Robbie Williams, The Christmas Present (Columbia) *****
Wrapping: Robbie is one of the very few contemporary artists who truly embraces album artwork: pleasing to the eye, telling a story and setting the scene for a multitude of surprises. A Dickensian-clad Rob goes shopping on a street not dissimilar to York’s Shambles.
Gifts inside: Double disc features a cocktail of new and evergreen classics. Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, boxer Tyson Fury, Jamie Cullum, Helene Fisher and Mr Williams Senior, alias Poppa Pete, are guests across the 28 tracks. Tyson Fury? Really? Yes, on Bad Sharon. It’s a big hit. Of course.
Style: Mostly upbeat and certainly very jolly. A very content Robbie Williams is on top form.
’Tis the season to be jolly: Embrace this genuinely enjoyable album of good cheer, curated with love and affection.
Scrooge moan? Rob’s fabulous update of Let Me Entertain You, for Aldi’s Christmas campaign, and the rumoured cover of Fairytale Of New York with Britney Spears didn’t make the final cut. Maybe next year?
White Christmas? Not on this set, although you do get fabulous covers of I Believe In Father Christmas and a jazzed-up Merry Xmas Everybody with Cullum.
Blue Christmas? Absolutely not. Robbie’s gift is one of happiness!
Stocking or shocking? This is destined to become one of the greatest and most cherished Christmas albums of all time.
Chris Kamara, Here’s To Christmas (So What/Silva Screen Records) ****
Wrapping: – At 62, Chris Kamara is a very handsome fellow. The chromosome photograph is very becoming, yet not at all seasonal.
Gifts inside: The consummate Renaissance Man, this ex-Leeds United footballer is now a regular television presenter on Sky Sports. Who knew the former sailor and Bake Off finalist could also sing? Unbelievable, Jeff. The very talented crooner tackles ten glorious upbeat evergreen classics.
Style: Big Band, all day and night long.
’Tis the season to be jolly: …and singalonga with Mr Kamara to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.
Scrooge moan? Don’t be so silly. This is a joyful swinging affair.
White Christmas? Absolutely not. We are, however, treated to Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow!
Blue Christmas? Christmas with Mr Karama is a very jolly event.
Stocking or shocking? Chris Kamara is number one on the Jazz chart. Good for him. This is a very happy album.
Bing Crosby with the London Symphony Orchestra, At Christmas (Decca Records) ****
Wrapping: Decca have done their best with a selection of period family photographs. The set is boxed in a handsome, rather snazzy, gold-embossed sleeve.
Gifts inside: Fourteen of Mr Crosby’s classic Christmas songs given a modern orchestral makeover, with special guests The Puppini Sisters, Pentatonix The Tenors and, from the archives, The Andrew Sisters and David Bowie.
Style: Bing Crosby invented the Christmas album. This album is Bing’s original iconic tones with a complementary lush orchestra.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: The chance to rediscover why we love secular Christmas music so much in the first place.
Scrooge moan? There’s no reason to be a Grinch when Bing sings.
White Christmas? Well, the best-selling Christmas single of all time had to be included. It’s the law.
Blue Christmas? No, this is an upbeat Easy Listening classic.
Stocking or shocking? If you’re tired of Bing, you’re tired of Christmas! Every stocking should have one.
Ian Sime’s top five Christmas albums of all time
Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas (Columbia, 1994)
Donna Summer, Christmas Spirit (Mercury, 1994)
Whitney Houston, One Wish – The Holiday Album (Columbia, 2003)
Olivia Newton-John & Friends, Christmas Wish (BMG, 2007)
Michael Buble, Christmas (Reprise, 2011)
Rob Halford with Family & Friends, Celestial (Sony) **
Wrapping: Halford, the metal god from Judas Priest, giving off some attitude as he is pasted on to wrapping paper. Inside we see his family and friends (his brother Nigel and his band Voodoo Sioux) smiling and giving the devil horns metal salute. Worth a second glance? No.
Gifts inside: Heavy metal, from a much outdated style, set awkwardly against the simple melodies of the eight Christmas chestnuts, with four new songs cleverly woven in.
