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Spins: Ebenezer Punk’d – Christmas CDs Reviewed!

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Branden James
The Voice Of Christmas
(Mcon)
Chicago transplant Branden James made his mark this past summer as a finalist on America’s Got Talent, but his background performing for Chicago’s Lyric Opera and Los Angeles Opera gave him the chops to comfortably record The Voice Of Christmas. James is blessed with a tenor as close as one can get to perfection, so his renditions of traditional Christmas classics with a simple piano and string accompaniment are the true highlights here (“O Come All Ye Faithful.”"O Come, O Come Emmanuel”). James’ version of “Jingle Bells” seems a little more forced, but doesn’t dimish a holiday set that would sit very well with fans of Bocelli and Groban.
– David Gedge

8 out of 10

Appearing: 12/19 City Winery

 

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
The Best Man Holiday
(RCA)
Actor Terrence Howard – already heartstrung by how hard it is out there for pimps – let slip that this film sequel contains some tearjerkingly tragic moments. Someone should have alerted the soundtrack’s executive producers. A smoove R&B tour de force, the music indicates that theatergoers are obliged a glass of warm milk and a piece of dipping toast. Mary J. Blige’s “This Christmas” is like being held down while having virgin eggnog poured down your gullet, and anytime R. Kelly zips up, it’s best to step out. Among the handful of his covered compositions, Stevie Wonder will want to know why John Legend (who turns in the only creditable performance) didn’t get a crack at one of them.
– Steve Forstneger

2 out of 10

 

Nick Lowe
Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family
(Yep Roc)
Lowe has spent the last 40-plus years promulgating everything from pub-rock and power-pop to neo-rockabilly and autumnal acoustic introspection, all with a gimlet eye focused on both the log in his own eye and the splinter in his neighbor’s. And on Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, he reaps what he has sown. More than anything else, he and his jauntily rootsy combo sound relaxed, as at peace with both Santa and the Virgin Birth as C.S. Lewis was in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Seamlessly blended cover tunes, traditional numbers, two originals (one catchy and funny, one thought provoking)–it’s nearly impossible to tell where the secular ends and the sacred begins, maybe because for Lowe the two are one.
–Arsenio Orteza

8 out of 10

 

KELLY CLARKSON
Wrapped In Red
(RCA)
Whatever street-smart industry cred Kelly Clarkson possessed turns to coal on this perfunctory (yet coldly overdue) set. Her tomboyish pluck gets buried in an avalanche of strings, choirs, and Phil Spectorisms as if the last gift she received was a free makeover at one of Nashville’s tackiest salons. The stumbling duet with Ronnie Dunn on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” sounds as if Dunn is being piped in from a rodeo-themed pageant, though the a cappella, third verse of the Trisha Yearwood/Reba McEntire-abetted “Silent Night”is a welcome, if late, treat.
-Steve Forstneger

5 out of 10

 

NEVER SHOUT NEVER
The Xmas EP
(Loveway)
Joplin, MO’s Never Shout Never brings indie-rock cred to the holiday music smorgasbord with The Xmas EP. Smothered in angular, ringing, acoustic guitars, twee harmonies and sugary holiday vibes, vocalist Christofer Drew and Dia Frampton (The Voice, Meg & Dia) are the alt-rock version of Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark. “Under The Mistletoe” has the makings of a lasting Christmas classic, trading he/she harmonies while piling on every Christmas cliche they can fit in the lyric sheet – and it works. Covers of John Prine’s “Everything Is Cool” and John & Yoko’s (Plastic Ono Band) “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” are lighthearted, spirited, and true to the originals.
– John Vernon

7 out of 10

Appearing: 12/12 Subterranean

 

Erasure
Snow Globe
(Mute)
The dance floor may be where Erasure is most at home, but the duo’s acclaimed career also includes an ABBA-themed EP, a full-length covers collection and even an acoustic/country-inspired treatment of past hits. On their first album since 2011′s Tomorrow’s World, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke tackle another career first with their first ever holiday project, blending traditional tunes, some left of center covers and a few originals all shaded around the darker side of the season. Considering the stripped down nature of this collection, don’t expect any massive four on the floor dance beats or disco-drenched decadence, though Snow Globe is still undeniably Erasure. Bell hits the highest of vocal highs on synth-laden ballads like “Bells Of Love” and “Silent Night,” while Clarke’s electro wizardry feels the freshest throughout “Make It Wonderful” and “Brooklyn.” The group cites recent Yuletide albums by Kate Bush and Tracey Thorn as inspirations and the project is certainly replete with parallels, even if its bulk is more subdued than the club crowd typically appreciates.
– Andy Argyrakis

7 out of 10

 

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