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The ‘Tribune’s’ annual best — and worst — holiday music
Holiday albums » The Tribune’s guide to the best — and worst — of end of the year releases is here.

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The Eastern Sea, "First Christmas"

Grade: B

At a glance

Are Christmas albums dead?

In an age of iTunes and Pandora and other on-demand web radio stations, have the industry of pop stars churning out Christmas albums fallen apart? Or are Salt Lake City music lovers still tied to to holiday music-listening habits of yore? Send thoughts to David Burger at dburger@sltrib.com, with the words “holiday music” in the email subject line.

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The Austin-based prog-pop six-piece Eastern Sea doesn’t take the expected route by adding hipster irony to traditional Christmas songs. But it does take chances with new arrangements by leader Matthew Hines, who created the band in his bedroom back in 2005 — and the chances pay off. While I would have preferred the band to have stayed away from done-to-death old standards (though there are two originals), these tunes have a whimsical pop spirit that elevates the material. Extra points for tackling "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)."

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, "Advent at Ephesus"

Grade: B

Now for something entirely different: an album about Advent, rather than Christmas. Leave it to the Catholics at this rural Missouri convent to remind the rest of us about the significance of the close of the liturgical year. The women’s choir’s music sounds pious and even divinely beautiful at times, though your tolerance for 16 voice-only songs can be tested. But I would never give a bad grade to a bunch of nuns, possibly because I never went to Catholic school (unlike my father, who tells me horror stories about some nuns and his knuckles).

Various Artists, FM100.3 and Deseret Book present "White Christmas"

Grade: B

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A dozen favorite Deseret Book artists offer their spin on popular carols and seasonal songs. The overall flavor is light, poppy and a tad sugary. Highlights include violinist Jenny Oaks Baker’s elegant take on "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring" and singer Alex Boyé’s tender performance of "What Child Is This?" Proceeds benefit The Road Home homeless shelter.

Colbie Caillat, "Christmas in the Sand"

Grade: B

Christmas originals are about as appreciated as year-old fruitcake, and while Caillat’s title track will never become part of the holiday canon, "Christmas in the Sand" blends nicely with classics such as "Winter Wonderland" — talk about your polar opposites — and an extra-tart "Santa Baby." Country crooners Brad Paisley and Justin Young are featured, but it’s erstwhile rocker Gavin DeGraw, as Callait’s counterpart on "Baby It’s Cold Outside," who shines.

Christina Perri,"A Very Merry Perri Christmas"

Grade: B

The 20-something Philadelphia singer-songwriter had her first (and so far only) breakout hit with "Jar of Hearts" in 2010 after it was showcased on the Fox reality show "So You Think You Can Dance." That’s what makes this well-curated six-song Christmas EP such a surprising find. Perri’s textured voice finds her own groove in covering Karen Carpenter’s classic "Merry Christmas Darling" and updates Lennon/Ono’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" after kicking things off with the sly charm of her own "Something About December." The virtue of this release is also its vice: It leaves you longing for more.

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