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Review: Holiday albums from CeeLo and others

Associated Press Published: November 20, 2012
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Here are The Associated Press' reviews of selected holiday albums:

"CeeLo's Magic Moment" (Atlantic Records)

CeeLo Green is certainly having a pop culture moment, but he can't sustain the magic throughout this uneven album of 14 Christmas cover songs. The opening track, "What Christmas Means To Me," kicks things off with a flourish of horns and keyboards, but by the time Kermit the Frog appears for "All I Need Is Love" and Straight No Chaser joins him for "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," you'll be hitting the skip button.

In between there's a decent duet with fellow "The Voice" judge Christina Aguilera on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and a rather bland rendition of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."

It's when the beat slows and the instruments are mostly stripped away that CeeLo shines. His voice soars over piano and strings on "Mary, Did You Know?" and he does Joni Mitchell proud on "River."

All in all, a decent disc for the background music at a holiday party. Just keep the remote handy.

— Rob Merrill, Associated Press

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Lady Antebellum, "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol Nashville)

Lady Antebellum gave us a Christmas tease two years ago with "A Merry Little Christmas," an EP that had only a handful of tracks. On their first full-length holiday album, "On This Winter's Night," they show there's more where that came from, offering plenty of holiday cheer with their trademark gorgeous harmonies, interwoven with beautiful renditions of holiday staples.

The trio puts their unique stamp on songs like "All I Want For Christmas Is You," turning Mariah Carey's upbeat classic into a lovely, soulful slow groove; do Donny Hathaway proud on "This Christmas"; and give an emotional, stirring version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." There's not a rendition on the album that disappoints. Lady Antebellum also offers an original song with the album's title track: their voices meld together beautifully on this tune about the true meaning of Christmas.

"On This Winter's Night" is full of Christmas classics — and deserves to become one in its own right.

— Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Music Writer

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Various Artists, "NOW That's What I Call Today's Christmas" (EMI/Capitol Records)

Let's keep it real — listening to a Christmas album from one single artist can be tiring. Sure, sometimes it's magical. But most of the time it isn't.

That's why "NOW That's What I Call Today's Christmas" is so appealing. True, some songs borrow from singers' full-length Christmas albums, like Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe," Mariah Carey's "Oh Santa!" and Christina Aguilera's decade-old jam "Christmas Time." But this album has new tunes, too, and overall, the 18-track set is an adventure.

Carly Rae Jepson is super cute on "Mittens," Coldplay shines on "Christmas Lights" and the talented Sara Bareilles is top-notch on "Love Is Christmas."

What's even better is OneRepublic on the warm "Christmas Without You" and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals on "Please Come Home for Christmas," the soulful 1960s number by Charles Brown. Potter's got grit, soul and much more.

Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles is also impressive on "Silent Night," where she sings in Spanish. And then there's Carrie Underwood on "The First Noel." Need I say more?

— Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music Writer

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Blake Shelton, "Cheers, It's Christmas" (Warner Bros.)

There's nothing wrong with Blake Shelton's new Christmas album, "Cheers, It's Christmas."

It's full of mellow, tasteful renditions of holiday classics and packed with featured performers. His wife Miranda Lambert appears on "Jingle Bell Rock" and her trio Pistol Annies lends a hand on "Blue Christmas." Reba McEntire shows up on "Oklahoma Christmas" and his former "The Voice" cohort Xenia makes two appearances. Even pop stars Kelly Clarkson Michael Buble make contributions.

The earnestness reaches a peak with an appearance by Shelton's mother, Dorothy Shackleford, on "Time For Me To Come Home."

In fact, "Cheers, It's Christmas" has just about everything you could want — except a laugh.

Shelton, the recent Country Music Association's entertainer of the year award, is one of the funniest men in show business. You see a glimpse of it during his weekly appearances on "The Voice." And you get the full, occasionally raunchy blast if you follow him on Twitter.

With a title like this, you'd expect a few lighter moments on the album. Perhaps "The 12 (Drunken) Days of Christmas" or a naughty noel or two.

Yet it's a completely sober experience.

Oh, well, maybe next time.

— Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer

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"Holidays Rule," various artists (Hear Music)

The perfect soundtrack for your hipster holiday party, "Holidays Rule" features classic Christmas tunes interpreted by indie rockers such as the Shins, Rufus Wainwright, the Civil Wars and fun.

Paul McCartney offers a warm, jazzy take on "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," while the Shins' "Wonderful Christmastime" harkens to the Beach Boys' sunny sound. Wainwright, with Sharon Van Etten, turns in a sultry version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that makes listeners want to cuddle by the fireplace.

The party will be kicking when guests hear "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man With the Bag," an upbeat, horn-and-harmonica-tinged tune by Black Prairie featuring Sallie Ford. Other highlights include "Senor Santa" by Y La Bamba, which sets holiday sentiments to the tune of "Mr. Sandman," and Andrew Bird's happy, fiddle-enhanced version of "Auld Lang Syne."

— Sandy Cohen, AP Entertainment Writer

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Rod Stewart "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Verve)

There's not a dentist office in America that won't be piping this album into its waiting room this holiday season. And that's not a good thing, considering it comes from the man who gave us "Stay With Me," ''Hot Legs" and "Young Hearts."

Rod Stewart's first Christmas album is so safe, so tame and so unimaginative that it sounds like 100 other Christmas albums before it. There's literally not one truly memorable (or even halfway engaging) arrangement on this disc, despite a roster of all-star talent that lends a hand.

Drenched in strings, leaning on jazz-combo stylings or tranquil acoustic guitars, this album starts off with the sleep-inducing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and goes nowhere from there. Not even Mary J. Blige can save this rendition of "We Three Kings," and Michael Buble's duet with Stewart on "Winter Wonderland" doesn't exactly break new ground, either.

The one modestly interesting track here is the title track, with an early '70s Jackson 5-style groove, with an assist from CeeLo Green and Trombone Shorty. Technology and recording studio magic enables Stewart to do a "virtual duet" with Ella Fitzgerald on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

A humble suggestion: take the $15 or so that you would have spent to buy this disc, and donate it instead to a charity helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy. THAT will give you the holiday feeling this disc is utterly incapable of creating.

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