BY CHUCK TAYLOR
Oh come all ye faithful… for a holiday collection that is as much a packed plow of seasonal favorites as it is an introduction of songs to add to your annual holiday playlist.
Boarding the sleigh ride for Breaking Records’ first such collection are such timeless veterans as Chaka Khan and venerable entertainer Sandra Bernhard, alongside two favorites from the nation’s unstoppable top-rated TV series, “American Idol” and its rock n’roll sister “Rockstar Supernova,” as well as a handful of acts that may be less familiar—but as you will soon see, merit equal esteem.
Leading the Christmas parade is incomparable eight-time Grammy Award winner Khan, whose styles cross all borders, from R&B and funk to gospel and pop standards. Her reading of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” originally recorded in 1962, is just what you would hope for—a vocal tour de force potent enough to conjure angels from the high heavens.
The song was produced by Eve Nelson, who arranged, conducted and produced Khan’s well-received 2005 standards album, “Classikhan” with the London Symphony Orchestra. The classically trained Nelson, who was awarded an ASCAP Scholarship from Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, contributes her crafty, self-produced version of “Home for the Holidays,” so beloved that it has been covered by the likes of such diverse acts as the Carpenters, Perry Como and Destiny’s Child.
Bernhard is certainly best known for her colorful and theatrical performances, but here she culls a worldwide call for peace in the calming, tribal “Miracle of Lights,” featuring Sussan Deyhim, a composer, vocalist and performance artist who has long been at the forefront of the ancient mysticism of Middle Eastern music.
Singer/songwriter Ben Jelen, whose 2004 debut “Give It All Away” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers album chart, further softens the tempo with a beautifully stripped-down version of Joni Mitchell’s melancholy “River,” on which he also contributes piano and violin. Jelen also self-produced the track.
The 25 million fans of “AI” will find particular delight in Vonzell Solomon, who percolates with signature warmth on “It’s Gonna Be a Cold Cold Christmas”—a song that sounds instantly familiar but is best known outside the U.S. as a hit in 1975 by Irish singer Dana—while fellow “AI” favorite Jon Peter Lewis, a top 10 finalist in season three, swipes at the winter chill in “California Christmas,” an instant classic, which conjures Beach Boys meets Phil Spector. The harmony-packed track is an original composition by Sky Elobar, commandeered by producer Ayhan Sahin—a renowned musical composer and tunesmith in his native Turkey.
Jill Gioia, a finalist on 2006 reality series “Rockstar Supernova,” meanwhile, stirs the embers with a tender and yet vocally vigorous rendition of the beloved “Silent Night”—which brings new meaning to the notion of a Christmas gift. Her emotive performance is simply staggering.
Canadian singer/songwriter Karine Hannah, who was signed to epic hit-man Jim Steinman’s label, has generated more than 150,000 friends via her MySpace.com Web site and caps the season with “New Years At Home,” an uptempo frolic that lyrically concludes that despite all glamorous invitations, there’s no better way to turn the annual page than snuggling with that special someone. Here’s a song and an artist that will brighten the holidays from this year forward. Promise.
Teen act Miz Metro brings a fresh dynamic to the ever-popular “Jingle Bells,” delivered here acoustically via claps, snaps and knee slaps. It proves that happy holidays need little embellishment, huh?
Last but not least is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” from Demolition String Band, certainly true to the New York-based quartet’s twang, bluegrass and rock signature. We’re talking about an ensemble whose dominant influences are Pretenders, Ramones and Blondie—so you do the math.
Happy holidays are assured with “Breaking for the Holidays.” Cheers!
Chuck Taylor has worked at Billboard magazine for more than a dozen years. His Christmas wish list is simple: world peace and eternal youth.