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Recently in Soul/R&B Category

This is from last year's It's a Holiday Soul Party album, but they just made this video for it this year. I'm posting it because the late Sharon Jones is a talent who should never be forgotten.

 
Old-school soul star Bunny had a Christmas album out in 2012, and at the time it struck us here as being just a bit too much adult contemporary/easy listening for visitors to the site. But for 2016, they plucked Bunny's version of Der Bingle's song from the album, remixed it, juiced up the arrangement and cut nearly two minutes off the run time, and I like it a lot better now. Grab it from Amazon and iTunes, or just check it out below.

12 Nights of Christmas, R. Kelly (RCA)

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12Nights.jpgGiven this artist's notoriety, the quick take is that a Christmas album from him is roughly equivalent in appropriateness to a reality TV star becoming president. But even though R. Kelly hasn't managed to stay out of the gossip columns, if you had this 2016 holiday collection played to you without any advance fanfare, you'd peg it for what it is -- a strong 21st century era R'nB inflected holiday album, all mid-tempos and slow jams and mostly original tunes. Completists will be annoyed that his Christmas song from "The Best Man Holiday" soundtrack, "Christmas I'll Be Steppin," is missing from this collection, but this is the download/streaming era, so create your own playlist however you see fit. I like "Christmas Lovin'," "Snowman," "Home For Christmas" and "Flyin' On My Sleigh," the latter of which takes us all the way back to 70s soul.

The reclusive solo star and ex-Fugee dropped an admittedly unfinished cover of Nat King Cole on Soundcloud this week, so have at it, folks.


"Never Felt Like Christmas," Lizzo (YouTube)

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Never heard of this young lady before, but she's got some music up on Soundcloud similar to this pop-R'nB number, and this one's a hopping little holiday love song, as you can tell by clicking play. So far, it's only on YouTube, and ESPN has a basketball-themed version of it cued up to play during holiday games, according to Paste magazine. I'll update if independent audio turns up.

Notebook scribbles

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  • Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit got into the holiday spirit with this video of "Have Yourself a Merry Lil Christmas," which you can check out here.
  • I guess I'm the last to point out that not only did Bruce Springsteen perform "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" on "Saturday Night Live," but Paul McCartney crashed the stage to sing along.
  • Just stumbled across Seal doing "This Christmas," released in 2015. Nothing really remarkable given the thousands of covers, but if you dig Seal, you'll want this.
  • And finally, this year's Mistletunes mix disc has been added to the sidebar. 
santafunk3.jpgAs much as I'm a sucker for old-school soul records, you'd think I would have known about this series of albums based on flea-market rescues of seriously obscure soul Christmas records before this. So I'm indebted to friend of the site Sean Delany, who broke his skein of painstakingly compiled and art-directed holiday mix discs in 2015 because he was busy curating this third collection in the series for Tramp Records. Sean's detailed liner notes indicate that at least some of these records were vanity releases, on a level with all those indie punk rock singles that never got beyond 1,000 copies and were probably only heard regionally in their day. Cleveland Robinson's "Xmas Time Is Here Again," for example, was released on Nosnibor Records, and you don't need to be a fan of word games to work out how the label got its name. Despite the low-budget origins of these songs and the herculean effort to make decent quality reproductions of these ancient vinyl artifacts, there's enthusiasm and spirit in all these recordings. My favorites are "Dear Santa" by Syng McGowan & the Fanettes, "Sock It To 'Em Santa" by Joe Shinall, "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Sam Sweetsinger Bell, the smoking instrumental "Santa Soul" by Rocki Lane and The Gross Group, the synth-bass-led funk workouts "Black (Soul) Christmas" by Timi Terrific & the Redheads and "Disco Claus" by The Bionic I, and the almost garage-soul "Santa's New Bag" by Rudi and the Rain Dearz. Definitely the best historical collection I've encountered this year, even if the Grammy Award voters haven't seen fit to nominate it.

