Rodney Carrington: Make It Christmas

RIYL: Frank Sinatra, Clay Aiken, Harry Connick, Jr.

Funny man Rodney Carrington has been making a living with his comedy for several years now, and music has been a focal point of his show. But Carrington, who has been a regular in the Nashville songwriting community, kept hearing from fans that he had such a nice voice, that he should at some point make a serious record, not just funny, to showcase that voice. Well, Carrington has done that with Make It Christmas, and in the vein of classic crooners like Frank Sinatra but with a modern twist, he’s done it extremely well. In fact, there is no way to tell whether or not Carrington is anything but a professional singer after listening. He even wrote one of the tracks, the swinging (and totally awesome) “The Presents Under the Tree (Better Be for Me).” There are also classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” woven in with songs that have a Nashville flavor and songwriter credits like “Mary Did You Know” and “Camouflage and Christmas Lights.” But regardless of who wrote what or what songs Carrington chose for this release, we’re going to steal a line from “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson: “Dude can really sing!” Easily the most pleasant surprise of this holiday season, and maybe the start of a nice second career for Carrington. (Capitol Nashville 2009)

Rodney Carrington MySpace Page


Straight No Chaser: Christmas Cheers

RIYL: Quirky, comedy infused classic holiday vocal music

There really isn’t another group like Straight No Chaser. All they do is holiday-themed music, and they do it their own way – that is, a cappella. With their new one, Christmas Cheers, the follow up to 2008’s Holiday Spirits, the group took even more risks than before. The soulful, R&B-infused vocal runs, techniques and harmonies are all there, and they effectively weave comedic bits into classic material without skipping a beat. That’s all well and good, but the novelty has worn off with just 12 months between releases, and some of these tracks tend to run into one another. The opening track, “The Christmas Can-Can,” is really funny with terms like “Shop until you lose your mind.” And some of the other really pretty classics include “Christmastime is Here” and “O Holy Night,” and there is a hilarious yet nicely done version of “You’re A Mean One, Mister Grinch.” But maybe the best track of all is the studio version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” a track the group released as a live take last year and which has become their trademark. So give Christmas Cheers a fair listen, but be warned – you may not make it past two or three listens before January. (Atlantic 2009)

Straight No Chaser MySpace Page


George Strait: Classic Christmas

George Strait has one of the purest, most recognizable voices in a genre not known for that type of clarity, and he’s one of those singers who likely doesn’t need much help (read: pitch correction) in the studio. If you’re a fan of Strait or of country music in general, you’re going to love this guy’s straight-ahead, twangy approach to classic Christmas fare, aptly titled Classic Christmas. For the rest of you, you may be left with the feeling that these takes are a bit vanilla and even a tad mundane. As holiday albums go, though, you sure could do a lot worse. After all, Mr. Strait is a living legend at this point, and his voice alone is reason to pick this one up. Standout tracks are “We Three Kings” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” (MCA Nashville)

George Strait MySpace Page


Straight No Chaser: Holiday Spirits

There is something about a ten-piece vocal group that just lends itself to holiday music. Straight No Chaser is such a group, and after forming over ten years ago at Indiana University, this group became YouTube darlings last year with their hilarious and compelling version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Atlantic Records chairman Craig Kallman was one of those who liked what he saw; the rest is history, as Holiday Spirits is the group’s debut on Atlantic. But these guys are no one-hit wonder, because this collection of traditional holiday songs and a few originals blend together beautifully, and are delivered with an amazing vocal flair that rivals the likes of Take 6. Some of the highlights are Donnie Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells,” and of course “The 12 Days of Christmas,” a live version that shows the group’s morphing into a medley of holiday songs, culminating in a clever use of the lyrics to “12 Days” to the tune of Toto’s “Africa.” But to have original songs rival the traditional stuff is not easy, and Straight No Chaser pulls it off with ease, particularly on the stunning “Indiana Christmas.” This one is a must-have this holiday season. (Atlantic 2008)

Straight No Chaser MySpace Page


Various Artists: The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs

Like a VH-1 dream lineup, The Hotel Café in Los Angeles is presenting Winter Songs, a collection of both original and classic holiday tunes by today’s hottest female artists. The Epic Records release is a benefit for the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, and it also benefits anyone who has the chance to hear it. Among some of the best original holiday songs in years are the unofficial title track, “Winter Song,” by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, and Colbie Caillat’s stunning “Mistletoe.” Some of the classics are predictable and a bit pedestrian, such as KT Tunstall’s take on “Sleigh Ride” or Priscialla Ahn’s wispy take on “Silent Night.” But Fiona Apple’s “Frosty The Snowman” and Katy Perry’s “White Christmas” are throwback versions to a bygone era, and show something you may not have known – that they both can sing very well. Taken as a whole, this is one of the more unique and semi-awesome holiday albums to be released in quite some time, and the cause should give you that much more of a reason to pick it up. (Epic)

Hotel Cafe website


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