Style: Carols, secular standards, modern folk, and one McLachlan original for solo female voice and magically simple settings.
Worldview: Despite the nonspecific album title, half of the songs refer to Jesus' birth, so that Christ and Christmas are at their roots inseparable.
Overall quality: A seamlessly elegant, reverent, and-especially with the medley of "The First Noel" and "Mary Mary"-creative blend of the traditional and the contemporary.
Style: Disc One: one carol, 15 secular standards, and "My Favorite Things" by mostly passed-on adult-contemporary stars; Disc Two: four carols and 15 secular standards by mostly still-with-us pop stars.
Worldview: That the many who bought the first two volumes of this series can be counted on to buy this one, and no doubt many subsequent ones, too.
Overall quality: Far too few definitive performances.
Style: Studio stand-up comedy.
Cautions: All 16 of the routines (abundant crudities, occasional cursing).
Worldview: "Folks say, 'Larry, what about the folks that don't believe in the Lord Jesus?' Well, then I say stay out of the Wal-Marts and Targets, and quit blocking traffic so's us Christian believers can get good deals!"
Overall quality: Refreshingly politically incorrect though he is, Larry the Cable Guy's white-trash act and Christmas don't mesh.
Style: Four originals, a child reciting Luke 2:7-14, and eight carols and secular standards rearranged for the light pop-rock that has endeared Chapman to CCM fans.
Worldview: As conveyed by the title cut and the liner notes, that adopting children may be a blessed way both to give and to receive.
Overall quality: Tasteful and reverent, but perhaps Chapman should've resisted providing several of the traditional songs with new melodies.
Style: Six sacred songs, "White Christmas," "When a Child Is Born," and "Over the Rainbow" sung by four photogenically youthful tenors.
Worldview: That the blunt American Idol judge Simon Cowell, who as the founder of Syco Music is the man behind this project, doesn't shrink from putting his money where his mouth is.
Overall quality: Rather bombastic; recalls Florence King's dictum that the Three Tenors were two tenors too many.
Because Christmas albums are a law unto themselves, even performers not generally known for their ability to stretch their strengths out to long-player length sometimes hit the holiday jackpot. So it is that Sarah McLachlan, whose voice, image, and music often tend to be too self-consciously sentimental, has with Wintersong (Arista) aesthetically trumped the Mannheim Steamroller, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, George Winston, and anyone else perennially, and often inexplicably, atop the best-selling Christmas music charts.
The contemporary trilogy of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Joni Mitchell's "River," and Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night" is the perfect balance for the traditional shopping-mall chestnuts (two) and carols (four), with the haunting "In the Bleak Midwinter," the multi-culturalist-appeasing "The First Noel/Mary Mary" medley, and McLachlan's own title song providing the necessary transitions. And, perhaps because McLachlan was once a "little red-haired girl" herself, her rendition of Vince Guraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas belongs as well.
- Arsenio Orteza