Albums: Christmas music from Nat King Cole & Friends, Darren Criss, Norah Jones and Gary Barlow
NAT KING COLE AND FRIENDS – A SENTIMENTAL CHRISTMAS
THE remastered vocals of the late Nat King Cole have been weaved into a holiday album with new arrangements featuring duets from Johnny Mathis, Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Kristin Chenoweth, and Calum Scott.
Despite having an archetypal Christmas voice, the legendary jazz singer only recorded one full-length Christmas album, The Magic Of Christmas, during his life, and this new album is an attempt to reverse that.
The beautiful lead single The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) with Grammy Award winner John Legend marks the 75th anniversary of the holiday classic, while the album opens with a medley of Deck The Halls and Joy To The World featuring Mathis, who complements Cole's original recording. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square duet with Estefan is splendid and the emotionally charged O Holy Night featuring Scott is a powerful song full of drama.
Reworking classic Cole with celebrated artists has resulted in a compulsory contemporary classic.
DARREN CRISS – A VERY DARREN CRISSMAS
BEST known for his roles in Glee and American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace, Darren Criss also has a sideline in music.
These 12 songs are thoughtfully chosen, from classic cuts such as Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas featuring Lizzy McAlpine to a jaunty rendition of the novelty song I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.
Adam Lambert of Queen proves himself the perfect partner on a jaunty duet version of the 1950s standard (Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man with the Bag.
Criss positions old music amid new in a way that transforms both. His cover of Joni Mitchell's River remodels it as a rollicking sleigh ride reminiscent of both Phil Spector and Michael Buble, while St Patrick's Day by John Mayer is similarly re-purposed, with Criss drawing out its festive elements.
A thoughtful, inventive and fun addition to the Christmas roster.
NORAH JONES – I DREAM OF CHRISTMAS
NORAH Jones is the perfect artist to soundtrack that time when the presents have been opened, the turkey eaten and the seasonal digestif supped.
The warm intimacy of her voice has long made her the go-to accompaniment to civilised dinner parties. Now, in I Dream Of Christmas, she has an album to soundtrack perhaps the most important dinner of the year.
It's Only Christmas Once A Year is an understated pandemic anthem the sees Jones recalling "all the friends" she was unable to see last year and longing for her love to return at Christmas time.
The rest of the 13 songs follow in similarly hazy, almost weightless fashion, buoyed by a potent combination of Jones' husky voice, jazz licks and bluesy piano.
Christmas Calling (Jolly Jones) is a Motown-y ode to the big day, while the soulful You're Not Alone looks to gospel for inspiration with charming, uplifting results.
This is perfect music for the sherry-induced post-Christmas slump.
GARY BARLOW – THE DREAM OF CHRISTMAS
WITH Christmas taking place under the shadow of uncertainty again, the arrival of a festive album from Gary Barlow offers a welcome dose of comfort.
The Take That crooner's name is synonymous with uncomplicated pop and on his first Christmas outing he delivers on all the necessary fronts.
The Dream of Christmas contains a selection of original tracks interspersed with festive standards and a few curveballs.
Ignore his duet with the normally top-notch Sheridan Smith, How Christmas Is Supposed To Be. It's a turkey.
Instead click play on The Colder It Feels with talented young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason or A Child's Christmas in Wales, which turns prose by poet Dylan Thomas into a solid duet with Aled Jones.
Barlow's originals, for the most part, nail the Christmas formula, and his covers of festive classics always add something new.
Mostly though, it's Barlow's charm and nicely matured boyband vocals that seal the deal here.