Style: Imagine if buzz and noise music never happened. Imagine if the musical time clock was stuck in 1985. It’s old-school metal, full of tight-trousered screams and flashy guitar solos, with some great drumming too. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are ballads and a choir-like song too.
‘Tis the reason to be jolly: Deck The Halls and Hark The Herald Angels Sing rise above the rest, with a powerful punk-like attitude and some searing musicianship. Halford’s voice remains formidable. Lead track Donner And Blitzen should be big in Scandinavia and the Black Forest.
Scrooge moan: If you look for merry metal Christmas albums in the shops, you will probably only find this (although, perhaps for the most persistent, also Halford III: Winter Songs from 2009). There’s a good reason for that; putting the two styles together does neither any favours. It makes the tough looking and talented musicians sound daft, and would anyone into this type of music admit to owning a copy?
White Christmas? The only snow, in blue, is printed on the CD.
Blue Christmas? The mood is more defiant, but A Winter’s Tale is more sombre.
Stocking or shocking? Shocking, for the unreconstructed rocker in your life. who will enjoy it, just to be rebellious.
Rick Wakeman, Christmas Portraits (Sony) ****
Wrapping: A grand piano perched in front of a starlit Christmas tree in a wintry wood. A strange star is rising in the sky. The booklet has a few portraits of the great man, the credits and a simple message.
Gifts inside: 14 traditional tracks, including seven medleys, from the purveyor of The Grumpy Old Christmas Show Tour that visited Harrogate Royal Hall on December 10.
Style: This is the sound of one man and his piano (a Granary Steinway Model D), from .
‘Tis the reason to be jolly: The album is beautifully recorded, and the piano settings really suit the monochromatic winter world in the songs. Like Jan Johannson’s Jazz På Svenska, which timelessly dances with folk tunes, Wakeman’s variations on these age-old melodies are both graceful and fitting.
Scrooge moan: This is certainly more BBC Radio 3 than prog, so won’t please all of Wakeman’s admirers, and enjoyable while it is, it does all blur together.
White Christmas? No, this is a more traditional set aimed towards the classical fan rather than frequenter of supper clubs (you know who you are).
Blue Christmas? There is certainly melancholy, and a sense of bitter cold, but the melodies should cast sunlight into the gloomiest of moods.
Stocking or shocking? Stocking, for anyone who gets lost in their thoughts while pondering the frost through the kitchen window.
Paul Rhodes’s top five Christmas albums of all time
The Staple Singers, The 25th Day Of December
Carols from Kings
Aimee Mann, One More Drifter In The Snow
The Louvin Brothers, Christmas With The Louvin Brothers
Christmas Greetings From Nashville – featuring Skeeter Davis
Kate Rusby, Holly Head (Pure Records) ****
Wrapping: Barnsley nightingale Kate in snowy white with her very own Holly Head, a Christmas garland of wintry flowers, foliage, twigs and leaves atop her curls. A “Holly Head” loves Christmas music like a petrol head loves cars, she says.
Gifts inside: South Yorkshire pub carols, Yorkshire winter songs, one new Rusby composition and a couple of novelty numbers (John Rox’s Hippo For Christmas, from 1953, and a third rescue mission for Kate’s Yorkshire Tea-powered Barnsley superhero, Big Brave Bill).
Style: Kate and her touring folk players, augmented as ever by the “Brass Boys”, on her fifth Christmas collection in 11 years. Songs merry, melancholic and daft, all to be found here.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Kate’s sixth version of While Shepherds Watched (only another 24 still to go, apparently!); the titles Yorkshire Three Ships and Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); and Kate branching out into folk prog via Clannad with the beautifully frosty The Holly King.
Scrooge moan: Hip, hippo, but not hurray for The Hippo Song, despite Mike Levis’s pomp-pomp tuba. Bah Humbug to such jollification.
White Christmas? No, but Lu Lay (The Coventry Carol) is chillier than a Yorkshire moor in winter.
Blue Christmas? Bleak Midwinter (Yorkshire); that title says it all.
Stocking or shocking? Christmas Is Merry, sings Kate, and Holly Heads and hippo devotees everywhere will love it.
Josh Rouse, The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse (Yep Roc) ****
Wrapping: No hint of winter in a painting with warm red, pink and yellow hues. The opening song title, Mediterranean X-mas, explains it, as American singer-songwriter Rouse has only latterly moved to Nashville from Valencia after ten winters in Spain.