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You all know Toni Braxton, the hit R'nB singer, and some of you probably know she didn't become big until she went solo from her family-based vocal group. A few years back, Toni and the family reunited not for music but for the reality show "Braxton Family Values." And now you know where the album title comes from. There's no lack of talent on display, as the a capella version of "O Holy Night" should spell out for you. It's a short album, just eight songs (two versions of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" pump it up to nine), and there aren't really any surprises here, just a modern R'nB Christmas album bordering on adult contemporary. There are three originals, one of which is "Every Day Is Christmas" with Babyface and Toni as two of the writers, and it's a catchy little number. "Blessed New Year" is also a Toni co-write, and "Under My Christmas Tree" is a standard ballad written by Michael Braxton. They also perform "Mary, Did You Know?," the above-mentioned two takes of "This Christmas" (the album opener is the better version), and a listenable soul version of the ubiquitous "Last Christmas." Hate to encourage anything connected with a reality show franchise, but talent will out. Toni previously had a solo Christmas album, as did Tamar.

Slay Belles, RuPaul (RuCo)

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The Drag Racer had a Christmas album before, and he's back with another one for 2015. The difference this time around is more than a decade of reality-show celebrity, to the point that the numerous spoken-word interludes are mainly comprehensible only to those who follow the various RuPaul broadcasts. And there's one of those for every song on this album, exhausting my patience. Apparently this album is the soundtrack for a Christmas special airing on Logo TV this season, so it's possible the spoken word clips are actually from the show. We're more about the songs though, and there's 10 of them, created in a dance/pop/R'nB style that on some tunes almost evokes the 80s, and it appears that they're all originals, other than a cover of "Deck the Halls" and a short throwaway rendition of "Joy to the World." Things start out promisingly with "Merry Christmas Mary," an ode to being "loud and proud," and "Christmas Is About Love," which could be a single very easily if hit radio would be caught dead playing songs by people over 50. "You're the Star (On My Christmas Tree)" starts out nicely retro but bolts for the modern day quickly, "Christmas Cookies" lays on the 50's "doo-bops" behind the double-entendres, and "My Favorite Holiday" could have been done by Dead Or Alive back in their heyday. "From Your Heart" is a duet with Michelle Visage, Ellis Miah and Big Freedia join in on the hip-hop "Jingle Dem Bells," "Nothing For Christmas" plays on everybody's holiday nightmare, and the obligatory nod to New Year's is the dance-out processional "Brand New Year" with Siedah Garrett. If you like modern R'nB/pop, this is actually a decent album, although I'd make a playlist with the "interludes" removed, myself. It's definitely an improvement over RuPaul's previous Christmas album, which was mostly covers and parodies, with at least a few candidates for playlists and mixtapes.

