Sia, Every Day Is Christmas (Monkey Puzzle/Atlantic) ****

Wrapping: At last, we get to see Sia’s face, but still keeping her anonymity, she sports a frizzy red and green wig. Like most CDs, the credits and lyrics are printed in such tiny text, it makes reading almost impossible.

Gifts inside: Absolutely one of the most adventurous Christmas albums of the past 20 year; all ten songs are new compositions. We salute Ms Furler and long-time collaborator Greg Kurstin for their integrity.

Style: Fans will know to expect rich hotch-potch of styles. Even with the odd sleigh bell, this is not the most obvious Christmas collection.

’Tis the reason to be jolly: Far from covering standard colour-by-numbers classics, this is a brave new original piece.

Scrooge moan: Being so original, many casual listeners may not realise this is actually a Christmas collection.

White Christmas? Absolutely not!

Blue Christmas? Puppies Are Forever is a timely cautionary song. Well done Sia.

Stocking or shocking? Many wishing to identify as individuals, and happy to explore new interpretations of the wonder of Christmas, may enjoy the idealism of this charismatic talent.

Ian Sime

York Press:

Gwen Stefani: "No expense spared to rival Mariah’s money-spinning Yuletide extravaganza"

Gwen Stefani, You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Interscope) ****

Wrapping: Beautifully coiffured and robed in the finest fashions, Gwen looks sensational in a series of highly posed festive shots, which wouldn't be out of place on the Christmas edition of Hello magazine. 
Gifts inside: Twelve song set includes rich mix of very traditional festive tunes such as Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, modern standards (Santa Baby) and half a dozen self-composed numbers. Stand-out track You Make It Feel Like Christmas is a collaboration with current beau, country star Blake Shelton. 
Style: Very traditional festive fare, supported by super large orchestra, to enchant many. 
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Jingle Bells excels with its brash Hollywood Big Band arrangement. No expense spared to rival Mariah’s money-spinning Yuletide extravaganza. 
Scrooge moan: Designed to please as many people as possible, what’s to dislike?
White Christmas? Of course Irving Berlin’s classic is included.
Blue Christmas? George Michael’s Last Christmas is obviously tinged with a little sadness. 
Stocking or shocking? Stefani is well known for her shocking stockings! Everyone who's loved Kylie and Mariah’s Christmas albums will adore this set.
Ian Sime

York Press:

Katie Melua: "More In The Bleak Midwinter than Ding Dong Merrily On High"

Katie Melua featuring the Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia, In Winter (BMG) ****

Wrapping: Folksy artwork etched by Eastern elves in the depths of the forest.
Gifts inside: A blank Christmas card, lyrics, and two CDs feature the same ten tracks, one studio-recorded and the second live in Berlin with the Gori Women’s Choir from Katie’s birth country Georgia. A concept mix of Ukranian and Romanian carols, a Russian Nunc Dimittis, O Holy Night and Katie favourites. 
Style: More In The Bleak Midwinter than Ding Dong Merrily On High
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Katie’s soulful voice rises perfectly above the warm swell of the choir: a match made in heaven. Plus CD2 has seven extra live songs, including Katie’s Nine Million Bicycles, Closest Thing To Crazy and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Scrooge moan: The closet thing to jolly is Wonderful Life.
White Christmas? No, but Joni Mitchell’s River is a bonus.
Blue Christmas? It is all rather sad and haunting, and at times beautiful
Stocking or shocking? A good present to unwrap on Christmas Eve for a relaxing chill before the big day.
Catherine Turnbull

York Press:

Kate Rusby: "Her Christmas records bear glad tidings of great joy"

Kate Rusby, Angels & Men (Pure Records) ****

Wrapping: Folk nightingale Kate in angel's wings in sepia-tinted woodland, finally shaking off Nativity Play cruel blow of her Angel Gabriel's feathers being deemed "too dirty" in Barnsley childhood days.
Gifts inside: Fourth Rusby Christmas album in a decade. South Yorkshire pub carols (Sweet Chiming Bells, Hark Hark, a Clannad-style Paradise), joined by Richard Thompson's We'll Sing Hallelujah, Norfolk-rooted The Ivy And The Holly and Canadian David Myles's charming Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo. Plus new errand for tea-drinking superhero, Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas.
Style: Kate and her folk regulars and winter brass boys, with added Moog mystery and first-time drums and programming by engineer Josh Clark, typified by Deck The Halls.

