The former Ronettes singer's voice is inextricably linked with the holidays thanks to her prominent role on her ex's "A Christmas Gift for You" rock holiday classic collection. She's wisely opted not to try recreating Phil's signature wall of sound on this five-song EP, but blends vintage R&B, smooth jazz and easy listening on five modestly charming originals written for her. Her voice isn't the force of nature it once was, but it still oozes sincerity.
Various Artists "Gift Wrapped II: Snowed In" ( Warner Bros.)
A something-for-everyone grab bag like this virtually assures that hardly anyone will connect with everything. The 21 tracks span Devo's loopy Euro-dance original "Merry Something to You," David Foster's shopping-mall pop arrangement of "Carol of the Bells," Tegan and Sara's rodent-friendly update of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" and the Flaming Lips' work-in-progress live run-through of "Little Drummer Boy." Available as an iTunes download and a limited edition vinyl double-LP set.
Various Artists "Now That's What I Call Christmas! 4" (EMI/Universal/Sony)
The marquee number on this fourth edition of the cross-label compilation is Rihanna's new reggae-soaked original "A Child Is Born." The two-CD set of contemporary and classic holiday tracks also pulls in Lady Gaga's festive 2008 single "Christmas Tree," but the majority of the cuts on the disc billed as "superstars of today" have appeared previously, just as most tracks on the second disc featuring stars of "yesterday," including Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Johnny Mathis et al., have been recycled endlessly, making this set relevant primarily to those who've never bought a holiday collection in their lives.
Various Artists "'Tis the Season to Be Fearless" (Fearless)
The indie rock/pop-punk label's first holiday collection is a brash collection of songs of the season, most of them originals, from eight acts from the roster including For All Those Sleeping, Sparks The Rescue, Go Radio and Breathe Carolina. A lively choice that could result in a discovery or two for the adventurous teen listener on your shopping list.
Various Artists "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (Capitol)
The title refers to Phyllis McGinley's charming 1956 Christmas poem, which Boris Karloff recorded in 1968 as a Capitol Records promotional item that's never previously been commercially available. It's a delight that will appeal to fans of his beloved interpretation of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It runs only about 16 minutes, so the disc is filled out with a half dozen Santa-related tracks by the Beach Boys, Alvin & the Chipmunks, Johnny Mercer and others pulled from the Capitol- EMI vaults.
Wilson Phillips "Christmas in Harmony" ( Sony Masterworks)
Sisters Wendy and Carnie Wilson and Chynna Phillips — the erstwhile hit-making offspring of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Mamas & the Papas' John and Michele Phillips — are back with a Glen Ballard-produced collection that frothily tips a stockingcap to the grand-scale pop-rock of Phil Spector and the moody atmospherics of Chris Isaak. The general deficit of vocal character vanishes on their gorgeous album-closing reading of Brian Wilson's a cappella vocalese masterpiece "Our Prayer."