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Recently in 2000s Category

revelate.jpgOld-school soul music never goes away, does it? This 2008 single by this great ensemble from Brooklyn could have been on the original Atlantic Soul Christmas album from the 60s -- it would certainly fit better than say, Luther Vandross did on the CD-era reissue. A nice mid-tempo ballad about the joys of the holiday, and Tre sings the heck out of it. UPDATE: The single becomes an EP for 2011 and remains free to download. Add to the above classic the slow ballad "It's Christmas Time," a tough rock take on Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," and a straight cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas."
dapkings.jpgThis was out as a vinyl single for 2009 and has since become available from the usual download stores. Sharon and the band apply their patented 60's soul approach to a 60s style protest lament about making poor children's Christmases merry, very much in the tradition of James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto." Nice work. Binky Griptite does a holiday rap over the instrumental track to this song on the B-side.
peanuts.jpgIt's four decades since the "Peanuts" characters jumped off the pages of the comics and into our Christmas memories, this 2005 compilation reminds us. Who'da thunk? As the original soundtrack for the special is remembered for the compositions of late jazzer Vince Guaraldi, it's no surprise this anniversary album is also mainly jazz, the snippet of Beethoven notwithstanding, given the cast of characters that includes the Rippingtons, Vanessa Williams, Dave Koz and producer David Benoit. I had some hopes that the presence of folks like Brian McKnight, Toni Braxton and Chaka Khan would put at least a little R'nB crunch into the proceedings, but no, this is smooth jazz from start to finish.

eclectic.jpgThis CD benefits the inner-city mentorship program MOSTE. More dance/house/trance holiday music from 2003, bracketed by three versions of "Snowflakes Falling" remixed by JT Donaldson, Juan Atkins and Ming & FS, which are used to mark the three "movements" of the album. "Jingle Bell Hop" kicks off with the song being played on a phone's touchpad, leading into a funked-up rhythm track and percussive orchestra hits. "Midnight" by Daz-I-Kue with vocalist Rasiyah deconstructs "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" into a jazz melody over percolating beats, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Platonic is anchored by a violin melody, while speedy beats and whooshes underpin DJ Motiv8's version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." "We Three Kings" by Josh One vamps over a sample of the song by Cool John Ferguson, a jazzy organ air over a funky handclapping beat. And there's a good old fashioned dub version of "Silent Night" by Ein, a style updated to the modern day. I freely admit it can be tough to tell multiple albums of this stuff apart, but many folks would enjoy having some of this style of music for the holidays, especially anyplace where dancing is on the card.

cleveland.jpgFor those of you not down with "Family Guy," Cleveland is Peter's black friend, now the star of his very own spinoff half-hour on the Fox network. I'm guessing there's no need to explain who Earth Wind and Fire are, though this song is more from the "Family Guy" world than EWF's. I doubt there's much explanation needed of the title or lyrics to this song, but as obvious as it is it's also fairly entertaining, which now that I think of it is the appeal of the two TV shows mentioned here.

In the Christmas Groove, various artists (Strut)

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xmasgroo.jpgOld-school soul music is beloved of so many folks that it's hard to believe there's much in the way of anything from that era that hasn't found its way into the marketplace. And yet, the good folks at Strut Records tell us they have unearthed a bunch of obscure gems, all soul and funk, all Christmas-oriented. Not being a collector's scene expert, I'll let their claim stand, though the comments are available for those who have something to add on the topic. I will say the only people on this album I even recognize are bluesman Jimmy Reed and the Harlem Children's Choir. The 13 tunes on this collection are all from the 60s and 70s, and it doesn't take a recording expert to tell these tunes were put down quite a while ago. I won't claim these are indispensable classics, but they sure are fun to listen to. Electric Jungle's "Funky Funky Christmas" has a bit of War's "Me and Baby Brother" in it, and "Let's Get It Together For Christmas" by the Harvey Averne Band has quite the slinky beat itself. "Gettin' Down For X-mas" by Milly and Silly (really!) features wah-wah rhythm guitar of a kind that might remind you of porn soundtracks if not for the Christmas melodies played on bells. The Soul Saints Orchestra come to tell us that "Santa's Got a Bag of Soul," in an arrangement that wouldn't sound out of place on a James Brown disc. The Funk Machine imagines a "Soul Santa" "with black kinky hair," while J.D. McDonald tells us about "Boogaloo Santa Claus." The Jimmy Reed tune, "Christmas Present Blues," is a take on the funky blues, and the Harlem Children's Choir offers a ballad, "Black Christmas," about a holiday among the poor. The album doubles up on New Year's bonuses with Jimmy Jules going all Barry White on "New Year," followed by The Black On White Affair doing a big band jam on "Auld Lang Syne." All told, an interesting collection for those who like to delve into pop music history. You may want the physical disc, as I downloaded this only to discover I did myself out of what are supposed to be extensive liner notes.