York Press:

Kate Rusby: "Shaking off Nativity Play cruel blow of her Angel Gabriel's feathers being deemed 'too dirty' in Barnsley childhood days"
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Kate's first New Year song, Let The Bells Ring, as gorgeously bleak but hopeful as REM's Electrolite. 
Scrooge moan: Apparently, not on sale at HMV in York, to the frustration of staff and disappointed customers alike. 
White Christmas? No, but twinkled-toed take on Cahn and Styne's Let It Snow, famously written in a 1945 California heatwave, and a frost-encrusted See Amid The Winter Snow. 
Blue Christmas? Often Rusby's songs are melancholic, but her Christmas records bear glad tidings of great joy.
Stocking or shocking? Hark, the Yorkshire voice of Christmas triumphs again.
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

Alexander Armstrong: "Feels rather flat and lacking in character in comparison to Ball, Boe and Bublé"

Alexander Armstrong, In A Winter Light (East West) **

Wrapping: Appropriately festive, adorned with knowingly cheesy, smart-casual shots of the Pointless presenter.
Gifts inside: 16 tracks in total, from lighter fare to carols and classics of a religious inclination, including two of Alexander’s own compositions. Hefty support from choir of New College, Oxford and Royal Air Force Squadronaires, while boogie-woogie man Jools Holland adds celeb appeal to Rodgers and Hart number Little Girl Blue – not that you’d notice, he’s so far down in the mix.
Style: Don’t expect a good old-fashioned Christmas knees-up, this is sombre and sedate stuff.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Not likely. Only crowd-pleaser Winter Wonderland has enough pizzazz to warm the cockles.
Scrooge moan: Sadly, Alexander’s third album all feels rather flat and lacking in character in comparison to Ball, Boe and Bublé, all riding high in the charts.
White Christmas? Conspicuous by its absence.
Blue Christmas? You’ll certainly be blue after this.
Stocking or shocking? Fans of the aforementioned crooners, not to mention Alexander himself, may be a tad disappointed to find this in their stocking come the big day.
Vicky Thompson

York Press:

Simon Callow: "Even more plummy than a Christmas pudding"

Simon Callow with The Brighouse and Rastrick Band, A Christmas Carol (Island) ****

Wrapping: Red with gold lettering, more usually a Christmas decoration classic for many a festive table.
Gifts inside: Dickens enthusiast Simon Callow's 175th anniversary reading of ubiquitous Victorian tale of tight-wad Scrooge's night of terrors and redemption, underscored with carolling blast of Yorkshire's Brighouse and Rastrick champion band.
Style: Thespian Callow, even more plummy than a Christmas pudding, brings Scrooge, Marley, Cratchit and ghosts times three to full spirited life. 

York Press:
’Tis the reason to be jolly: A second CD of Brighouse and Rastrick, sans Callow, performing Christmas Carols' greatest hits with brass warmth and echoes of Yuletide past from Silent Night to In The Bleak Midwinter. 
Scrooge moan: Yes, plenty of them, of course. Bah humbug. 
White Christmas? Not that song, no, but snow has its place in Dickens' tale, like want and ignorance. 
Blue Christmas? So cold in Scrooge's counting house and chamber, but God bless everyone at the joyous finale. 
Stocking or shocking?The sound of Christmas present yet to come, most assuredly. 
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

Tom Chaplin: "Lifted out of mire of mediocrity by Chaplin’s angelic voice"

Tom Chaplin, Twelve Tales Of Christmas (Island) *** 

Wrapping: Functional. Tom looking serious and thoughtful against impressionistic Christmas backdrop. 
Gifts inside: 12 tracks, including covers of The Pretenders, East 17, Joni Mitchell and Walking In The Air. Other songs by Chaplin and long-term writing partner Matt Hales. 
Style: Easy listening, soft rock. Lifted out of mire of mediocrity by Chaplin’s angelic voice.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Again, the voice, one of the most effortlessly beautiful in contemporary pop. Mitchell’s River hints at what might have been, had more courage and imagination been shown, as do self-penned Under A Million Lights and London Lights.
Scrooge moan: Shockingly anaemic version of The Pretenders' 2000 Miles.
White Christmas? No, but it would have been a welcome replacement for gruesome dirge Stay Another Day.
Blue Christmas? Yes, We Remember You This Christmas, a moving lament for lost loved ones, while For the Lost and Another Lonely Christmas speak for themselves. All teeter on fine line between saccharine self-indulgence and moving melancholia.
Stocking or shocking? Ultimately disappointing, in the wake of Chaplin’s excellent solo album The Wave. Perfect for a maiden aunt sobbing into her sherry. 
Robert Beaumont

York Press:

Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow: "Full of emotional, sad-eyed songs"

O’Hooley & Tidow, Winterfolk Volume 1 (No Masters Co-operative) *****

Wrapping: The married duo looking on in a bar, with warming Guinnesses half full.
Gifts inside: Twelve songs, a mix of new, older and ancient, from Christmas standards to their own striking originals.
Style: Folk to you and me, but classically arranged.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Clever subversion of the Christmas album, taking in the entire winter season, so escaping all of the festive clichés. They even carry off a cover of The Pogues' Fairytale Of New York, the dark heart of the season.

