Since 2011, Sony's Legacy Recordings has offered a crop of ideal stocking stuffers with the Classic Christmas Album series. This year's quartet of releases has a decidedly more modern bent, featuring artists associated with the '70s (Earth, Wind & Fire), '80s (a various artists compilation), '90s (Sarah McLachlan) and 2000s (Celtic Thunder).
Three of these titles are actually expanded editions of previously released albums. Earth, Wind and Fire's Classic Christmas entry reprises last year's new studio album Holiday with five added bonus tracks. Then as now, Holiday is an enjoyable assortment of seasonal tracks ranging from traditional tunes to Tin Pan Alley Christmas standards and original material, all produced by Philip Bailey and Myron McKinley. As anyone who has seen their high-energy concerts of late can attest, Bailey and the funk masters in EWF can still deliver the goods. The group's feel-good vibrations, muscular horns, driving percussion and slinky bass are all present on this eclectic, enjoyable set which finds EWF giving "Sleigh Ride" a "Sing a Song"-style makeover, introducing "The Little Drummer Boy" to African-influenced percussion and lending "Winter Wonderland" a brassy disco groove. Ironically, the least successful songs may be the rewrites of "Happy Feelin'" as "Happy Seasons" and "September" as "December." One wishes that the band had taken these tracks just a little bit further; turning "September" into "December" is a fun concept but needs a few more festive elements beyond just some changed lyrics. (Sleigh bells, anyone?) This 2015 expanded Holiday merrily includes five rare bonuses. "Get Your Hump on This Christmas," from television's The Cleveland Show, makes its CD debut. The boisterous "Gather Round" and bright "One World" were previously only available on compilations. Tracks from Philip Bailey with Full Force ("I Asked for a Miracle (God Gave Me You))" and Maurice White ("Open Your Heart to Love") round out this joyous set.
Celtic Thunder's 2013 Christmas Voices featured the Irish vocal sextet backed by a band and 90-piece orchestra on a collection of primarily spiritual Christmas songs including "Carol of the Bells," "Mary Did You Know" and "Away in a Manger" as well as a couple of secular standards ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song") and even a cover of English-Irish rockers The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." Christmas Voices was reissued as Holiday Symphony in 2014, dropping the late George Donaldson's solo performance of "Mary's Boy Child." This 14-track version has been reissued once more as The Classic Christmas Album. Those familiar with Celtic Thunder's lush sound will know what to expect here, but there is nothing new for longtime fans.
The Classic Christmas entry for Sarah McLachlan features the entirety of the chanteuse's 2006 holiday album Wintersong, a classy collection of traditionals ("Silent Night," "The First Noel/Mary, Mary") and familiar favorites ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas") anchored by her lovely title ballad and featuring covers from fellow Canadian singer-songwriters Gordon Lightfoot ("Song for a Winter's Night") and Joni Mitchell ("River"). Another singer-pianist from our northern neighbor, Diana Krall, guested on the album, too, for a beautiful rendition of Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson's Charlie Brown staple "Christmas Time is Here." Producer Jeff James has added five rarities to the re-sequenced tunestack of Wintersong. Jim Creeggan of Barenaked Ladies played on Wintersong; he and his band join McLachlan on a 1996 live cut of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings." Three of the newly-added tracks feature students and choir from Vancouver's Sarah McLachlan School of Music ("Prayer of St. Francis," "Space on the Couch for Two" and "Find Your Voice"). Johnny Marks' "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" completes this essential anthology of McLachlan's holiday music. Tom Ruff has remastered.
The fourth entry in the Classic Christmas Album series this year is The Classic Christmas '80s Album. Naturally, some of that decade's most omnipresent Christmas songs are here including The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," Wham!'s "Last Christmas," Run D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis" and Daryl Hall and John Oates' "Jingle Bell Rock" (in the familiar Daryl-led version). So is the Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter," even if the Paul Simon classic is a bit of a stretch in the Christmas department! This cross-section of eighties musical styles also features treats from The Pointer Sisters ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town"), David Johansen's alter ego of Buster Poindexter ("Zat You Santa Claus?"), Dave Edmunds ("Run, Rudolph, Run") and Ray Parker, Jr. (his original song "Christmas Time is Here," not the Vince Guaraldi tune). With appearances by Whitney Houston, New Kids on the Block, Fishbone, and The Hooters, "eclectic" is the buzzword for this happy seasonal songfest produced by Timothy J. Smith and remastered by Vic Anesini.
In addition, a fifth Classic Christmas Album title is newly available this year. An Amazon-exclusive 3-CD set of the same title, drawing on the series' past volumes as well as additional Christmas songs, has been co-produced for Legacy by our very own Mike Duquette! You'll find a link for it and the remaining four titles below!
Earth, Wind and Fire: Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada
Celtic Thunder: Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada
Sarah McLachlan: Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada
The Classic Christmas '80s Album: Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada
The Classic Christmas Album (3-CD Set): Amazon U.S.