‘Glee’ does Christmas 3 and Cash motherlode
Owls Head — Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 3 (Columbia/20th Century Fox CD). I must admit I enjoyed the first two Christmas volumes a bit more than this, but it still is a worthwhile effort that fans will enjoy. Six of the songs appeared in last week’s holiday-themed episode and four songs were recorded exclusively for the CD, including “Joy To the World,” featuring Alex Newell (Unique) and “Silent Night,” performed by Naya Rivera (Santana). The other exclusives are “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” featuring Lea Michele (Rachel) and Cory Monteith’s (Finn) take on John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (I wish that had made the show. In the show, Darren Criss (Blaine) and Chris Colfer (Kurt) got to do another duet on “White Christmas” (although they remain officially broken up) and the Pucker man half-brothers (Mark Salling as Puck and Jacob Artist as Jake) perform “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah.” Kevin McHale (Artie) gets to solo on “Feliz Navidad” during a dream sequence, while Chord Overstreet (Sam) serenades Heather Morris (Britany) on “Jingle Bell Rock” (a fun highlight of the show). Melissa Benoist, who plays newcomer Marley, sings “The First Noel,” and most of the cast comes together to perform “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” even if in three different locations.
Glee: The Music, Season 4 Volume 1 (Columbia/20th Century Fox CD). The Christmas album was preceded by this collection, which features 13 songs. Cast members cover One Direction’s “Live While We’re Young,” Psy’s dance anthem “Gangnam Style,” Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time,” Cold play’s “The Scientist” and Taylor Swift’s “Mine.” Also covered are Billy Joel’s “A New York State of Mind” (a good duet with Melissa Benoist and Lea Michele) and the Bonnie Tyler hit, “Holding Out For a Hero,” followed by David Bowie’s “Heroes.” There’s even a mash-up of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” and the Phillip Phillips hit, “Home.” This is a solid, appealing album.
Various: Merry Nickmas (Nickelodeon/Columbia CD). This collection features Big Time Rush (“All I Want For Christmas,” “Beautiful Christmas”), Rachel Crow (“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”), Victoria Justice (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”), the Victoria Cast (“It’s Not Christmas Without You”) and the How To Rock Cast (“Deck the Halls”). SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) sings “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas),” the popular Bikini Bottom holiday classic.
Willie Nelson: The Classic Christmas Album (Columbia/Legacy CD). Each year, Legacy releases a handful or so of Christmas compilation albums, gathering tracks from a single artist’s various Christmas albums over the years. All feature 16 selections, except for the Elvis Presley, which has 17. Nelson’s disc includes “Pretty Paper,” “A Dreamer’s Holiday,” “Christmas Blues,” “Blue Christmas” and “Joy to the World.” The latter features Bobbie Nelson, as does “Away in a Manger.” In many cases, the songs are from out-of-print albums, albums never issued on CD, or highly collectible rarities.
John Denver: The Classic Christmas Album (RCA/Legacy CD). Denver wrote or co-wrote four of the selections here -- “A Baby Just Like You,” “Christmas Like a Lullaby,” “Aspenglow” and the medley of “Alfie, The Christmas Tree/Carol for a Christmas Tree/It’s in Everyone of Us.” He also did the arrangements/adaptations of “Coventry Carol,” “What Child Is This?,” “Oh Holy Night” and “Jingle Bells.”
Kenny G: The Classic Christmas Album (Arista/Legacy CD). This collects songs from the jazz saxophonist’s five holiday releases. The selections include “Winter Wonderland,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “My Favorite Things.”
Barry Manilow: The Classic Christmas Album (Arista/Legacy CD). Manilow’s collection includes “Silver Bells,” a “Jingle Bells” duet with Expose, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Violets for Your Furs.”
Elvis Presley: The Classic Christmas Album (RCA/Legacy CD). This set includes both the original version of “Blue Christmas” and then duet version with Martina McBride, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Carrie Underwood, a couple of traditional religious songs and the more rocking “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me),” as well as “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.”
Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection (Columbia/Legacy, 63 CDs). This massive box set, which is ridiculously low=priced when figured per disc, contains three full Christmas albums: “The Christmas Spirit,” “The Johnny Cash Family Christmas” and “Classic Christmas.” In fact, it contains all 59 of his Columbia albums, plus two new supplemental compilations. The latter are “Singles, Plus,” a 2-CD, 56-song collection of single sides that did not originally appear on albums. Plus his guest performances on other artists’ albums, including Bob Dylan, the Carter Family, the Earl Scruggs Revue, Marty Robbins and Willie Nelson; and “Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar,” a collection of 28 single and non-single classics released during his years at Sun Records. In all, 35 of the albums are being released on CD in this country for the first time, including one I had never heard of, “Pa Osteraker,” a live album recorded with the Tennessee Three at the Osteraker Prison in Sweden in 1972. It does not contain any of his favorite songs, such as appeared on the previous “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin,” but does include a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” (the big Janis Joplin hit). Cash would later join up with Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Nelson for the two “Highwayman” albums, also included here. The first 19 chronological albums are released in mono sound for the first time on CD in the United States. Each title is packaged in an LP-replica mini jacket with the original art work, but have your magnifying glass handy. The music itself covers country & western, gospel, rock and roll, blues, traditional balladry and folk music. Often, the albums are based on a theme. This set is a treasure trove and would make a wonderful Christmas gift.
Other box sets will be covered in the next music column, including the complete Columbia albums by Blue Oyster Cult and some Duke Ellington and Louie Armstrong.
Cash is also the subject of four new individual compilations from Columbia/Legacy. “The Greatest Duets" includes 14 collaborations with Lynn Anderson, June Carter, Jennings, Dylan, Ray Charles, Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver and other Cash family members. “The Greatest Gospel Songs” includes another 14 tracks, including “he Turned the Water into Wine,” “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” and “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me).” “The Greatest The Number Ones” includes all 19 of his chart-topping hits, from “I Walk the Line” to “A Boy Named Sue,” as well as a bonus DVD with 10 previously unreleased performances from “The Johnny Cash Show.” “The Greatest Country Classics” is another 14-song collection, including “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Finally, there is “We Walk the Line,” a celebration of Cash’s music performed by Brandi Carlile, Buddy Miller, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jamey Johnson and Kristofferson, Rhett Miller, Shooter Jennings and Amy Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson and others in an April 20, 2012 concert. There also is a bonus DVD with artist interviews, two bonus performances and a feature on the making of the album.
Howard Shore: The Hobbit, an Unexpected Journey, original motion picture soundtrack (Watertower, 2 CDs). Leaving aside Christmas music and Johnny Cash, another notable release is Shore’s score for Peter Jackson’s new film, the first of a trilogy. Shore also composed the music for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so you know you are in good hands, or at least in for a wonderful musical experience. “Misty Mountains” contains lyrics by original author J.R.R. Tolkien, while Neil Finn (co-front man of the New Zealand group Split Enz) wrote the lyrics, co-wrote the music and sings “Song of the Lonely Mountain.”