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This old-school soul orchestra was already on the Christmas tip with "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects" and a swinging take of "White Christmas" that has been on YouTube for a couple of seasons. Both songs are here on this 2015 album, the title of which will never in a million years get them in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive packaging. They get into it almost from the start with "8 Days of Hanukkah," and you will be dancing all eight of those days to this song. "Just Another Christmas Song," which was on a vinyl single last year, has a nice slinky beat. Their "Silent Night" is an after-midnight blues take on the song, and "Big Bulbs" is about those holiday lights in the window. That's their story, anyway. "Funky Little Drummer Boy" is, again, exactly as advertised, and they put everything into what is a standard arrangement for "Please Come Home For Christmas." Sharon sits out for a few songs here to feature the Dap-Kings on the instrumentals "God Rest Ye Merry Gents" and "Silver Bells," and "World of Love" features one of the Dap-Kings on vocals, couldn't track down any info but I'm guessing it's Binky Griptite at the mic. Vinyl freaks act fast, as there's colored vinyl versions of this along with CD and downloads. So far, this is the top of my 2015 Christmas playlist.
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Originally released in 1999, it's been re-released a number of times since then, including again in 2014 on Brownstone Records. The passage of years between his classic holiday sides and this collection might indicate that James was going for a nice middle-of-the-road payday on this collection, but unlike other vintage soul performers, James tried to keep it real. No easy listening gospel versions of classic past tunes are offered here. You'll hear contemporary soul-funk-hip-hop influences as applied to the original James Brown sound on this disc, along with 11 original tunes co-written by the Godfather. "Spread Love" especially leans into the slow-jam realm, "Not Just Another Holiday" swings like crazy, and "Christmas Is For Everyone" is an old-school James raveup with modern bass/drum machine sounds. "Mom and Dad" is a bit preachy about the Fourth Commandment, "Don't Forget the Poor at Christmas" offers the reason for the season with a bit of "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto" blended in, "God Gave Me This" is a lengthy slow-jam ballad, and "A Gift" is almost reggae-flavored. "Sleigh Ride" is not the familiar tune but a holiday rap, a motif repeated on "Reindeer on the Roof Top," "Funky Christmas Millenium" is very Funkadelic-influenced, and "Clean For Christmas," given James' troubles in the 1990s, is almost too much information. Production does sound low-budget, and you can't help noticing that this album was sung by a much older man than the original classics, but overall this is a pretty strong modern r'nb holiday album, and given its age it doesn't really sound particularly dated.
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This 2010 two-disc collection of James Brown's 1960s holiday music released on King Records is the perfect historical document for the Godfather's classic Christmas sides, three albums and a couple of non-LP singles, plus single versions of album cuts. (CD's are out of print, but a full download remains available. You can distill all of this into a single-disc collection, James Brown's Funky Christmas. Also, word has it that the original albums will be out on vinyl for the 2015 holidays.) The first album was 1966's James Brown and His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs, with James credited as co-writer on the majority of songs, including "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year," "Sweet Little Baby Boy (Parts 1 & 2)," "This Is My Lonely Christmas (Parts 1 & 2)," "Signs of Christmas" and "Merry Christmas I Love You." James also did two versions of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," "Please Come Home For Christmas," Billy Ward's "Christmas In Heaven" and "Merry Christmas Baby." In 1968 A Soulful Christmas introduced James' all-time classic "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto" and also featured the title song, "Santa Claus Santa Claus," "Santa Claus Gave Me a Brand New Start," "Christmas Is Coming," "Let's Unite the Whole World at Christmas," "Tit For Tat (Ain't No Taking Back,)" and the instrumentals "In the Middle," "You Know It," and "Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)." Oddly, "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" was on this album as well. The third album, 1970's Hey America, was written almost entirely by Brown associate Nat Jones, and the title song was a kind of holiday-themed protest number with an almost rock-styled rhythm. Also here are the ballads "Merry Christmas My Baby and a Very Happy New Year," "A Lonely Little Boy Around One Christmas Toy" and "Santa Claus Is Defiinitely Here To Stay," the driving "Go Power At Christmas Time," the funk-styled "Christmas Is Love," and the oddity "My Rapp," a letter to an estranged lover. For 1969 James released a single, "It's Christmas Time (Parts 1 & 2)," a ballad on which James also played organ, and the other singles included here were alternate versions of album cuts. The title of this complete album is misleading, however, as James released Merry Christmas Album in 1999, with 11 more songs, none repeated from the past.
Had heard there was a new Dap-Kings holiday single for 2014, and there was, "Just Another Christmas Song," but only on vinyl, and only 100 copies, so it's gone now. No download so far this year, but it's likely to become available that way eventually, as that's what happened with "Ain't No Chimneys In the Projects." Meanwhile, this ad placement for Cole Haan is so far the only way you get to hear this turbocharged rendition of "White Christmas." UPDATE: There were only 100 copies of the green vinyl version of "Just Another Christmas Song," the main run of the single is on black vinyl and the size of the press run isn't known, so you might be able to get it after all. Thanks, Stubby.

 

Christmas Card, Marvin Sapp (RCA)

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This 2013 album slipped by me last year, but better late than never. Marvin's a gospel singer and worship leader who was part of the group Commissioned before going solo, but he keeps the old gang around for a couple of songs on this collection. This is a solid collection of modern r'nb performances, the majority of which are on original songs, kicking off with the title tune and "Feels Real Good," both of which are uptempo celebrations of the holiday. The ballad "Home For Christmas" features a guest appearance by r'nb singer Joe, and Commissioned comes in on the original "Honor the King" and the classic "What Child Is This," both dramatic slow-tempo celebrations of the religious aspects of the holiday. "Joseph's Song," another original, is the Nativity story from Joseph's viewpoint in a slow-jam tempo, "Holy" continues the slow jamming, and "Love at Christmas" is more of a standard r'nb ballad. "Thank You" is a funk workout featuring the Sapp Kids, and things wrap up with "old school" soul on "Don't Get It Twisted," emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas. Although Marvin's a gospel performer, the album nicely balances the sacred and the secular, and there's plenty of uptempo moments to get your Christmas party started.

recordkicks.jpgThis small label apparently specializes in old-school soul, and this 2010 single is shared by two different artists. The Diplomats of Solid Sound take on "Let It Snow" in an arrangement borrowed from Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up," though it's sung, not spoken. Ray Harris and the Fusion Experience take it from there with an original, "Soulful Christmas," that's more 70s funk to fill the dance floor. Can't decide which one I like better, but of course I don't actually have to, do I?

