This will be a Christmas like no other . . . but pop’s finest are still decking the halls with festive fare.
From Nashville divas to Manhattan punks, the Mail’s music critic sorts the crackers from the turkeys.
DOLLY PARTON: A Holly Dolly Christmas (Butterfly)
With two Christmas albums to her name already (in 1984 and 1990), Dolly Parton was never going to let a pandemic disrupt her rhinestone-clad plans.
Not only did she help to fund Moderna’s 95 per cent-effective coronavirus vaccine, she has also donned her Santa hat and assembled a socially-distanced band to deliver the most sparkling seasonal offering since Kylie popped down the chimney five years ago with Kylie Christmas.
A Holly Dolly Christmas ticks all the gift boxes. Holly Jolly Christmas opens the album with lap steel guitar and a ‘ding-dong-ding’ and there’s a duet with Michael Bublé, whose own Yuletide album remains a modern benchmark.
With two Christmas albums to her name already (in 1984 and 1990), Dolly Parton (pictured) was never going to let a pandemic disrupt her rhinestone-clad plans
She also collaborates with Willie Nelson for a tender take on the latter’s tear-jerker Pretty Paper, and sings a novelty All I Want For Christmas Is You with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. Dolly reiterates her writing skill with six originals.
She duets with her goddaughter Miley Cyrus on Christmas Is, and teams up with Miley’s dad Billy Ray on country-rocker Christmas Where We Are.
It’s as wholesome as mom’s figgy pudding, and frankly isn’t that what we all want right now?
JAMIE CULLUM: The Pianoman At Christmas (Island)
The artist most likely to ‘do a Bublé’ this winter is Cullum, whose playful album shares the Canadian’s love of sophisticated swing adorned with strings, brass, percussion — and sleigh bells.
He explored pop on 2019’s Taller, but is back on familiar ground with 11 jazzy originals put together with a big band and Greatest Showman producer Greg Wells.
Cullum sings affectionately of ‘old melodies that just live on the breeze’ on Beautiful, Altogether, and puts a timely twist on the theme of Billy Joel’s Piano Man on the title track, singing of a hotel entertainer playing Nat King Cole songs for December drinkers.
The artist most likely to ‘do a Bublé’ this winter is Jamie Cullum (pictured), whose playful album shares the Canadian’s love of sophisticated swing adorned with strings, brass, percussion — and sleigh bells
He’s also hosting a virtual music lesson next Wednesday to teach people how to play In The Bleak Midwinter on piano (thepiano manatchristmas.com).
CARRIE UNDERWOOD: My Gift (Capitol Nashville)
Cullum’s producer Greg Wells is at the helm again on a restrained effort from Carrie Underwood.
The singer won American Idol in 2005 and she puts her powerful country-soul voice to poignant use on songs that avoid sleigh bells and brass fanfares.
O Come All Ye Faithful is enhanced by finger-picked guitar and strings conducted by Beck’s dad, David Campbell, and a velvety O Holy Night nods to Celine Dion’s version of the same carol.
There’s even room for Carrie’s five-year-old son Isaiah on a sweet Little Drummer Boy.
Of the originals, Let There Be Peace is a funky gospel tune and Hallelujah a duet with John Legend recorded via Zoom.
GOO GOO DOLLS: It’s Christmas All Over (Warner)
Famous for their power-ballad Iris, ageless New York punks the Goo Goo Dolls are unexpected Christmas cheerleaders, but they pull some surprises out of the stocking on It’s Christmas All Over.
They were asked to write one song for a compilation and were so happy with the outcome they spent lockdown crafting this brisk, 33-minute album.
The title track is a Tom Petty song. Other covers include a rasping version of trumpeter Louis Prima’s Shake Hands With Santa Claus and the novelty hit Christmas Don’t Be Late, originally by Alvin And The Chipmunks.
More from Adrian Thrills for the Daily Mail…
Best of the originals is You Ain’t Getting Nothin’, a tongue-in-cheek tale of a child who is naughty rather than nice.
It’s a decent enough effort, though they could have cranked up the guitars.
MEGHAN TRAINOR: A Very Trainor Christmas (Epic)
A breath of fresh air on The Voice UK, the American has delivered 2020’s biggest turkey.
She bites into a candy cane on the sleeve, but her limp version of George Michael’s Last Christmas leaves a sour taste.
The tepid R&B of I Believe In Santa is slathered in festive cheese, and a cover of teen pop standard My Only Wish (This Year) lacks the zip of the Britney Spears original.
But I’ll Be Home is a ballad full of fireside warmth and Holidays, a brassy collaboration with Earth, Wind & Fire, is more boogie wonderland than winter wonderland.
CHILLY GONZALES: A Very Chilly Christmas (Gentle Threat)
The Canadian pianist honed his love of winter songs by leading family singalongs. He falls back on his classical training here, adding nuance to carols and pop standards by playing them as minor key instrumentals.
‘The existing canon often sounds like a forced smile,’ he says. But the results are reflective rather than gloomy, brightened by striking vocal cameos.
Feist appears on The Banister Bough and Jarvis Cocker shines on a softly sung Snow Is Falling In Manhattan, originally by New York band Purple Mountains, and a superb In The Bleak Midwinter.
How Macca rocked out
Made spontaneously in ‘rockdown’, Paul McCartney’s third all-solo album reiterates his often-overlooked experimental streak and his enduring knack of coming up with memorable tunes.
If its two predecessors — out in 1970 and 1980 — had their moments in Maybe I’m Amazed and Coming Up, song-powered sequel McCartney III, out two weeks today, features at least three tracks with the potential to become standards.
Find My Way is a Wings-like rocker that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Band On The Run. Seize The Day is more complex but contains a killer chorus.
Made spontaneously in ‘rockdown’, Paul McCartney’s (pictured) third all-solo album reiterates his often-overlooked experimental streak and his enduring knack of coming up with memorable tunes
And the bucolic Winter Bird — When Winter Comes finds McCartney in Mull Of Kintyre mode as he contemplates rural life.
Elsewhere, there’s the baroque piano number Women And Wives, the whimsical blues of The Kiss Of Venus, and the intriguing Pretty Boys — all Dear Prudence-like guitars and (possibly) Beatles-referencing lyrics about a bunch of lads who are ‘gonna set your world on fire’.
The album takes a different turn on Deep Deep Feeling, a centrepiece that begins as a soulful, late-night ballad and unfurls, over eight shape-shifting minutes, into a jazzy fever-dream.
Isolation has encouraged Macca to take risks — and captured a master at the top of his game. A.T.