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    Music Gift Guide: Holiday albums

    The Living Sisters are (from left) Alex Lilly, Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell, and Inara George.
    Chloe Aftel
    The Living Sisters are (from left) Alex Lilly, Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell, and Inara George.

    The weather outside might be frightful, so it’s the perfect time to curl up with a delightful book, DVD, or box set from a favorite musical artist. Whether you’ve got a rock, pop, country, metal, hip-hop, gospel, jazz, or classical music fan on your list, there is something here that they will be happy to find in their stocking — and then, hopefully, in the spirit of the holidays, share with you.


    Our pick:

    Handel’s “Messiah”

    Stu Rosner
    Artistic director Harry Christophers and the Handel and Haydn Society Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus have released on engaging performance of Handel's “Messiah.”

    Handel and Haydn Society, conducted by Harry Christophers

    Recorded during last year’s performances in Symphony Hall, this CD release of Handel’s “Messiah” gives an accurate picture of what artistic director Harry Christophers and the Handel and Haydn Society Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus have been offering over the past few years. Which is to say, all the virtues of the fluid modern style of doing Handel, and almost none of the drawbacks.

    Some might prefer a mezzo-soprano to a countertenor in the alto part, but there’s little else to quibble over. Even the CD booklet essays by Ellen T. Harris are well above average. The four soloists — soprano Gillian Keith, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Tom Randle, and baritone Sumner Thompson — focus on pointing the text, and they do so with conviction; the subject of Keith’s “I know that my redeemer liveth” is the redeemer, not her (undeniably) beautiful voice. The chorus is unusually well balanced — no shrieking sopranos — and calm. “And he shall purify,” so often barked out like a stern warning, is here sweetly incanted.

    As opposed to versions that make you endure boring recitatives to get to the next overwrought set piece, this one is engaging throughout. It’s stately, yet it keeps moving forward, with a continuo accompaniment that never bounces or chops up the line. When Handel slides into triple time, it dances, as in “And the glory of the Lord” and the pastoral siciliana depicting the shepherds in the field. Everything about this performance is easy and light, even as it illuminates anew Handel’s 273-year-old masterpiece.


    More holiday albums:


    Elizabeth Chan, “Christmas in the City” This New York singer-songwriter exclusively records original holiday music, and her latest is full of glad tidings and cheery pop tunes. (S.R.)

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    The Christmas Revels, “From Parlour to Palace” A companion piece to the Christmas Revels’ string of shows at Sanders Theatre next month, the new holiday album directed by George Emlen is a full-scale Victorian spectacle. (J.R.)

    Earth, Wind & Fire, “Holiday” On its first seasonal outing, the legendary R&B outfit brings the joy on a horn-flecked collection of familiar tunes — including a funky “Joy to the World” — and “December,” a curious retrofit of the band’s classic “September.” (S.R.)

    Anthony Hamilton, “Home for the Holidays” From “The Christmas Song” (featuring Chaka Khan) to his delightful cover of James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” the R&B singer is smooth as silk on his new holiday album. (J.R.)

    Jamey Johnson, “The Christmas Song” The country singer brings his formidable baritone to bear on terrific countrypolitan renditions of four seasonal favorites, including Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” and new original “South Alabam Christmas.” (S.R.)


    The Living Sisters, “Harmony Is Real” Soft as drifting snow and just as delicate, the Living Sisters — Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell, Inara George, and Alex Lilly — make timeless holiday songs centered on the warmth of the season and their voices. (J.R.)

    Idina Menzel, “Holiday Wishes” Menzel knows about being “Frozen,” but this new album is all vocal warmth as the Tony-winner cozies up to a swellegant “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Michael Bublé and skates away on Joni Mitchell’s “River.” (S.R.)

    Gaby Moreno, “Posada” In a refreshing respite from the usual holiday fare, this Guatemalan singer-songwriter takes the listener on a festive and feisty journey through the Americas, sung in English and Spanish. (J.R.)

    Over the Rhine, “Blood Oranges in the Snow” A collection of holiday-inspired originals that the Americana duo calls “reality Christmas music,” this is the seasonal soundtrack for people who claim they don’t like such a thing: warm, rustic, and elegant. (J.R.)

    Pentatonix, “That’s Christmas to Me” The a cappella quintet and “Sing Off” winner currently rules the Billboard holiday albums chart with this release, which veers from reverent to soulful to whimsical, sometimes within the space of one tune. (S.R.)


    Darius Rucker, “Home for the Holidays” The crossover country star plays it fairly traditional. But he has fun, too, on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and invites Sheryl Crow over for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (S.R.)

    Various artists, “All Is Bright” A star-studded cast contributed to this 43-song holiday playlist exclusive to Amazon, including Lucinda Williams, Amanda Palmer, and Liz Phair. Highlights include a new version of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by Yoko Ono and the Flaming Lips. (The album is free for Amazon Prime customers, but can also be purchased digitally.) (J.R.)

    Various artists, “An Americana Christmas” Have yourself a merry little Christmas with Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, and John Prine, along with relative newcomers Valerie June, Nikki Lane, and Robert Ellis. This compilation is a mix of previously released songs and six brand-new ones. (J.R.)

    Various artists, “Christmas With Nashville” The stars of ABC’s fictional Music City — including Connie Britton and Charles Esten — and friends like Vince Gill get in the spirit with this collection, produced by Jay Demarcus from Rascal Flatts. (S.R.)


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