"Holiday Love," Mishon (Streamline)

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mishon.jpgMishon, last name Ratlif, is one of the stars of ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights," and he's intent on parlaying his TV audience into a musical following. He's offering this modern r'nb hit for 2009, a midtempo soul ballad. He sneaks a little overt auto-tune in there, despite the current vogue for bad-mouthing that technique. This is a good tune, and it bodes well for a wider music career.

swampdog.jpgSwamp Dogg, aka Jerry Williams, may be best known for this album cover, but he's got a long career as a songwriter and producer for soul and country artists. His success is probably more due to his behind-the-scenes work, as his records under his nom-de-canine are quirky outings, too outre for soul fans, though some rock folks have unearthed tunes of his like "Total Destruction to Your Mind." This 2009 disc is right in the tradition of previous Swamp Dogg albums, in which he creates old-school soul songs with titles designed to grab attention. Like the title song, which goes on to be a fairly conventional lost-love lament about pursuing another man's wife unsuccessfully. Probably the most attention-grabbing title is "Santa's Just a Happy Fat Fart," a gospelly tribute to the man in red designed to make you laugh. "Santa Claus Has Fallen In Love" kicks things off nicely with the story of a randy old elf. "What Christmas Means To Me" is a Dogg original, not the Stevie Wonder song, and it's a slow ballad about holiday verities. Given the title, you may be surprised to find that most of the album is like this song, fairly straight 60s-70s soul takes on classics like "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger," along with originals based mainly on familiar themes. But I'll give him credit for a fairly rocking take on "Silent Night," not the usual slow-tempo rendition. How you feel about old-school soul will probably color your reaction to this album, but it definitely has its moments.

Make Sure You're Home For Christmas, Joe (Kedar)

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joexmas.jpgJoe, who drops his surname Thomas for his recording career, has been around for quite a while, with a number of R'nB hits to his name like "Don't Want to Be a Player" and "All the Things Your Man Won't Do." He's dueted with Mariah Carey and he's also pals with the Wayans family, which has resulted in a number of his songs being placed in their movies. This EP, billed as a Target exclusive for 2009, features half a dozen tunes, including two Joe originals, "It Ain't Christmas" and the title tune. The approach throughout is balladry, with jazz-influenced arrangements, well done but with no real surprises and no uptempo interludes to liven things up. Along with Joe's originals we get his versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and David Foster's "Grown Up Christmas List." UPDATE: Apparently Joe's not sticking with Target this year; this same disc, extended to 10 songs, is being issued on iTunes as Home Is the Essence of Christmas. The additional songs are "Christmas in New York," "Christmas Time Here," "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and an instrumental of "Have Yourself."
xmasbaby.jpgThis is a 2008 re-release of a 2006 EP with additional songs from the roster of this gospel and R'nB label. I'm just catching up to it this year, and well, this sucker just makes me smile. It's old-school soul music of the 60s variety, less like Motown and more like Stax. I got a little confused trying to identify the title song, as there are two versions of "It's Christmas" by Rick Lawson and O.B. Buchana, but the real title song is "It's Christmas Baby" by Ms. Jody, more of a big-band blues number in which we are invited to jingle the singer's bells. Yeah, we get a lot of those single-entendres here, but that's a feature, not a bug. Just check out "I Need a Man Down My Chimney" by Barbara Carr, Sheba Potts-Wright on "I Need a Lover For Christmas," or the return of Ms. Jody on "Humping Santa," the latter set to an Al Green beat. Lee Shot Williams also has only one thing on his mind when he sings "I Ate Too Much Over the Holidays." If a soul Christmas gets your Yule log burning (now there's a double-entendre), you need this collection.

