LOS ANGELES, Dec 16, (RTRS): Not everyone wants chestnuts for Christmas. If you’re looking for some holiday music that hasn’t already been said many times, many ways, we’ve surveyed 15 newly released holiday music collections, including superlative sets of all-original material from pop auteur Sia and rock underdogs the Minus 5, who land at the top of our “nice” list. The roundup also includes a riproaring Cheap Trick album worth surrendering to, a more traditional Gwen Stefani album we’ve got some doubts about, and fresh holiday efforts from Fantasia, Lindsey Stirling, Hanson, Smokey Robinson, and DJ/ curator Rodney Bingenheimer.
■ Sia: “Everyday is Christmas” (Atlantic) Other pop stars may phone their Christmas albums in, but Sia is the only one in recent memory to commit herself to the holiday with a fully selfpenned effort. She and musical partner Greg Kurstin (a current producer of the year Grammy nominee) have come up with a collection that’s in turn sumptuous and delightfully ridiculous, summoning the spirit of Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album without ever stooping to direct homage. Love songs don’t get any more temporal than her straight-faced mash notes to a melting “Snowman” (“Who’ll carry me without legs to run, honey?”) and “Snowfl ake” (“Catch you and keep you on ice, my love”). She’s completely serious, in any case, on the Motown-beat-driven “Puppies are Forever,” which is about conscientiousness in dog adoption: “They’re so cute and fl uffy with shiny coats/ But will you love ‘em when they’re old and slow?”
■ The Minus 5: “Dear December” (Yep Roc) They’re far from a household name, but the Minus 5 are well-known to R.E.M. fans, at least, as the collective led by occasional sideman (and Young Fresh Fellow) Scott McCaughey with assistance from guitarist Peter Buck. On this swell set of 11 holiday originals, Mike Mills also shows up — to sing a Hanukkah song! — along with guests including Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, M. Ward, the Posies, Chuck Prophet, and Decemberist Colin Meloy. The power pop-oriented bashers and ballads will delight anyone who ever dug Nick Lowe’s or Chris Stamey’s Christmas albums. Punny highlight: “Yule Tide Me Over,” a twangy anthem for lonely singles looking for a quick holiday pickup.
■ Cheap Trick: “Christmas Christmas” (Big Machine) The originals are fewer here, but that doesn’t much matter when Robin Zander is effectively screamsinging his way through some of the most celebrated holiday rockers of all time, as originated by everyone from the Ramones to Nilsson. In place of the children’s chorus on Wizzard’s classic “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” you get a Rick Nielsen guitar solo, which is not a bad tradeoff. Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” actually improves in this modern translation. “Father Christmas” comes off sluggish compared to the Kinks’ original, but that’s an exception. In covering “Saturday Night Live’s” “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” Cheap Trick turn the stuff of sketch comedy into a roaring supersonic jet.
■ Gwen Stefani: “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” (Interscope) Twenty years ago, No Doubt did a terrific cover of the Vandals’ “Oi to the World.” If you’re looking for anything remotely that fun in Stefani’s own Christmas album, it’s less “oi” and more like “oy.” Rather than adopt the six standards that make up half of this collection to her own style, she opts for generic big-band arrangements. Stefani’s six originals are more personal, but not always to their benefit: “Never Kissed Anyone with Blue Eyes Before You” is slightly interesting as a minor celebrity revelation, but it’s not much of a Christmas song. Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Blake Shelton, duets on a song they co-wrote, “You Make It Feel Like Christmas,” which mostly makes a good argument for keeping their careers separate.
■ Fantasia: “Christmas After Midnight” (Concord) For “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Fantasia brings in Cee-Lo Green, who might not have been everyone’s first pick of duet partner for this particular song after his troubles a few years back. That choice aside, Fantasia has made a smart call to go with brassy but far from overbearing horn arrangements in this jazz-skirting pop/R&B collection. Bonus points for reviving Leiber & Stoller’s (and Ray Charles’) bluesy “The Snow is Falling.” Points docked for considering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a Christmas song.
■ Lindsey Stirling: “Warmer in the Winter” (Concord) Hope you like violin. Really, really, really like violin. Maybe that goes without saying for any Stirling album, since fiddling around with classical/New Age/EDM crossover is the stock-in-trade that made the young Utah violinist into an unlikely star. But somehow the monotony of a single lead instrument gets older faster in a seasonal set. At least she finds an interesting instrumental partner in “Warmer for the Winter,” where Trombone Shorty shows up for a rare bowing-’n’-blowing duel.
■ Smokey Robinson: “Christmas Everyday” (Amazon Originals) Looking at the cover art, you might mistake this for a vintage album or repackaging. The good news is, it’s easy to mistake the contents for something minted in the ‘60s, too. The presence of the Dap Kings as guests on one track is a good sign that the 77-year-old Robinson is going for something vaguely retro on his first full Christmas album since 1963’s “Christmas with the Miracles.” Producer Adam Anders, the former executive music producer for “Glee,” has come up with an approach that will satisfy vintage Motown fans without getting too selfconsciously throwbacky. You might even say it’s a Christmas Miracle.
■ Tom Chaplin: “Twelve Tales of Christmas” (Interscope) If you’re in England, this holiday set from the former frontman of the band Keane is a very big deal. If you’re in the States, you’ve probably already skipped over this entry. Chaplin’s second solo album is by far the most somber holiday set you’ll hear on any side of the Atlantic this year; sometimes that quest for beauty serves him well, and sometimes you wish someone would load up his stocking with uppers. The sleepers include “Walking in the Air,” based on a favorite song from “The Snowman,” a perennial British holiday special, which would be akin to someone in America making “Holly Jolly Christmas” into a sad pop smash in 2017.