Andy Paley, left, and Tom Kenny, the creative forces behind the "It's… (Theo and Julie )
Calendar recently published our annual roundup of holiday music releases, but the yuletide hits just keep on coming. So here's an addendum with some albums we hadn't received as of press time on the first go-round, highlighted by inspired new offerings from Leftover Cuties and the master of the undersea world -- no, not Neptune or Jacques Cousteau, but the rectangular one himself: SpongeBob SquarePants.
(Our previous rundown on this year's crop of holiday tunes featured Cee Lo Green, Scotty McCreery, Colbie Caillat, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, the Polyphonic Spree and many more.)
**½ William Close & the Earth Harp Collective, “Holidays” (Top Tomato Records). Holiday music that puts the earth harp -- billed as “the world’s largest stringed instrument,” with strings reaching as much as 1,000 feet long -- and ethereal vocals front and center veers near the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s neighborhood, largely minus that outfit’s shredding electric guitars and thumping rhythm section. A pair of originals co-written by Close gently complement “Carol of the Bells,” “Silent Night,” “Oh Holy Night” and other standards. This one’s for those quiet, meditative holiday evenings.
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** Celtic Woman “Home for Christmas” (Manhattan). Something of an odd duck in the holiday genre, Celtic Woman’s offering isn’t quite Celtic, not fully Broadway, more middle-of-the-road pop with a good dose of Mormon Tabernacle Choir grandiosity. The singers’ voices are uniformly, classically beautiful, but sometimes nearly drowned by overzealous accompaniment.
** Corky Hale, “Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas” (Beverly Hills Records). Jazz harp music is hardly an overworked genre, and Hale -- on piano and celeste as well as harp -- breathes swing and flashes of improvisational life into what might have easily turned somnambulistic. Even so, this isn’t the go-to CD for off-the-hook holiday parties.
*** Leftover Cuties, “Christmas Time Is Here” (self-released). This retro-forward L.A. band has crafted a genuinely sparkling EP reflecting the band’s passion for roots jazz and world music. Even with six of the most familiar yuletide standards, the quartet fronted by singer Shirli McAllen demonstrates just how far a bit of imagination, a strong sense of swing and good spirits can go at this time of year. Highlight: A minor-key arrangement coupled to a seven-beat meter turns “Jingle Bells” into a whole new sleigh ride.
*** SpongeBob SquarePants, “It’s a SpongeBob SquarePants Christmas!” (Nickelodeon). How do you resist the loopy voice of SpongeBob as he advises listeners “During this most precious season -- don’t be a jerk.” SpongeBob voice actor Tom Kenny and his collaborator, producer-musician Andy Paley, have written an album’s worth of undersea-inspired holiday tunes offered up not only by the Nickelodeon series star but also by his costars, including Plankton, Sandy Cheeks, Mr. Krabs, Patrick Star and Squidward Tentacles. SpongeBob’s above-the-seafoam musical accomplices include James Burton and Big Al Anderson, harpist Corky Hale and singer-songwriter-guitarist Jonathan Richman.
**½ Kenny Vance & the Planotones, “Mr. Santa” (Planotones). Founding member of Jay & the Americans, Vance is a Brooklynite who never lost his passion for doo-wop. That gives his holiday album a modest charm, especially on bouncy, oldies-flavored originals including the title track, “Doo Wop Christmas” and “Christmas on the Block.”