This Christmas," Slim (M3 Productions)

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slimthis.jpgThis 2008 single isn't Donny Hathaway's classic -- it's an original holiday slow jam, and a nice one at that. Slim is from the Grammy-winning R'nB group 112, and this comes hot on the heels of his solo album Love's Crazy.
darlove.jpgIf Darlene never did anything but sing on Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift To You she'd still be Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame material. Though she's popped up occasionally over the years doing everything from duetting with Ronnie Spector for A Very Special Christmas to acting in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, from singing the "Saturday Night Live" comedy short "Christmastime For the Jews" to performing a Christmas song with the E Street Band, she's been way overdue for a sequel to the Spector album. Well folks, this 2007 set is it. All props to producers Shawn Amos and Kevin Killen for showcasing her historic voice against a strong and eclectic selection of contemporary Christmas tunes. You could pick any record producer out of the phone book who would take one look at Darlene and drop a bunch of strictly R'nB covers on her along with gospelized versions of classic carols -- and face it folks, we'd probably be grateful for that. But Amos and Killen give us a more imaginative selection. Obvious soul covers like "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "What Christmas Means to Me" join with less obvious ones like the Staple Singers' "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?" and James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" to play against Christmas tunes from the rock world like Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again," the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight," Billy Squier's "Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You" and John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Darlene, of course, has the talent to pull this off. She takes XTC's "Thanks For Christmas" to church, adds some soul to NRBQ's "Christmas Wish" and remakes the Pretenders' stately "2,000 Miles" with just a hint of jazz. The whole thing wraps up with an original ballad, "Night of Peace."
bootsy.jpgThe R'nB Christmas sector has been pretty assembly-line to my ears in recent years, so it's way past time a true original in the field stepped up to the eggnog ladle. Bootsy Collins, formerly leader of Bootsy's Rubber Band, teamed up with boutique label Shout! Factory to bring us his vision of a funky Christmas for 2006, getting together with former members of the Rubber Band and P-Funk, plus Bobby Womack, his brother Catfish, Roger Troutman, Snoop Dogg (on "Happy Holidaze") and Charlie Daniels (really, fiddle on "Sleigh Ride"). It's like he never left, with his unique voice, "space bass" and cast of thousands putting the beat to a collection of popular carols and originals. The dozens of Merry Christmas shout-outs between and during songs do get a little old, but it's worth having just for Bootsy re-imagining his big smash "I'd Rather Be With You" as a Christmas song with Troutman's help. Other originals include "N-Yo-City," "Happy Holidaze" with Snoop's rapping and the title song, which is a bit of a muddle. An imaginative take on "Merry Christmas Baby" is a highlight, and of course no R'nB artist is allowed to make a Christmas CD unless one of the songs is "This Christmas," which here is a fine performance of a classic tune. The old-school carols also get unique names, like "Chestnutz" for "The Christmas Song," "Boot-Off" for "Rudolph," and "Jingle Belz" for, oh, you know. Definitely a season highlight.

A Christmas of Love, Keith Sweat (Rhino)

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ksweat.jpgThe self-professed king of the slow jams gets on the Christmas tip for 2007 with this nine-song CD full of, wait for it, slow-jam Christmas songs. Only the evergreen "The Christmas Song" is a traditional carol, the rest are originals, three of which Sweat co-wrote. Not surprisingly, there's not a lot of variability in tempo or approach -- "Party Christmas" and "Once a Year" are just slightly more uptempo than the rest -- but Sweat does a pretty good job of selling this material. "Point of Christmas" is the "reason for the season" track on this CD, and "Under the Tree" is the makeout song. Near as I can tell, the breakout cut is "Be Your Santa Claus," at least if single-track popularity at iTunes is anything to go by.
sisquo.jpgThe R'nB crooner of "Thong Song" let this slip out for Christmas 2006, a by-the-book modern holiday tune in the current style, complete with spoken intro and full of romantic allusions to the holiday. It's nice work; I wonder if he's testing the waters for a full CD. Apparently he let people download this free from his MySpace page, but it wasn't there at the time I posted this. I found it on iTunes, but at the moment it appears to have vanished from the marketplace.
isleybro.jpgWhen older artists from the classic soul era step into the Christmas genre, the results tend to be more easy listening than R'nB, and the Isleys, now featuring just Ronald and Ernie, fall right into that description, even with the production assistance of 80s whizzes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on this 2007 disc. The originals on here, "I'm In Love" and "What Can I Buy You," are closest to R'nB, the former in a 70s ballad vein and the latter resembling a Jam/Lewis trademark ballad production. The rest is pop with a bit of jazz and soul, and they put together an "Isleys Christmas Medley" of classic carols that is strictly 1970s variety show in execution. If you can download the originals, you'll be ahead of the game.
faithevn.jpgEvans is popularly known as a hip hop diva, but that's just a function of the time she has come up; she could have been a blues, jazz or soul star if she had come up in different eras. This 2005 album is typical in execution for an R'nB singer, with 11 songs, mostly standard carols and pop holiday songs, with a few hip hop moves on most of them to make them sound contemporary. "Mistletoe and Holly" sticks out because it's the only one that takes the pop/show tune approach; the rest are soulful jams of various tempos. "Soulful Christmas" is a faster number that will get you out on the dance floor, and her "Santa Baby" is a worthy performance, giving Eartha Kitt a run for her money. She swings over to blues with the now-standard "Merry Christmas Baby," and hits a traditional note with "White Christmas," "Christmas Song," and "O Come All Ye Faithful." I'm beginning to think there's a law somewhere that states no R'nB artist can do a Christmas album without covering Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," but Evans' version is just as good as anybody else's.

