Holiday music aficionados will find beautiful versions of Christmas classics this season on the Christmas album releases from two Utah-based groups: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Lower Lights. New renditions of familiar standards sound altogether festive and cozy, while the performances of lesser-known works on both albums might become contenders for holiday favorites.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Home for the Holidays features Tony Award-winning Alfie Boe. A highlight of the album is Boe's performance of "Bring Him Home" from his signature role in Les Miserables. Boe's voice is perfectly matched by the choir throughout the album, but the finale "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" is as big and beautiful as you could possibly hope it to be. The choir and orchestra are at their best on Ralph Vaughn Williams' "God Bless the Master of this House" and Mendelssohn's "From Heaven on High;" neither song is a holiday standard per se, but beautiful and redolent of the season nonetheless. This is an ideal album to play while you write your holiday greetings this year.
The Lower Lights, on their second holiday album Sing Noel, perform gospel-folk and bluegrass-tinged renditions of Christmas carols full of seamless harmonies and new arrangements. The Lower Lights feature numerous local musicians, and when they come together on Sing Noel, they really shine. The bluegrass-styled performances are the best on the album, like "Far, Far Away on Judea's Plain" and "Once in Royal David's City," though Debra Fotheringham's voice on "A Cradle in Bethlehem" comes in close to the top as well. This album is the perfect soundtrack for driving around with the family and looking at Christmas lights; rousing enough to keep little ones awake, but with mellow strains that will keep everyone from going too wild in the car.
These two holiday albums are consistently strong and unique enough to make their own place in any Christmas music collection. The blend of traditional and new seasonal songs are fresh enough to be played on repeat, as Christmas songs often are, but not so different from the standards as to feel like an interruption.