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The Blind Boys have celebrated Christmas before, and for their 2014 return to the holiday they join with celebrated bluesman Taj Mahal. The resulting album draws on blues and gospel, not surprisingly, and features a number of original tunes written by the Blind Boys themselves with Taj. The opener, "Do You Hear What I Hear," is a radical revision of the carol as a loping rock shuffle and gets things off to a great start. Taj takes lead vocal on the original ballad "What Can I Do," which the press release states includes songwriting assistance from William Bell, of "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" fame, along with "Who Will Remember," another ballad, this one offering a taste of 60s soul, and "There's a Reason We Call It Christmas," a mid-tempo tune that is self-explanatory. "Talkin' Christmas" is a funky exhortation to help others on the holiday, "The Sun Is Rising" and "Jesus Was Born" have a bit of Tex-Mex sway to them, and "Merry Christmas" is a nicely uptempo number with Taj adding some of that chicken-picking guitar. The group, and Taj, also do such gospel tunes as "Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn" in a ragtime style and "No Room at the Inn" in a more traditional gospel style. They also take an acoustic folk approach to "Silent Night." This compares well to the Blind Boys' previous Christmas album, with a less produced, more rootsy feel than that collection.

Motown Christmas, various artists (Motown)

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There's a long-running compilation going back to the vinyl age with this title, but don't confuse it with this 2014 collection, which is comprised of music from the label's current roster (except for a bonus track of the Temptations' "Silent Night"). Kevin Ross kicks things off with "It's Christmas Time," a nice midtempo song that effortlessly blends modern rhythms with the signature old-school Motown orchestral backing sound. Brian Courtney Wilson does the near-obligatory cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Anita Wilson medleys "Go Tell It On the Mountain" with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Kem reprises "Bethlehem" from his own Christmas album, as does Babyface with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Chrisette Michele slow-jams "Angels We Have Heard on High," and Tye Tribbett emphasizes bass and strings over drums on "Little Drummer Boy." Tasha Cobbs brings a bit of updated doo-wop into "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and goes all Broadway musical on "O Come All Ye Faithful." Vashawn Mitchell brings a bit of bombast to "Silent Night," Smokie Norful does a dramatic reading of "O Holy Night" and India.Arie duets with Gene Moore Jr. on a similarly dramatic "Mary Did You Know." Two orchestral instrumental interludes round out the album. While a lot of us have expectations of the old days when the word "Motown" is used in a musical context that may not be satisfied with this album, fans of modern r'nb will likely be more than happy with what they hear in this collection.
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Just discovered this 2010 single from a subsidiary of Daptone, the label home of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It's a great mid-tempo 60s soul shouter with call-and-response vocals, and the title tells you all you need to know about the lyrics. The flip side is "Mary's Baby," another vintage soul ballad about you-know-who. If you're down with the Daptone sound, you want this. Even if you aren't, you gotta love this well-made tribute to 60s soul music.

Holiday, Earth Wind & Fire (Legacy)

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I've always expressed a bit of trepidation when covering classic rock and r'nb stars who come out with Christmas albums late in their careers, due to the statistically strong possibility that such releases are exercises in going through the motions in search of a quick payday. I'm pleased to say that nothing of the sort is true of this album featuring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-honored band. This is EW&F's trademark sound superimposed on the holiday in the best possible way. The classic carols on this album, like disc opener "Joy To the World," "Winter Wonderland," "What Child Is This," "Away In a Manger," "The First Noel" and "Sleigh Ride," are reimagined to fit the band's signature sound and are lively takes to boot. "Snow" is an imaginative choice of a traditional Japanese song, "The Drummer Boy" loses the "Little" of the title but gains a funky touch, and even "Jingle Bell Rock" gets a fresh coat of paint and a danceable groove. "Everyday Is Christmas" is a jazzy original by past EW&F collaborators Roxanne Seeman and Phillip Steinke that was originally performed by Chinese vocalist Jacky Cheung, and the band revisits two of their past tunes, "Happy Seasons" being based on "Happy Feelings" and "December" taking off from their big hit "September." That latter tune is the one everybody will remember from this album, but the whole collection is worth everyone's while.
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This eight-piece Austin, Texas soul band puts together a fine old-school holiday tune and backs it up with a cover of "Back Door Santa" to boot. The single is from 2014, although the A-side was available last year on a compilation from Converse. You can also download the A-side, but not the B-side, from Amazon. Both sides are up at Soundcloud if you want a taste. The band sells a physical CD single with a cover that doubles as a Christmas card, so if you act fast you can send a unique (and cheap) present. They even have bulk ordering options. 
A commenter elsewhere on the site blegged a mention of this little number, and while I still maintain it's not really a Christmas song, it looks like the culture has decreed otherwise. This is nice and funky, as you can hear for yourself, and download links are available at the YouTube page.