soulful.jpgThis is a pretty solid collection of modern R'nB from the early 80s ("Christmas in Hollis" by Run D.M.C., the only rap tune on the CD) up through the present day. Fans probably have a lot of these tunes, but if you're short on latter-day soul you might find this 2004 collection a sweet change of pace. Among the selections are "Happy Holidays to You" by New Edition, "Snowy Nights" by En Vogue, "Let It Snow" by Boyz II Men, "Comin' For X-Mas" by Usher, "Do You Hear What I Hear" by Whitney Houston, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Babyface, and we get gospel from Kirk Franklin, Bebe and Cece Winans, along with appearances by Dru Hill, Yolanda Adams, TLC and Xscape.

gumbo.jpgParty town New Orleans (pace Katrina) is always a good place to go for your holiday grooves, and this 2004 compilation carries on the tradition. Songwriter/producers Greg Barnhill and Will Robinson (not the "Lost In Space" kid) had the idea to write a whole CD's worth of fresh Christmas tunes and then recruit some hometown talent to perform them. So we get Beausoleil and their trademark zydeco on "Papa St. Nick," the legendary Allen Toussaint doing a Fats Domino groove on "The Day It Snows On Christmas," Art Neville of the famous Brothers on the title song, brother Aaron showing off his balladeer chops on "Christmas Prayer," Irma Thomas taking it slow on "Christmas Without the Creole," and the Subdudes singing about "Peace in the World." John Hiatt fans will recognize Sonny Landreth's guitar chops, if not his voice, on "Got To Get You Under My Tree," with the help of the Dixie Cups on background vocals. And just in case you thought there was anything dated about a New Orleans Christmas, Houseman funks things up on "Pimp My Sleigh," taking off on the car customizing trend. The final cut is the only tune not written by Barnhill and Robinson, Ingrid Lucia's version of "Zat You, Santa Claus?" Serious holiday party music here, folks.

ashanti.jpgThe young R'nB singer swings into the holiday with a short 10-song set for 2003. She picks between standards and some new tunes like "Hey Santa," "Christmas Time Again," "Time of Year" and "Sharing Christmas." The approach is not unlike other singers of her generation, somewhere between pop and R'nB, although the overall effect is much closer to contemporary easy listening. Many of the arrangements are straight pop, with only "Sharing Christmas" veering toward the slow-jam style and "Silent Night getting the gospel treatment. Add points for her overall restraint -- very few diva moments on this CD.

