Dig These Discs : Kelly Clarkson, Branden James, Bastille, Danielle Bradbery, Catching Fire
Enjoy more holiday sounds, as breakout star Brendan James, an openly gay tenor who made his name as a finalist in Season 8 of "America’s Got Talent," sings Christmas carols in his mellifluous tenor tones. Kelly Clarkson, another "American Idol" crossover star, delivers a present for us all, "Wrapped in Red." London rockers Bastille drop their debut album, and newcomer Danielle Bradbery parlays her success on "The Voice" into a career in country music. And the saga of Katniss Everdeen comes to life in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
"The Voice of Christmas" (Branden James)
Openly gay classic crossover artist Branden James made his name as a breakout star in Season 8 of "America’s Got Talent." This California tenor tackles pop and opera alike, and his immense talents have found him performing on stages in more than 20 countries. James is no Johnny-come-lately; he earned his chops by training at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has performed as a soloist with major American symphony orchestras, the LA Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and as a regular soloist for the LA Lakers. His debut CD "Songs of Freedom and Inspiration" did well, and now he tackles his first collection of holiday songs. Starting with the evergreen classic "Jingle Bells," James will help get you in the holiday mood. His piano-bar rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is an unusual and welcome addition to the Christmas canon. And his cover of Leonard Cohen’s chestnut "Hallelujah" is church-choir good. The piano playing is superb in "Ave Maria," another one for the masses, so to speak. James excels at hymns, as seen in his crisp rendition of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "O Holy Night" and "Amazing Grace." The addition of "Danny Boy," more an Irish folk song than a holiday tune per se, is a winsome touch. He finishes things up with "Panis Angelicus," and his voices soars like an angel. James is an undisputable talent, and his solid gold pipes were custom made for the dulcet tunes of holiday hymns.
"Wrapped in Red" (Kelly Clarkson)
Kelly Clarkson is America’s first reality show breakout star, winning the first season of the long-running (will it ever end?) show "American Idol" and catapulting into radio play with songs like "A Moment Like This" and "Since You’ve Been Gone." She has since sold more than 30 million albums, singing about heartbreak, independence and female empowerment. She has tried her hand at acting, and isn’t terrible. But her real power comes through song. Clarkson’s strength is in her vocal range, her versatility and skilled delivery, regardless of the genre. This prolific talent has partnered with pop stars to create Billboard hits, with country legends like Reba McEntire and other divas from across the globe. In December 2011 she released a cover of "I’ll Be Home For Christmas," and now she tries her hand at an entire album of holiday songs, "Wrapped in Red." The title song is a ’50s-era holiday song about finding love during the most wonderful time of the year, singing, "Silver bells remind me that mistletoe’s for two." This Happy Days vibe comes to "Run Run Rudolph," that rock ’n’ roll holiday pleaser. "My Favorite Things" hums along pleasantly, and she sings her heart out in the R&B tune "Every Christmas," stretching her soprano to the reaches of its range. She dives into the blues in "Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)" and with Elvis’ holiday classic, "Blue Christmas." Clarkson also includes lovingly recorded renditions of holiday classics like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas." She dishes out originals songs, as well. Presents don’t come close to love in the girl-band crooner "Underneath the Tree," and in "Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)." Clarkson asks Santa to leave the Tiffany gems under the tree in "4 Carats" and gets panicked at the holidays in "Just For Now." This holiday collection will rival the classics of Bing Crosby. For a Merry Christmas, make sure it’s under your tree!
"Bad Blood" (Bastille)
London rockers Dan Smith, Will Farquarson, Kyle Simmons and Chris Woody pop into the Top 40 charts with their debut album, "Bastille." These talented newbies are already a smash in the UK and New Zealand, double platinum in Italy and triple platinum in Australia. Their first single, "Pompeii," catapulted to the number one spot on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, setting them up to be a global phenomenon. "And if you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing changed at all," they croon in this emotional first single, their charming English accents discernable over the anthemic rock. They make a list of all the things they had in the catchy track, "Things We Lost in the Fire," singing, "we were born with nothing and we sure as hell having nothing now." Their title track "Bad Blood" finds them young and drinking in the park, making memories that define them for the rest of their lives. The vocal chops are impressive in the melancholy "Overjoyed," and the dark and brooding cut "Icarus." Bastille blends light and dark in "Daniel and the Den," singing "It’s harder than you think telling dreams from one another." Is it dream or reality when they sing of the Twin Peaks character "Laura Palmer," complete with racing beats and creepy echoes, with the lyrics, "If you had your gun would you shoot it at the sky, see where the bullet would fall; will it come down at all?" Their album boasts some solid radio-ready pop/rock anthems like "Pompeii" and "Silence" as well as some lighter, off-the-cuff tracks like "Flaws" and "Laughter Lines." The piano roots the slow-moving "Oblivion," and the fast-paced electro chops meld well with the piano in "Weight of Living, Pt. II." Part I of this tune is a much more upbeat affair. "They call me back and I surrender to the memories I run from," the boys sing in "These Streets." The talented players in this outfit happily switch and change their instruments, each taking a turn at vocals, keyboards and percussion, but the effect is seamless. It’s a long way until July, but we can still celebrate this Bastille Day.