Local musicians are cranking out the holiday-themed songs, and this year's crop of Yuletide-oriented tunes runs the gamut from melancholic dirges to unabashed Christmas exuberance.
From folk to jazz to art-pop, lots of North Texas-based acts have fresh records to stick under the tree or in a stocking. Although these albums and EPs aren't quite loaded with carols sung by a choir, it is a way to shop locally while celebrating glad tidings and good cheer. After all, what better gift than that of (local) song?
The Polyphonic Spree, 'Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays, Vol. One'
Befitting its status as one of the area's most exuberant acts -- in any season -- it should come as no surprise that Tim DeLaughter and his symphonic pop collective, the Polyphonic Spree, do Christmas in a big way. Apart from the group's semi-regular Christmas-themed blow-outs, the Spree has also dabbled in holiday tunes over the years, but until 2012, never released a proper Christmas album. This collection of 13 tracks tends toward the silly more than the spiritual -- see the instrumental opener A Working Elf's Theme -- but DeLaughter and his collaborators can summon goose bumps when necessary: Do You Hear What I Hear? is an eerie, psychedelic riff on a well-worn seasonal staple. The Polyphonic Spree will mount its 10th anniversary holiday extravaganza Dec. 22 at the Lakewood Theater. (thepolyphonicspree.com)
Vanessa Peters, 'The Christmas We Hoped For'
As Peters herself points out, when this collection came out last year, she wasn't living in North Texas. In the spirit of the season, we'll let that technicality slide, if only so folks can be made aware of her understated takes on staples like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Winter Wonderland. Peters, whose original composition provides the album with its title track (containing the resonant line "This'll be a Christmas lived in the present tense"), is content to let the familiar melodies do their work, and she doesn't force new ideas simply for the sake of shaking things up. It is an occasionally somber, often engaging record that is ideal for an evening spent trimming the tree or in deep reflection by a roaring fire. (vanessapeters.com)
Bethan, 'Bethan Presents Christmas'
Singer-songwriter Jessi Hall, formerly of Novaak, effectively mines the vein of melancholy inherent in the holiday with this striking five-song EP. Working alongside her husband, Daniel Hall (of Fox and the Bird), Jesse Hopkins, and Becki and Kevin Howard, Jessi Hall's arresting voice is the foundation upon which these noirish re-imaginings are laid -- the sultry O Come, O Come Emmanuel sounds like something director David Lynch would've used in Mulholland Drive, while O Holy Night is rendered as a bleakly beautiful, spare hymn. While perhaps not for all tastes, Bethan Presents Christmas is a welcome, faintly Gothic tonic to the season's bright lights and warm sentiments. (listentobethan.com)
Ricki Derek, 'Here's to Christmas'
As smooth as eggnog laced with bourbon, Here's to Christmas goes down easy. Scat Jazz Lounge owner and crooner Ricki Derek, one of the heppest cats in North Texas, doles out a batch of seasonal tunes with a jazzy sheen -- who knew Santa Claus Is Coming to Town or Holly Jolly Christmas could have so much pep? -- and he also takes care to turn on the charm (his purring rendition of Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! could melt even the iciest heart). The grace notes of tastefully applied brass and strings give the whole album a smart, stylish vibe, sure to elevate the mood at your next holiday gathering. Derek and his orchestra will bring "A Merry Little Christmas" to the Scat Jazz Lounge on Dec. 14. (rickiderek.com)
About this time last year, Pentatonix -- co-founded by Arlington Martin High grads Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying and Kirstie Maldonado -- was riding on increased fame as winners of NBC's a cappella competition The Sing-Off. Since then, the group (which also includes later recruits Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola, who form the rhythm section), has played a slew of sold-out concerts nationwide. The a cappella quintet is so visual, it loses a little bit on record -- but not much, as the multilayered songs on this six-cut digital EP indicate. The group is often at its best when it goes wordless, as in a lengthy scatted portion on Carol of the Bells, or in the angelic oohs that Grassi lays down in the background on O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The complex vocal arrangements make this an unusually arresting Christmas CD. And if you want the visuals, the official video of Carol of the Bells is on YouTube, where it received more than 1.2 million views in its first two weeks. Pentatonix is scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno at 10:35 p.m. Dec. 14, KXAS/Channel 5. (ptxofficial.com)
Tim Halperin, 'Under That Christmas Spell'
We've come to expect a certain amount of earnest, John Mayer/Ben Folds-influenced pop from Halperin, the TCU grad who made it to the semifinals of Season 10 of American Idol, and a Christmas album seems right up his alley. What is surprising is how upbeat everything sounds, even a mostly pensive song like Miracle, which is one of three originals on this six-song digital EP. It'd be easy for someone with Halperin's style to slide into overproduced treacle when taking on holiday music, but Halperin avoids that with a largely stripped down approach that features a lively duet with Fort Worth X Factor alum Hayley Orrantia (on I'll Be Home for Christmas) as well as Maybe This Christmas, another energetic original. Some of the best evidence yet that Halperin was evicted too early on Idol. (timhalperin.com)