December 19, 2004

Holiday Albums 2004

Christmas Day is only a few days away, and no one really wants to hear Christmas music after it’s over, right? With that in mind, here a few holiday CDs that would be worth listening to this week. All were released this year.

Xmas_tree.jpgWill Downing, Christmas, Love and You (GRP): On Will Downing’s first-ever holiday recording, listeners are treated to a sensual Christmas delivered by one of music’s most emotive singers. Songs include traditional classics such as “The Little Drummer Boy,” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Also included are three new original holiday tunes written by Will, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “Christmas Time After Time” and the title track. Musical guests include guitarist Jonathan Butler, saxophonists David Sanborn, Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum, keyboardist Joe Sample and saxophonist Najee on flute.

Vanessa Williams, Silver & Gold (Lava): The velvety voiced singer has always been one of the most popular singers in the smooth jazz genre, and she does nothing here to dispel that. This CD marks her first in seven years, and she has another one on the way in February 2005. Williams’ earlier version of “What Child Is This” remains one of the most popular holiday songs on smooth jazz radio. There are many new classics on this new collection, including a duet with Brian McKnight on "Joy to the World," the touching title track and "Mary's Little Boy Child" has a reggae/calypso beat. And “Merry Christmas, Darling” has the ring of a brand-new hit to it.

Dionne Warwick, My Favorite Time of the Year (DMI): Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz helps Dionne Warwick get into the holiday spirit as he performs on three songs on the legendary singer’s holiday album. You can hear Koz’s distinctive saxophone on "White Christmas," "Joy to the World" and "Winter Wonderland." Warwick’s first holiday project also features duets with Gladys Knight on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and BeBe Winans on an original tune Winans wrote called “I Believe in Christmas.”

James Taylor, A Christmas Album (Hallmark): James Taylor's first seasonal collection is a charming treat for his many longtime fans. Trumpet player Chris Botti, vocalist Natalie Cole and pianist Dave Grusin all contribute to the project, his first since 2002’s “October Road.” Botti has a trumpet solo on the album’s opening song, the classic “Winter Wonderland,” while Cole sings a duet with Taylor on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Grusin plays piano on several tracks and also produces the album. Other songs on the album include “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Deck The Halls,” “Auld Lang Syne” and “Jingle Bells.” “A Christmas Album” is available exclusively at Hallmark stores. Regularly priced at $10.95, the CD is $6.95 with the purchase of any three Hallmark cards.

Hiroshima, Spirit of the Season (Heads Up): The veteran smooth jazz group, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, re-released its first-ever holiday album, “Spirit of the Season.” It was released independently two years ago, but is now offered for wider distribution by the Heads Up label. The band is led by Dan Kuramoto and June Kuramoto. Song titles include familiar songs such as “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” as well as new original holiday tunes including “Spirit Of The Season,” “Listen (To The Falling Snow)” and “Peace On Earth.” In addition, the album features a new arrangement of the band’s classic song “Thousand Cranes” originally released in 1989.

Christian Jazz Artists, Hymn Favorities (Songs of David): Don't let the title fool you. This delightful CD features several well-known session players, including Alex Acuna, David Diggs, Greg Vail and Ric Flauding. The arrangements are jazzified and alternately funky, smooth and very mellow. The track "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," featuring pianist Ray Lyon, sounds like a composition Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny would write. It's a great CD, available at www.songsofdavid.com. At that site, you can also stream music from Songs of David's Internet radio station.

Posted by Brian Soergel at December 19, 2004 11:49 PM