Family Christmas, The Katinas (Gotee)

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katinas.jpgI stumbled onto these guys the same time I did Relient K, discovering their 2004 holiday CD, but although they share a Christian market heritage, they're a different kettle of fish altogether. Where Relient K is a kind of pop-punk band, The Katinas are more a modern R'nB vocal group. Like other R'nB holiday collections, there's lots of gospel and jazz inflections on top of the beats, lots of close harmony singing. They work this combination well on an uptempo "Joy to the World" and turn "O Come All Ye Faithful" into a slow jam. "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" is a vocal workout with handclaps, and they go completely a capella on "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Their own original "Christmas Is Here" is a 70's uptempo funk sound, very nice. They also cover Michael W. Smith's "Emmanuel" in more of a rock arrangement, another change of pace. R'nB fans should like this a lot, and there's a fair number of cuts that will appeal to a lot of different people.
tempts.jpgThis 2001 compilation does an excellent job of melding this premier vocal group's two Christmas albums into a single CD, and the liner notes help us sort it all out. The Temps did The Temptations Christmas Card in 1970 and Give Love on Christmas in 1980, and they released "Silent Night" as a single several times in the mid-80s from the latter collection, with different B-sides. Different versions of "The Christmas Song" and "Silent Night" appear on both albums, but a changing lineup and changing times probably inspired the decision to record the second holiday album, which includes versions of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Smokey Robinson's "Christmas Everyday" and The Corporation's "Give Love on Christmas Day," written originally for the Jackson 5ive. The bonus cut on Best of is a version of "Oh Holy Night" from the sessions for Give Love, soulful and snappy but just a little too long. Christmas Card is the classic Temps/Motown sound, although they downtempo some of the tunes a bit too much, but their versions of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" are the most like their classic singles. On Give Love, they revisit "The Christmas Song" with just a bit more snap and the later version of "Silent Night" is more of a slow jams workout than the straight reading on Christmas Card. The lengthy lead-in to "This Christmas" makes you almost think they're singing it to the late Donny Hathaway before they swing into the uptempo version. And though they don't make you forget Smokey on "Christmas Everyday," bass man Melvin Franklin does a great job of selling it. Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s liner notes to Best Of assert that every Christmas needs a little Temptations in it -- a point that's impossible to argue.
motown2.jpgAfter years of perfunctory Motown reissues, the newly aggressive Universal conglomerate has set the dogs loose to take better advantage of its assets. In 1999 the first volume of this set was upgraded, and this 2001 sequel offers samples of many great Motown artists and throws in some unissued cuts for sweetener. Three cuts by The Supremes include "O Holy Night" with Florence Ballard on lead; two cuts by the Jackson 5; three more by the Temptations; two by Marvin Gaye, "Purple Snowflakes" and a live at the Apollo "The Christmas Song"; the Miracles, Kim Weston, the Funk Brothers; and the Twistin' Kings with "Xmas Twist," which has a lick very much like "Peppermint Twist." There's also a bonus cut of spoken word Christmas greetings from a parade of Motown artists. Motown compilations have sprouted over the years like topsy, so watch you're not buying the same cuts over and over again on different discs.

Santa Hooked Me Up, B2K (Epic)

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b2k.jpgB2K is an R'nB vocal group who put this out in 2002 at the same time they were pushing their album Pandemonium. The title song is mostly rap, the usual check out my bling-bling kind of thing. "Rain and Snow" is a snappy number, but it has to be the only Christmas song where the holiday feast includes macaroni and cheese. They do good turns on classics like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," but this really stands or falls on the original tunes, and they're mostly kind of lame, lots of same old same old rap ready-mades strung together. The "bonus track" is "Santa Baby," featuring Jhene in case you were worried about guys singing it. And they refrain from modernizing the song's Fifties-era bling-bling lyrics, which, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

Naughty Or Nice, 3LW (Epic)

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3lw.jpgMore modern sounds of R'nB with this platinum-selling female group, with less rapping and more harmony singing on this 2002 release. They take an audacious tack by performing all originals, with the exception of album-closer "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which dispenses with all the beats in favor of solo guitar and singing. Speaking of beats, I was never able to parse the beats behind "Naughty on Xmas," which almost seemed to fall at random and really sank the song for me. I was initially taken aback by "Ahh Hell Now," in which the girls bitch up a storm about a botched Christmas, but when you think about some of the heavy attitude tunes mentioned here under, say, the punk category, you have to give them credit for just putting it out there. "Christmas Love," "Shady Holiday" and "Take You Home for Christmas" are slow jams while "Christmas Party" throws in everything but the kitchen sink in terms of hip-hop production.

