered either way with its new series “The Classic Christmas Album.”
Featuring iconic artists such as Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, Kenny G, John Denver, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett and Elvis Presley, this series of albums is devoted to artists who have released more than one Christmas album in the past, and each artist’s respective album collects the best moments from those multiple releases.
It’s sort of like a greatest holiday hits compilation for each artist, saving you the bother of looking for the best stuff from each one.
Among the initial releases, the CDs by Nelson, Bennett and Vandross are probably the best here.
Denver’s does suffer a bit by not having any sign of his frequent holiday collaborations with Jim Henson’s Muppets.
Presley’s collection is quite good, but there have been previous collections of his holiday hits.
Only Kenny G’s compilation is questionable.
For fans of any of these artists though, these holiday compilations allow them to hear the choice cuts from their favorite artist’s holiday releases.
Key Albums: Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Luther Vandross
By Devin Grant
“A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years”×
“The Classic Christmas Album,” the Willie Nelson version in the series.×
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