11/30/16

My Ladies of Christmas 2016

Jennifer Nettles has been a favorite voice of mine since "Who Says You Can't Go Home", a duet with Jon Bon Jovi. There is a soulful edge to her voice that still draws me back to that song. Her regular gig at the time was in the country duo Sugarland and I bought the band's 2009 Christmas offering Gold And Green on spec (I buy a LOT of Christmas music) but it left me wanting more for Jennifer's voice though her Spanglish version of "Silent Night" impressed. Since then, she has guested on Christmas albums by Michael W. Smith and Sweet Kenny Rogers.  To Celebrate Christmas appeared just before Halloween. Freed from the demands of trying to get country radio airplay, she cuts loose and has fun early on this ten-track collection before she gets her ballad on in the back half of the album. My favorite tracks include the rockin' album opener "Go Tell It On The Mountain", her soulful take on Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home" and her powerful delivery on "O Holy Night". By the time you read this, Nettles will have hosted the CMA Country Christmas show for the seventh time - she even hosted once with a most visible baby bump bulging from her tight red gown - and though I'm writing this before the show has aired, I am 99.9% confident she will perform at least a couple of songs from this album.

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This year was my first time hearing Jessy J (not to be confused with British pop singer Jessie J) and it will not be my last. Her music fits the smooth jazz sub-genre of (sexy) women playing saxophones that include Candy Dulfer and Mindi Abair. Some might say there is no place for sexy sax at Christmastime but I beg to differ as it compliments the hanging mistletoe, crackling fireplaces, and Christmas cocktails very well. And, excuse my language, but it beats the heck out of listening to Mr. Gorelick. My favorite tracks from this album are "Feliz Navidad/Home For The Holidays" and "Joy To The World" featuring an assist from Jeff Lorber.

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It's weird but the first time I heard Kacey Musgraves, it was all Miley Cyrus's fault. I was actually unaware of both women until I heard Miley's debut single. The song was "See You Again" in 2007 and it is still a favorite crank it up and yell along song in The Blueberry. Somehow, I let it slip at work that I loved the song and one of my co-workers brought in a CD called Stars of Montana, featuring covers of Miley Cyrus songs. I borrowed it, copied it and discovered Kacey Musgraves singing an acoustic version of "See You Again" in 2009 or 2010. Then I didn't hear from her again until 2013's "Follow Your Arrow", a witty song of individuality that really should be heard by as many people as possible. I am equally enamored of 2015's "Biscuits" another song of individuality. A Very Kacey Christmas finds our girl Kacey keeping the whimsy factor turnt up with covers of "Mele Kalikimaka" and "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" but it is her duet with Willie Nelson on the tongue-twisting chorus of "A Willie Nice Christmas" that I most wish my Dad could hear. I know he would have loved it.

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We all know the Reason for the Season but, truth be told, I've never been a fan of Christmas albums by Christian artists, the ones filed under CCM - I've just always preferred the same songs sung by other artists who may or may not be Christian. Sorry, God. There have been a few exceptions through the years though and this year, I count a record number of new albums by CCM artists among my Christmas stash, including those by Jenny & Tyler, Jody McBrayer, Christy Nockels, Matthew West and Lauren Daigle. Again, it was Daigle's voice that caught my attention - it has an expressive, smoky rawness to it that I find irresistible and maybe just maybe I'll check out other songs of hers. For now, the ten tracks of Behold will have to tide me over. To all the music directors in charge of programming those all 24/7 Christmas music radio stations, do you and your listeners a solid and throw Lauren Daigle's Behold up in your mix. This one is most definitely in the running for my favorite Holiday album of 2016.

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The first Sarah McLachlan album I ever bought was Surfacing in 1997. The song "Building A Mystery" hooked me hard and fortunately for me, the rest of the album was surprisingly pretty solid. I haven't been the most loyal fan but I have picked up a few of her other albums along the way and am fairly certain I tacked the live version of "Angel' onto one of my Christmas Mix CDs as an unlisted bonus track. Her 2006 Christmas album Wintersong immediately won me over by featuring two of my Top 10 Favorite Christmas Songs among its first three tracks. For 2016, Sarah has returned with Wonderland, featuring eleven more songs from the Christmas canon, done in her easygoing breathless style. It's too early to have any favorites yet but my first couple of listenings relaxed me to the edge of sleepiness, which is quiet praise. Good to know if I get a bout of Holiday Insomnia. That's a thing, right?

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As she has done for the past five years, Elizabeth Chan has released another Christmas album. I first wrote about Chan back in 2013 and nothing much has changed since then except the size of her discography. To review and simplify, just about all Elizabeth Chan does is write and record Christmas music. I think it was my wife or my daughter who commented that Chan's songs sound like the soundtrack to a Sex & the City Christmas episode. Chan followed that first EP with Everyday Holidays in 2013 then Christmas In The City in 2014 and Red & Green in 2015. For 2016, she's returned with Five Golden Rings which finds her covering traditional Christmas songs for the first time though the album is mostly made up of her originals like the album-opening groove of "Sleigh". Chan even covers two of her previously released originals in Spanish and one in what I'm guessing is Japanese. I have already sprinkled various tracks from Chan's five releases throughout my 2016 Christmas Mix and am already looking forward to next year's inevitable release.

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