Monday, December 23, 2013

The MileHighGayGuy Guide to 2013's Best Christmas and Holiday Music: Erasure, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige & Tamar Braxton

By John Hill

Have you had a hectic December? Did it just dawn on you that Christmas is mere days away? If that’s the case, we’re here to help you get in the Christmas spirit with four Christmas albums that you may have missed while being busy doing whatever else was more important. Hopefully something here will help your heart grow three sizes like the Grinch.

Erasure, Snow Globe – Part 80s New Wave Pop, part traditional Christmas music (in Latin, no less!), and 100% gay…who would expect any less from Erasure! In all seriousness, this album is brilliant. Leave it to Vince Clarke and Andy Bell to take a 16th Century hymn like “Gaudete” and turn it into a thumping Christmas jam that you’ll want to listen to on repeat. While there are traditional carols like “White Christmas” that receive the full Vince Clarke treatment like “White Christmas,” the originals are the true stars here. “Make It Wonderful” is easily one of the best Erasure songs of the past 10 years, and "There'll Be No Tomorrow” bring back memories of old-school Depeche Mode while still sounding current. If you are looking to make the Yuletide gay, Snow Globe is the way to go.

Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped In Red – Speaking of originals, Kelly Clarkson got in the holiday spirit and decided to release her own Christmas album with original songs as well. “Underneath the Tree” has been hailed as the best new Christmas song since “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but if you want something a bit left of center, check out “4

Carats,” a modern take on “Santa Baby” co-written with pop legend Cathy Dennis. “Wrapped in Red” has that old school vibe as well, and “Every Christmas” goes for the torchy vibe as Kelly is “waiting, praying” for her man to come home. If you like your Christmas songs on the traditional side, Clarkson’s got that covered as well, including a diva-tactic version of “Silent Night” recorded with country royalty Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood. There is something amazing about the harmonies on this track, which has quickly become my favorite version of the traditional carol. The mix of classics with new compositions should help keep you from getting bored while still feeling the Christmas spirit.

Mary J Blige, A Mary Christmas – Of COURSE Mary J. Blige would release a Christmas album that uses her name in the title. That’s a no-brainer. What is surprising is the song selection, which changes up things a bit from Mary’s typical R&B style. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” works on the same level as a Michael Buble recording with the big band arrangement, “Noche de Pas (Silent Night)” is a sweet bi-lingual duet with Marc Anthony, and “Little Drummer Boy” busts out the choir to open but settles into a more contemporary arrangement. If there’s one song that doesn’t quite work, it would probably be “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which features Barbara Streisand in a duet that doesn’t wow the way you would expect this pairing to do. All is forgiven by the time “Mary, Did You Know” pops up, imbuing this modern classic originally recorded by Michael English with an original take that evokes No More Drama-era Mary. While you would expect an album filled with R&B standards, this eclectic mix works just as well, showing a versatility that Blige’s fans have known was there for years.

Tamar Braxton, Winter Loversland – She did that! Toni’s little sister not only came into her own in 2013, she decided to double the return on her visibility by releasing a Christmas album only two months after her comeback disc Love and War. As with Blige’s A Mary Christmas, if you are expecting a strictly R&B Christmas party, you might be a bit disappointed. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” takes on a loungy vibe that suits Braxton’s voice well and the stripped-down medley of “Away in a Manger/Little Drummer Boy” show off a more restrained Tamar than the over-the-top personality would lead you to believe. Still, Tamar does a great job of making a few standards her own, including “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” which she sings with sister Trina, and “Sleigh Ride.” However, the most satisfying track on this record is the original “She Can Have You,” which Braxton has described as a personal song about being alone at Christmastime but choosing to be alone rather than with Mr. Wrong. Tamar covers all aspects of love at Christmas on Winter Loversland, and it works all the way around.

While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.