Album Review: Holiday Music and Christmas Albums in 2011

From Bennett to the Biebs, Poptional Reading covers the top five holiday albums of 2011

In addition to Black Friday-through-Cyber-Monday deals, claymation TV specials, and frequent cookie-swapping get-togethers, ’tis the season for nonstop holiday music. It’s a big, booming business, and every artist that can stuff a stocking seems to put out a collection of seasonal songs around now. Some of these are charming; some are quickie affairs designed to make tweens part with their cash.

Ever since I was skewered for saying less-than-flattering things about a certain American Idol contestant, I’ve learned it’s dangerous to interject my own opinions about holiday music. But I just can’t help myself. (C’mon Bieber, at least wear a Santa hat on the album cover!) Here is a selection of this year’s bumper crop of holiday albums.

A Very She & Him Christmas
Zooey Deschanel is having a moment: her sitcom, New Girl, is one of the most successful launches of the fall season. She & Him, her music project with M. Ward, is retro-inspired even in non-holiday times, which makes them the perfect band to take on classics like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “The Christmas Waltz.” (And then there are nice tries, like “Little Saint Nick.”) I’d say this is the one to buy this holiday season. Take a listen — here they are performing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” on Ellen.

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Michael Bublé Christmas
I confess: Everything I know about Michael Bublé, I know from his appearance on the John Hamm-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live. (Which, granted, was hilarious.) Therefore, I can’t venture a guess as to how sincere his Christmas album is. He does get the Puppini sisters, Shania Twain, and Thalia to do some guest vocals for him (the last on “Feliz Navidad,” one of my favorites), so he seems to be at least somewhat adept at getting people into the Christmas spirit.

Tony Bennett: The Classic Christmas Album
“Classic” is the operative word, as Tony Bennett takes on songs like “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and “Winter Wonderland.” This is the year for Bennett revisiting favorite songs; his Duets II also came out this year, featuring songs like “Lady Is a Tramp” and “Body and Soul” recorded with artists like Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. If there’s a Bennett fan in your life, your shopping list is pretty easy. But, for non-fans, do we really need both? If you’re looking only to buy one Bennett release this year, I’d say go with the duets, since at least they’re trying to put a new spin on the songs. There’s no shortage of crooners doing “White Christmas” out there.

A Holiday Carole by Carole King
Carole King hasn’t put out a real new album since 2001 — are we satisfied with just some live albums and a holiday release? Still, props to her for venturing out of the Christmas box with “Chanukah Prayer.”

Justin Bieber: Under the Mistletoe
Don’t kill me, fans of the Beebs, but since so much of this album is centered around Bieber’s holiday-related romantic longings, it’s creepy for anyone outside of his/her teenagehood to like this. This is especially true of his original song “Mistletoe,” which somehow combines a Jason Mraz-style white-dude reggae beat with the sounds of sleigh bells. (And I’m pretty sure Santa himself doesn’t use the word “shorty” as much as Bieber does in this song.) I give him credit for trying do to an original Christmas song, but his very-of-the-moment sound doesn’t really jive with the holiday spirit, in my opinion.


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