Holiday

Wonderland (CD)

Is Christmas Sarah McLachlan’s new Lilith Fair? With the release of her second studio Christmas album (actually, third if you count 2015’s The Classic Christmas Album, which is actually a repackaging of her first holiday outing, 2006’s Wintersong, plus five additional songs), Wonderland cements the holly, jolly holiday as McLachlan’s new cause. Unlike the daring assortment found on Wintersong that mixes and matches songs like "Silent Night" with Lennon & Ono’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Wonderland is a collection of ten well-known classics and standards, plus one Canadian hymn ("Huron Carol," likely unfamiliar to most Americans but certainly in the spirit). The production is slick and full, and McLachlan fills these old chestnuts with her trademark register breaks as her emotive voice slides from low to high, which will thrill fans of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing.

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Acoustic Christmas (CD)

Though Neil Diamond's established 1992 classic, The Christmas Album, explored seasonal standards with his smoky voice and very early-'90s production, his second Christmas album scales things back further for a raw, intimate holiday mood. Produced by Don Was and Jacknife Lee, Acoustic Christmas is the antithesis of Diamond's large, bombastic standards and instead goes for small ensembles and a mellower atmosphere. Singing along to Christmas classics like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night," the sparse, simple production highlights Diamond's voice and all the shades of his deep timbre. If you ignore the Christmas elements, the album feels like Neil Diamond crooning along to a few acoustic guitars, allowing him to stretch and explore the depths of his sound, just like a classic folk album. A perfect example is "Do You Hear What I Hear?." The soft sizzle of a snare is barely present, the stand-up bass adds a little color, and the guitar has baroque overtones. But as soon as the gravel of Diamond's voice pops on, it's hard not to be drawn in and moved by its power. And the anti-war Christmas ballad feels more prescient in these increasingly dark times. "O Holy Night," a song instantly synonymous with the classic, gospel Christmas ballads of the past, feels bold and exciting as Diamond gives a powerhouse performance alongside a discreet guitar and piano, creating beautiful textures and sounds that paint a peaceful Christmas portrait in your head. The delicate arrangements just show the agelessness and showmanship of one of the all time greats. In contrast to all the over-produced Christmas songs that clog the airwaves, Acoustic Christmas is a warm cup of tea that gets the spirit right.

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