Gifts inside: Rouse’s first“ holiday concept album”, his 13th in all, contains nine originals, complemented by a bonus disc bearing the gifts of three demos and Rousing versions of trad holiday songs All I Want For Christmas, Up On The Housetop and Let It Snow.
Style: Breezy, warm, vintage folk, pop, country blues and jauntily jazzy rock, not too far removed from Nick Lowe’s 2013 seasonal selection, Quality Street. Indeed Basher urged him to make this record when touring together in 2015.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Lush, warmly reflective songs of childhood nostalgia and holidays spent away from home are the perfect accompaniment to the year’s glowing embers. Red Suit, New York Holiday, Lights Of Town and Christmas Songs are the pick.
Scrooge moan: None, unless you crave the absent sleigh bells, children’s choirs and Yuletide standards you won’t find in the Rouse house.
White Christmas? No. Presumably gone on holiday to somewhere colder.
Blue Christmas? Sadness seeps through Letters In The Mailbox and Heartbreak Holiday.
Stocking or shocking? Rouse should be in your house come Christmas Day.
Merry Luxmas, It’s Christmas In Crampsville!, Season’s Gratings From The Cramps’ Vinyl Basement (Righteous/Cherry Red) *****
Wrapping: Family album photo from the Fifties, one woman, her glasses, her pearls, her dog and her overladen Christmas tree. What a swell party that looks.
Gifts inside: In the ghostly spirit of Christmas past, an original cassette compilation by the late Lux Interior of Sacramento psychobilly punks The Cramps, lovingly entitled Jeezus ****, It’s Christmas, is re-activated and re-mastered. Lux and Poison’s Ivy raves from the Christmas crypt add up to 31 of the “strangest Yuletide 45s ever”, now accompanied with ace sleeve notes by Mojo magazine’s Dave Henderson.
Style: Wild and weird rock’n’roll music and jumpin’ jive for beatniks, hipsters and swinging hep cats. Doo-wop ballads, novelty oddities, jailbird laments, mighty bluesmen, even skewed country (George Jones’s Eskimo Pie), are all Cramped in.
’Tis the season to be jolly: So many.Especially Tony Rodelle Larson’s impossibly cool Cool Yule; Louis Armstrong’s joyous Zat You, Santa Claus; Joan Shaw’s insistent I Want A Man For Christmas and Jimmy Butler’s innuendo-laden Trim Your Tree, culminating in the Reverend J M Gates’s fire-and-brimstone sermon, Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail.
Scrooge moan: Spike Jones and His City Slickers’ dogs launching a barking-mad assault on O Christmas Tree. Doggerel.
White Christmas? Anything but. Make way for The Marquees’ Christmas In The Congo, more like.
Blue Christmas? Too many to mention, but these will do for starters: Floyd Dixon’s Empty Stocking Blues, Little Esther & Mel Walker’s Far Away Christmas Blues; Julia Lee And Her Boy Friends’ Christmas Spirit, T-Bone Walker’s Cold, Cold Feeling and Washboard Pete’s Christmas Blues.
Stocking or shocking? Do you know someone who hates Christmas? Present incoming.
Charles Hutchinson’s top five Christmas albums of all time to discover
Bruce Cockburn, Christmas (Columbia, 1993)
Glasvegas, A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss) (SonyBMG, 2008)
Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler Present…This Is Christmas (Infectious Music, 2011)
Smith & Burrows, Funny Looking Angels (Kitchenware/Play It Again Sam, 2011)
Tracey Thorn, Tinsel & Lights (Strange Feeling Records, 2012)
Oh, and everyone should have Christmas gifts for you from Phil Spector, Elvis Presley, Kate Rusby and Sufjan Stevens.
COMPETITION TIME! WIN SIGNED KATE RUSBY ALBUMS
CharlesHutchPress has five CDs of Kate Rusby’s Holly Head to be won, signed by Kate in festive green, courtesy of Pure Records.
Question: Which tea-drinking Barnsley superhero has Kate invented for a series of songs?
Send your answer with your name and address by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked Kate Rusby Competition, by Tuesday, December 31.