Already listening to Christmas music: Quick reviews of new albums by Josh Turner, Darren Criss and Kristin Chenoweth

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It’s a question as old as time, or at least the festive season, anyway – when should you begin listening to Christmas music?

There are some, of course, who will quite seriously question why you stopped at all, wholly convinced, and honestly after the hellscape of the last two years who can blame them, that Christmas music makes everything better, no matter the month of the year.

While this is quite likely true – it certainly makes Christmas in July feel like a whole lot merrier than the middle of the year has any right to be in the Southern Hemisphere – there are many others who like the idea of keeping festive special and happily keep to just a couple of months leading to the big day.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, and here we acknowledge that people working in retail are a category unto themselves, often listening to this music from early September onwards, at least here in Australia, Christmas tunes do make things feel more merry, happy and bright, an aural tinsel that gives reality a welcome joyous sheen.

Like the increasingly massive scale of Christmas movie production, more and more artists are releasing Christmas albums, among them Josh Turner, Darren Criss and Kristin Chenoweth, all of whom have found a way to make this most wonderful time of the year, very much their own.

“King Size Manger” by Josh Turner

(image courtesy Spotify)

An American Gospel singer with a decidedly country and western sound, Josh Turner is a committed Christian who, it won’t surprise you to learn, is very much all about making Jesus the reason for the season. Hence, the song selection for King Size Manger – no surprise Who inspired the title of the album there – is very much in the religious vein, kicking off with a rousing rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High” which manages to sound both vibrantly traditional and refeshingly original. He follows this reasonably standard song pick with a personal faith story on “What he’s Given Me” and then title track which also references some prophetic musings on the person of Jesus. Then it’s back to a traditional carol, “Joy to the World” which gets its country on bigtime, which is fun but doesn’t quite pack the punch of more orthodox takes on the song. Still, points to Turner for putting his own stamp on a classic, which he also does with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which manages to infuses the track with the melancholy of its first outing in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis where Judy Garland is mourning a looming Christmas away from her beloved hometown. More classics following including “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Mele Kalikimaka My ‘Ohana”, the unexpected fun of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” 9which really benefits from Turner warm and emotive vocals) and naturally “Silent Night” which is a beautifully laidback, reverential end to an album that has a whole of welcome festive energy working in its favour.

“A Very Darren Crissmas” by Darren Criss

(image courtesy DarrenCriss.com)

Sporting the kind of titular and cover playfulness that made Meghan Trainor’s 2020 A Very trainor Christmas, Darren Criss’s ode to the festive season comes with the type of big band fun that you would expect of a singer steeply versed in musicla theatre, beginning as it means to go on with rollicking feel-good opener “Happy Holidays / The Holiday season” which will put you in an effervescently festive mood in three and a half bouyantly gloriously upbeat, vividly harmonious minutes. Now, you’re in a good mood, nay a great one, it’s time to listen to the whimsical delights “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” before heading straight into the driving jazz pleasures of “[Everybody’s Waitin’ For] The Man With The Bag”, with its promise of a memorable December. Things dial considerably after that with “St. Patrick’s Day” which may sound like an oddly-titled song for a Christmas album until you realise that he’s talking to his beloved and assuring her that Christmas will be so special together that “we’ll be both ’til St. Patrick’s Day”. Once you finished sighing at the impossible romance of it all, Criss speeds things up with a propulsive take on Joni Mitchell’s more usually contemplative song “River”, the last jaunty number before a strong of emotionally ruminative tracks that brim with heartfelt sentiment, which apart from the mischievous fun of “Drunk on Christmas” (featuring a duet with Lainey Wilson), continues on to perfectly fitting album closer “New Year”.

“Happiness is … Christmas” by Kristin Chenoweth

(cover image courtesy Spotify)

“Happiness is … Christmas” is not the American actress and singer’s first festive rodeo with her first Christmas album, A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas, making its energisingly happy presence felt in 2008 with classics like “I’ll Be Home By Christmas”, “Silver Bells” and “What Child is This?” and some playful selections such as “Christmas Island”. Her new album is clearly cut from the same cloth but not in any kind of derivative way; clearly Chenoweth is someone who loves Christmas as absolutely as she declares in opening track “Kristin Chenoweth – Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day …” which contains the fervent wish that the season would last all year long, and that’s evident in every single song. Delivering a sound that is both reassuringly traditional and yet refreshingly Chenoweth’s own, songs like “Happiness Is / Christmas Time” and “Merry Christmas, Darling” are love letters to a time of year which conjures up some sweet and contemplative memories and feelings for the singer. As you’d expect from someone with a sterling reputation for musical theatre vivacity, Chenoweth infuses songs like “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag/Jingle Bell Rock”, “Merry Christmas, Baby” “Santa I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With You” with a playfulness that suits the warmth and fun of the season. Conversely, she is also to bring substantial emotional gravitas to tracks like “The Stories You Told” and “The Little Road to Bethlehem” which overall makes “Happiness is … Christmas” a beguilingly festive blend of the whimsical and the meaningful which is sure to stand the test of time.

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