 
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The popular funkateers from the 70s and 80s are billing this 2013 release as their first-ever Christmas album, with six originals and eight standards on the card. They do a great job with this, creating an album that has their signature funk sound with updated touches. I'm always leery of legacy R'nB bands' Christmas albums, as they tend to fall back on gospel readymades and easy listening, but while these guys don't avoid these things, they also managed to make an album that sounds contemporary as well. (They also avoided covering "This Christmas" and "My Favorite Things.") Their "Home For the Holidays," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy to the World" completely deconstruct these familiar tunes with funky grooves and even rap sections. Other familiar holiday ballads get the typical R'nB/smooth jazz treatment, such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." Originals like "Christmas Always," "Let's Rejoice (Christmas Is Here)," "Christmas Tyme (Perfect Time For Love)," "Do Not Be Afraid," "My Prayer" and "Peace" are slow-to-medium tempo performances, the latter an instrumental. They're good originals, they just don't jump out and grab you as must-listens. The uptempo covers are by far the best part of what is overall, a solid R'nB Christmas album. Hard copies appear to be available only through their website, Best Buy and Walmart, but you can download from iTunes and Amazon.

Winter Loversland, Tamar Braxton (Epic)

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tamar.jpgToni's little sister Tamar jumps into the Christmas fray for 2013 with this short but satisfying disc of modern R'nB takes on the holiday. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but I like the way this is produced. For starters, how'd she get away with NOT recording "This Christmas" or "My Favorite Things?" Maybe she heard Mary J Blige already called dibs on them, but then so has nearly every other R'nB singer of the past 20 years. Not that she's eschewed familiarity here; she does right by "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Santa Baby" and "Sleigh Ride," for starters. She does a nice a capella medley of "Away In a Manger," singing solo, and then into a group-sung "Little Drummer Boy." The same approach is used on "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late.)" The arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is just different enough from so many other versions to warrant your attention. And I don't think I've heard a slow-jam version of the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling," which is also worthy of wider hearing. There's a straight acoustic guitar-backed "Silent Night" that puts the focus on Tamar's voice. There are also two originals, "No Gift," and the non-holiday "She Can Have You." Like most female R'nB singers, she can't resist the melisma, but she manages not to go off the rails hamming things up. All told, I like this better than A Mary Christmas.

A Mary Christmas, Mary J Blige (Verve)

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maryblige.jpgOne of the biggest R'nB divas of the 90s and 00s finally gets on the Christmas tip for 2013. If you're a Mary fan, you'll be right on top of this. The rest of us will weigh whether we really want yet another modern R'nB Christmas album, as there are absolutely no surprises; it's mostly slow-tempo orchestral balladry showcasing her still-superior voice, which is what the general market expects. Like many R'nB albums, she covers Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," one of the few uptempo highlights here, and makes a ballad out of "My Favorite Things." She goes for the Francophone market with "Petit Papa Noel" and does the same for the Univision audience with "Noche De Paz (Silent Night)," with some help from Marc Anthony. Guests step in for other tunes as well, including Chris Botti and Barbara Streisand on "When You Wish Upon a Star," Jessie J on "Do You Hear What I Hear," and the Clark Sisters on "The First Noel." Mary also sings "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," an uptempo jazz orchestra take on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the album opener "Little Drummer Boy" and a straight ballad take on "Mary, Did You Know." A well-made album that will satisfy casual listeners, though not much fun for Mistletunes readers.

What Christmas Means, Kem (Motown)

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Kem is a big modern R'nB star recording for the historically hallowed label Motown, and this is his first Christmas album, released in 2012. He offers five original songs, all co-writes, mostly with Melanie Rutherford, but "Be Mine For Christmas" also gets authoring help from soul legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and some vocalizing from Ledisi. The album is almost entirely ballads, with emphasis on the religious aspects of the holiday, as in "Glorify the King" and "Doo Wop Christmas (That's What Christmas Is All About)." The title song, "A Christmas Song for You" and the previously mentioned "Be Mine" are more universal love songs. Kem also covers "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," "We Three Kings" and Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," which is a very mellow blues rendition. Not exactly the prescription for a rockin' Christmas, more in the soulful easy listening vein.

