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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 Average

Gary U.S. Bonds, "Christmas Is On!"

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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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Grade: B-

The 73-year-old R&B rocker’s first Christmas album shows you exactly where Bruce Springsteen got his inspiration for his rollicking Jersey Shore bar-band style. (Bonds’ "Quarter to Three" was a favorite Springsteen cover in the early years.) While Bonds’ voice sounds a little tired, the energy on this rock ’n’ roll album is front and center, and the record is at its best when Bonds and his tight band trot out originals (written by collaborator Paul Zuno) rather than the traditionals.

Kenny Vance & The Planotones, "Mr. Santa"

Grade: B-

Kenny Vance’s musical tastes haven’t evolved much from the 1960s, when, as an original member of Jay and the Americans, he opened for the Beatles and Rolling Stones on their first U.S. tours, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. In addition to three original holiday songs, Vance brings an air of nostalgia to the proceedings with recordings that sound straight out of the doo-wop era. But any album that has not just one but two songs about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer automatically gets grade demotions.

Lady Antebellum, "On This Winter’s Night"


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Grade: C+

With only one original song (the title track), the album from the country trio features 11 of the most overplayed holiday songs in Christian history, such as "Silver Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the execrable "A Holly Jolly Christmas." The saving grace is that lead singers Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are, bar none, the best coed singing duo in the Christian world, regardless of genre. But as you listen to the album, one questions arises: Why, oh, why would anyone turn "Blue Christmas" into a holly, jolly up-tempo dance track?

Elvis Presley, "The Classic Christmas Album"

Grade: C+

This compilation from recordings from 1971, 1966 and 1957 (plus a remasters duets album) is mainly for Elvis fanatics. Though many of the songs seem dated, there are a few gems including "The First Noel" and "Silent Night." The more rock-sounding tunes don’t work quite as well.

Francesca Battistelli, "Christmas"

Grade: C+

The fourth album by Christian singer Francesca Battistelli is an overproduced pop confection, a mix of forgettable new songs and some Christmas classics (like her faux-jazz renditions of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song"). Battistelli’s lucid voice shines when she lets the songs speak for themselves, as on a country-ish "Joy to the World" that truly sounds joyful.

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