No sooner has everyone digested their turkey dinner than thoughts turn to Dec. 25 and the yearly Christmas rituals. (The grinchier among us might argue the Yuletide gaze starts right after Halloween, but I digress.) This year, the tide of freshly made holiday albums isn’t quite as daunting as in years past, but it includes one native Texan amid the seasonal offerings. Tie on your tinsel and let’s dig in.
Surprisingly, in her multiplatinum, decadelong career, Burleson-bred pop superstar Kelly Clarkson has never released a full-length Christmas album. She rectifies that oversight this year with Wrapped in Red, a 15-track collection mixing standards ( Baby It’s Cold Outside; Silent Night and White Christmas) with sleek originals (the title track, Underneath the Tree and Winter Dreams, which is dedicated to her husband, Brandon Blackstock). The newly expectant mother is in fine form throughout, breezily toggling between pop and country.
Leave it to Nick Lowe to approach a Christmas album from a unique angle. On Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family, the idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter blends hymns ( Children Go Where I Send Thee), classics ( Silent Night) and originals ( Christmas at the Airport, with its darkly funny line: “Don’t save me any turkey/I found a burger in a bin”) for a wry yet reverent collection held together by Lowe’s impeccable taste. In contrast to most holiday affairs, Lowe favors a sophisticated pop sensibility, with hints of rockabilly sprinkled throughout. Quality Street will speak most deeply to that relative who faces the holidays with gritted teeth but affection for the season’s traditions.
I know why Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas exists — anything and everything Duck Dynasty is big business at the moment — but that doesn’t make listening to it any more enjoyable. Somehow, the Robertson clan conned the likes of George Strait and Alison Krauss into making cameos on this 14-track collection, which features assorted members of the family taking turns on lead vocals (Willie on Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas; Uncle Si on You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch). The whole thing is blindingly polished — who knew the Robertsons were such accomplished vocalists? — and plain baffling.
Much like Clarkson before her, it’s startling to realize that Mary J. Blige has never released a full-length Christmas record, a gap she plugs with A Mary Christmas (guess that groaner was unavoidable). But unlike the punny title, Blige isn’t in a lighthearted mood very often on these dozen tracks, which feature guest spots from Barbra Streisand, Jessie J and Marc Anthony. The R&B diva acquits herself well, although there are a few headscratching choices (really, My Favorite Things?) amid the sensual ( Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas), celebratory ( This Christmas) and bombastic ( Little Drummer Boy) selections.