Feeling Like a Kid, Lois Mahalia (self-Issued)

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Lois is a modern R'nB singer who likes a little jazz and a lot of island influence in her music, so if you were looking for a tropical-sounding "The First Noel," you've come to the right place. Same for "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night, "Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Auld Lang Syne" and the title song, a nice piece of work about feeling the Christmas spirit. A medley of "Deck the Halls/Joy To the World" is more in the jazz vein and "I'd Like You For Christmas" is a straight ballad. Grab it from Bandcamp.
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This is one of those EP's that owes its life to modern technology. The players on this record punted the album back and forth over the Internet across international borders until it was ready, willing and able to be heard for Christmas 2012. They did everything but tweet it to each other. The result? Well, if you've been unable to track down a copy of the much-maligned Salsoul disco Christmas album from the 1970s, believe me folks, this all-instrumental five-song outing will do. It's extremely well played and it sounds great, but I know a fair number of people out there never go near a music player without their disco-filtering helmet on, so this isn't for those folks. Slap-bass aficionados, on the other hand, will get an early Christmas gift. They give us "Deck the Halls," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "We Wish You a Merry Jingle Bells Christmas" and the title song, which keeps the spirit of the more familiar carols alive without sounding like any of them.
bunnysig.jpgBunny is royalty in the Philadelphia soul community, both as a performer ("Let the Good Times Roll and Feel So Good") and as a producer and songwriter. But as often happens, someone with such a long history in the music business goes from being a trendsetter in his youth to adult contemporary in the modern day, and that's the situation here on this 2012 release. There's lots of good performances here in a lightly R'nB-jazz-easy listening mold, and the title song is worth hearing; "Mr. Emotion" hasn't lost any steps from the old days. Still, this isn't the kind of thing Mistletunes readers come here to discover.
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Rhonda Thomas is a modern soul singer from Atlanta, Ga., who has worked with Isaac Hayes, Roberta Flack and Luther Vandross among others and has several albums to her credit. This 2012 foray into the Christmas world is more jazz than R'nB, however. The title song, substituting "girl" for "boy" in the famous song, is a fairly imaginative reworking of the holiday favorite, and she turns Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me" into more of a jazz ballad. "My Favorite Things" and "O Come O Come Emanuel" are given a more soulful treatment, and "Mistletoe," a duet with Eric Roberson, and "Baby It's Cold Outside," done with Alex Lattimore, are both slow jam ballads. Rhonda, despite her obvious singing talent, never divas up the proceedings, so that's a count in her favor as well. And she gets points for creating "Kwanzaa," adding another song to what is so far a slim canon. Overall, this is a fairly mellow collection.

CeeLo's Magic Moment, CeeLo Green (Elektra)

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Once of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley, more recently solo ("Forget You") and now a big old TV star thanks to his role as a judge on "The Voice," one would assume Cee-Lo's first Christmas album in 2012 would be a move for the mainstream rather than something more hip-hop informed, and one would be right. Nevertheless, this disc is a solid modern soul/R'nB production, augmented with guest stars who contribute but don't take the spotlight off the star of the show. Good covers of Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means to Me" and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" are two of the three first songs, broken up by a duet with fellow "Voice" judge Christina Aguilera on "Baby It's Cold Outside," in the usual jazz ballad arrangement this song typically gets. Straight No Chaser helps CeeLo ham it up on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and Rod Stewart and Trombone Shorty step in on an uptempo version of the classic "Merry Christmas, Baby." (Which appears on Rod's new Christmas disc as well.) An original, "All I Need Is Love," is a bit of theater featuring The Muppets, "Run Rudolph Run" is a big band take that is otherwise fairly faithful to the Chuck Berry version, and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" appears in a modern slow-jam arrangement. Other ballads on the disc include "Mary Did You Know" and Joni Mitchell's "River," ending with a bombastic "Silent Night." It's entirely possible this will get crammed in your ear by TV and radio between now and Christmas, but that doesn't interfere with the fact that this is a good soul record, and that reducing the playlist by a few of the more show-bizzy sounding songs would transform this into a great soul record.
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