Snowflakes, Toni Braxton (Arista)

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braxton.jpgToni goes for the holiday market for the first time in 2001, and the album's about what you would expect of an R&B chart diva. A cast of hundreds, just about, put this thing together, including producers like Babyface, Shaggy, Craig Love and others including Toni herself. There aren't any real surprises; the whole point of this CD is to let Toni apply her pipes to the Christmas season. On that level, it's a good album. She takes on standards like "Christmas Time Is Here," "The Christmas Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and also floats some originals like "Santa Please," "Snowflakes of Love" and "Christmas in Jamaica," which doesn't have much to do with reggae or anything else tropical. Two versions each of the latter two songs smack of program padding, by the way. Good voice, good sounds, but utterly predictable.

density.jpgYou've already heard "Opera of the Bells," better known as a carol, underneath the Victoria's Secret commercial. And since this group has become all-pervasive, you probably know just what to expect from this 2001 effort: modern R&B sounds with occasional diva moments. The surprise is that Beyonce Knowles chooses to share them with the other members of her group as well as her sister Solange, given that she snarfs credits for herself as producer of numerous songs as well as author credit for the quite obviously public domain "Opera" and for a not particularly astute rewrite of "8 Days of Christmas." Still, there are some interesting moments, like their versions of "White Christmas" and "Platinum Bells," better known in the silver variety. "A DC Christmas Medley" is about what you'd expect, featuring "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Jingle Bells," "Frosty," "Holly Jolly Christmas," "Deck the Halls" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." They also do an original arrangement of "This Christmas," heavy on the diva moments.

State of the art rhythm and blues circa 2001 is the deal here, mostly of the slow jams variety, with artists from the Epic stable. There are a lot of nice moments here, although I'm not one to listen to the whole 52 minutes in one shot, as there isn't a lot of variation in sound and style; mid-tempo is as up-tempo as it gets here. Macy Grey's "Winter Wonderland," available elsewhere, is my favorite of the songs here. Brad Young does an imaginative reworking of Beethoven's "Joyful Joyful," Jordan Brown really stretches out on "Silent Night," Glenn Lewis is good on Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Jhene updates the lyrics on her modern take of "Santa Baby" to take in baby blue SUVs and Rolexes. And Sarai raps through "Here Comes Christmas." For fans of modern R&B, this will go down smooth.

This Christmas, Aretha Franklin (DMI)

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aretha.jpgThe Queen of Soul hasn't done much Christmas music before. She sang "Winter Wonderland" during her Columbia Records days in the 1960s, and she did a version of "O Christmas Tree" for Very Special Christmas 2. There's also a YouTube of her singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain." So this 2008 disc is her first-ever holiday album. It's pretty much what you'd expect from an R'nB diva -- scratch that, THE R'nB diva. Which is to say, it's a helping of old-school soul, a helping of gospel, and not a lot of contemporary touches, other than a bit of talk-in and talk-out of the title track, done as a duet with her son Edward. As for that title track, yes, it's the Donny Hathaway classic. She also does the O'Jays "Christmas Ain't Christmas," but that's pretty much it for soul Christmas songs, although she does the David Foster tune "My Grown-Up Christmas List," originally done by Natalie Cole and Amy Grant. The rest is mostly classic carols. She puts her stamp on the traditional "Ave Maria" and goes to church for "The Lord Will Find a Way." She also brings her own perspective to a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" to close the album. This is a disc that older listeners will appreciate more. My wish would have been to cut a Christmas album on Aretha in the early 70s, somewhere between her Fillmore West and Amazing Grace concerts, to get something a little grittier for the holidays. This was only available at Borders in 2008.

It's Christmas, Ledisi (Verve)

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ledisi.jpgThis up-and-coming R'nB singer just completed a great year, with several hits, two Grammy nominations, guest shots on TV with the likes of Prince and Sergio Mendes, and an acting stint in the film "Leatherheads." So here she is with a full album of Christmas goodies, a mix of the familiar and five originals. And praise be, "This Christmas" isn't the Donny Hathaway song -- a rarity for a soul Christmas album in the modern day. It's one of the originals, a similar take lyrically with the subtitle "(Could Be The One)." The originals that open and close the album, "I'll Go" and "Thank You," are more religious than holiday-oriented, and "What a Wonderful World" isn't Christmas, though it seems to turn up on Christmas albums more and more. Her version of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" is a strong contemporary gospel performance, and she does a nice job on the evergreen blues "Please Come Home For Christmas" as well. All told, a strong modern soul record.
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