Wayne Bledsoe: New Christmas albums deliver another year of gold and coal

Christmas albums are impossible to predict. An artist you love can produce a Christmas disc that totally misses the mark, while an artist you normally despise can surprise you with one of the best of the year.

This year there were no huge surprises, but just the same, you never know what to expect:

"Christmas Time Is Here," Knoxville Jazz Orchestra (www.knoxjazz.org)

Knoxville has one of the coolest jazz orchestras in the country and this Christmas disc is further reason to spread the word. Great arrangements, great playing, guest vocals by Jill Andrews (formerly of the Everybodyfields) and music that really swings. This is one of my favorite Christmas discs of the past several years.

"Festivus," Various Artists (Highline)

THIS is my favorite rock Christmas, or "Festivus," disc of 2012. It includes Skilffle and the Piffles' great Christmas break-up song "Just Because It's Christmas" and Piney Gir's lovable "Everyday's a Holiday" and stack of others all doing good originals worth taking a close listen to.

"The Gift of Rock," Smash Mouth (429)

Sure you get tired of it before it's over, but Steve Harwell's rough shout, the band's happy deliveries and creative song selection makes this album work.

"Christmas Dreaming," Susie Arioli featuring Jordan Officer (Jazzheads)

Canadian vocalist Susie Arioli and guitarist Jordan Officer have one of the best Christmas-discs of the season. Jazz and swing mix with a lovable cover of the bluegrass number "Call Collect on Christmas" and Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains." It's simple, sweet and worth listening to even when holidays are over.

"Christmas: The Mountain Way," Various Artists (Rural Rhythm)

Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Audie Blaylock, Marty Raybon and other bluegrass greats are all assembled here. If you want 'grass for Christmas, start here.

"A Christmas Story: The Musical" (Masterworks Broadway)

I love the movie "A Christmas Story." This, unfortunately, transforms it into a schlocky Broadway cliche that might make the original Ralphie use that Red Ryder BB gun for a suicide attempt.

"This Christmas," John Travolta & Olivia Newton John (Universal)

If you loved "Grease," maybe this is what you've been waiting for. You've gotta give it credit for making Olivia the aggressor on "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

"A Very Merry Perri Christmas," Christina Perri (Atlantic)

Christina Perri ( "Jar of Hearts") checks in with a sweet 6-track EP. The best track is the original "Something About December" and Perri smartly revives the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling."

"Now That's What I Call Today's Christmas," Various Artists (EMI)

Carly Rae Jepsen's "Mittens" (the only new to 2012 track) is really pretty good. Justin Bieber's 2011 "Mistletoe" manages to make you nostalgic for a time before the word "shawty" was first uttered. The best tracks include Sara Bareilles' original "Love Is Christmas," Lady Gaga's jazzy "White Christmas" and Grace Potter's bluesy "Please Come Home for Christmas."

"Merry Nickmas," Various Artists (Columbia)

Maybe tweens can stomach this pop candy, but I can't.

"Christmas with Ernest Pugh and Friends," Ernest Pugh (EPM Music Group)

Gospel singer Ernest Pugh delivers the goods with this collection of mostly familiar Christmas songs. Pugh's style is more modern R&B than traditional gospel and he channels Stevie Wonder here and there.

"It's Christmas," Mandisa (Sparrow)

OK, gospel artists have an edge on reverent Christmas albums. This one is a little too slick, but it hits all the right buttons.

"Christmas With Scotty McCreery," Scotty McCreery (Mercury)

Teenage "American Idol"-winner Scotty McCreery isn't going for cute here. His baritone is solid and his delivery is on target and straightforward. It's a nice surprise.

"On This Winter's Night," Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

No surprise. Lady Antebellum's full-length Christmas disc gives fans exactly what they want and might even win them a few new ones.

"Merry Christmas, Baby," Rod Stewert (Verve)

Rod Stewart doesn't much sound like ol' Rod used to. Maybe fans used to Stewart's standards albums will get it, but for those of us who loved him from early 1970s rock classics, this is so disconcerting and dull it almost makes you nostalgic for his Spandex years."Noel," Phil Vassar (Rodeowave)

I normally like Phil Vassar, but not at Christmas.

"Christmas Time's A-Coming," The Oak Ridge Boys (Gaither Music Group)

This disc is a combination of inoffensively silly ("Peterbilt Sleigh") and traditional. If you like the Boys, there's little doubt you'll enjoy this.

"Once Upon a Christmas," Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Jane Seymor (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)

The title sort of tells you what you need to know. It's big, it's well done and you get a story (it's available with and without the book).

"A Laurie Berkner Christmas," Laurie Berkner (Razor & Tie)

Sweet-voiced children's performer Laurie Berkner checks in with 15 kid-friendly poppy, folky Christmas songs that won't drive parents to drink the eggnog sans the egg.

"Average Joes Muddy Christmas," Various Artists (AverageJoeSent.com)

I really wanted to hate this, but I just can't. Goofy Christmas songs include "Santa in a 4-Wheel Drive" by the Lacs, "What Time Is It?" by the LoCash Cowboys. Nice sweet ones include "Our Christmas" by Matt Stillwell and John Anderson's "Christmas Time." Nappy Roots even show up with "Nappy Christmas."

"Cool, Cool Yule," Supe and the Sandwiches (www.supeline.com)

Ozark Mountain Daredevil Michael Granda presents this irreverent Christmas boogie collection highlighted by a revival of Lonzo and Oscar's goofy "Jangle Bells" and "Tighten Up" turned Christmas. Elsewhere, Supe can be pretty superfluous.

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