The Best and Worst Holiday Albums of 2013

Find out which compilations are Naughty and which ones are Nice

(provided photos)


Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas (UMG Nashville)
Release date: 10/29/13

The stars of Duck Dynasty, the A&E reality show, aren’t going away any time soon, with bestselling memoirs on bookstore shelves and now this Christmas album, which has already shot to #1 on the US Country charts and sold over 200,000 copies. One has to wonder about the sanity of the record-buying public as this album features holiday classics rewritten to include the honk and squeak of duck calls, ridiculous original compositions (“Camouflage and Christmas Lights”), and some particularly rough vocalizing from the male members of the Robertson clan. This may make for a great gag gift, but don’t be surprised if it ends up collecting a thick layer of dust in your CD library after the new year.

Straight No Chaser – Under The Influence: Holiday Edition (Atlantic)
Release date: 10/29/13

An a cappella ensemble doing holiday tunes seems like a no-brainer, but there’s something…off…about this eight-song disc. It may have something to do with the strange production choices, like weaving the voice of soul singer Otis Redding (who passed away in 1967) into their run through “Merry Christmas Baby” or having the group provide harmonies and backing vocals for an original recording of Paul McCartney‘s “Wonderful Christmastime.” By the time you hit “Nutcracker,” a track that adds winking lyrics to the peerless music of Nutcracker Suite so as to turn it into an ironic jeremiad against the titular ballet/theater performance, you may be wondering why you nabbed this for your holiday music library in the first place.

Susan BoyleHome For Christmas (Columbia)
Release date: 10/29/13

The former Britain’s Got Talent success story returns for a second embrace of the holiday spirit here. And like everything she’s released to date, Boyle’s otherwise fine vocals are given nothing at all to challenge it. All 12 tunes are slow-burning, treacly ballads and carols overrun with dramatic movie soundtrack strings and keyboard drones. Even the usually stirring “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is reduced to a dull roar. Add to it the curious choice of duetting with a recording of Elvis Presley singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and Home For Christmas ends up coming across as a shiny, but completely inessential bauble.

Various Artists – Psych-Out Christmas (Cleopatra)
Release date: 10/22/13

There’s some humor to be found in this collection of erstwhile psychedelic rockers poking holes holiday tunes old and new, but that all depends on how much you can tolerate a leaden run through “Mele Kalikimaka” by the band Dead Meadow or a wholly unnecessary cover of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” by a group called Sons of Hippies. Some of it makes perfect sense like a hopped up versions of “Santa Claus,” a song by garage rock pioneers The Sonics, or a track recorded written by The Beatles for a fan club record. The rest, though, feels confused and too ironic for its own good.

Big Bad Voodoo DaddyIt Feels Like Christmas Time (Savoy Jazz)
Release date: 10/22/13

A third Christmas LP from this L.A.-based swing-revivalists best known for their appearance in the 1996 movie Swingers was perhaps inevitable considering the relative success of holiday fare like this. And for the most part, the octet does a fine job sashaying their way through standards like “Frosty The Snowman” and “We Three Kings.” It’s just that there’s no conviction behind the whole affair. Singer/guitarist Scotty Morris sounds like he’s sleepwalking through his few vocal turns and the relentless ring-a-ding kitschy feel of these tunes starts to outlast its welcome after a few songs. An album best taken in moderation.

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