York Press:
Scrooge moan: The rather dull cover is the only weakness!
White Christmas? Absent, but Sille Nacht and Coventry Cathedral stand in.
Blue Christmas? Full of emotional, sad-eyed songs. The pick is One More Xmas as it achieves a longing that approaches universal, while Whitethorn’s tale of burying stillborns is almost unbearably sad – and even better than the version Belinda O'Hooley recorded as an original member of Rachel Unthank and The Winterset. 
Stocking or shocking? Every sad-eyed, big-eared stocking should contain a copy.
Paul Rhodes

York Press:

Sarah Darling: "Wraps up much loved songs in an elegant, American Songbook style"

Sarah Darling, Winter Wonderland (Be Darling Records) **

Wrapping: America’s Darling, a rising Nashville star, all in white unruffled by swirling snow.
Gifts inside: Eight takes on festive favourites, from Santa Baby and Silent Night to Joni Mitchell's River and I'll Be Home For Christmas. 
Style: While Darling is a nu-country singer, here she wraps up these much loved songs in an elegant, American Songbook style.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: It is slinky smooooth, crisp and even to a unwholesome degree, and designed for the modern attention span.
Scrooge moan: Completely dispensable, Darling is competent and photogenic but adds nothing magical to these timeless songs, so what is the point?
White Christmas? Darling’s version is elegant, with an ever-so subtle country flavour.
Blue Christmas? With the emotion ironed out by this shimmering production, Darling skips over the sadness like a polished stone.
Stocking or shocking? At the shocking end of the scale, although this album would be ideal for anyone, of any age, who might be offended with a more adventurous choice. I'll give it to my daughter, who can throw it back at me when she’s older.
Paul Rhodes

York Press:

13 Days Of Xmas: "Subversive, mistletoe-and-whine antidote to all those jolly-holiday Christmas pop lollipops"

Various Artists, Bloodshot Records' 13 Days Of Xmas (Bloodshot Records) ****
Wrapping: Psychedelic target board with Father Christmas flat out and the usual Christmas suspect toys falling to bits. Enough to turn any eyes bloodshot. 
Gifts inside: 13 tracks of Xmas, from spectre of Spector's Christmas wall of sound in Ruby Boots' girl-group homage I Slept Through Christmas to James Elkington's twin of Richard Thompson folk, Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand and Jon Langford and His Men of Gwent's humorous Welsh alt.carol, Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray.
Style: God bless Americana. Subversive, mistletoe-and-whine antidote to all those jolly-holiday Christmas pop lollipops, encapsulated in Murder By Death going Nick Caving on the opening O Holy Night. 
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Raise a glass, then another glass, to Zach Schmidt's I'm Drunk Again This Christmas and The Yawpers' wrecked-as-Wreckless Eric at Christmas finale, Christmas In Oblivion.
Scrooge moan: All Our Exes Live In Texas over-cook Australian Christmas-in-prison classic How To Make Gravy.
White Christmas? Yes, flatlined country lounge style by Ron Gallo. Wake up, Ron. 
Blue Christmas? O, so many sad songs, none bluer than Kelly Hogan crooning Blue Snowfall? Oh, and the old Chicago blues of Devil In A Woodpile, jigging manically through The Pagans Had It Right. 
Stocking or shocking? Shocking how so few records match Bloodshot's underground shot in the arm for the holiday album. Hunt a copy down pronto.
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

Elvis Presley: "It's Elvis. With an orchestra. Feels a bit late-night in a Vegas lounge"

Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Christmas With Elvis (RCA Legacy) ****

Wrapping: Giant disembodied smiling head of Elvis looming over the orchestra with festive red background.
Gifts inside: 17 classic Christmassy tracks, including Winter Wonderland, Here Comes Santa Claus, Silver Bells, accompanied by the Phil. 
Style: It's Elvis. With an orchestra. Feels a bit late-night in a Vegas lounge, perfect for lazy post-Christmas dinner afternoon listening.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: It's Elvis. And a world-class orchestra. Performing Christmas songs. If you don't enjoy at least a handful of these, it's possible you're The Grinch. The orchestra shines on Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem, O Come, All Ye Faithful and The First Noel.
Scrooge moan: The vocal recordings are up and down – it sounds like he's singing White Christmas through a mouthful of hot soup – and sometimes drown out the orchestra.
White Christmas? See above.
Blue Christmas? Blue Christmas! 
Stocking or shocking? Perfect for your mum/dad/grandfolks, Elvis enthusiasts, or anyone who wants a bit of festive background music that doesn't involve the usual suspects.
Dan Bean

York Press:

Hanson: "Imagine a glossier version of McFly or Busted and you’re spot on"

Hanson, Finally It’s Christmas (BMG) ****

Wrapping: As a boy band, Hanson delivered the much loved Christmas album Snowed In in 1997. Time has been kind to brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac physically, all being very well preserved. More importantly, musically the band has impressively evolved. 
Gifts inside: An even mix of original numbers and covers of Mariah, Paul McCartney, The Eagles and Elvis’s signature festive hits. 
Style: Imagine a glossier version of McFly or Busted and you’re spot on.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Hanson have arranged a handful of UK dates to promote this surprisingly strong, rocky collection. It may be worth checking out their relatively recent albums, Shout It Out (2010) and Anthem (2013) too.
Scrooge moan: Nothing to moan about. This collection may convert non-fans, unimpressed of their boy band past.
White Christmas? Hanson cover Winter Wonderland and Wonderful Christmastime, but there’s no sign of White Christmas.
Blue Christmas? Faithful cover of Presley’s Blue Christmas balances the mostly upbeat, high-jinks rock.
Stocking or shocking? Few UK music fans would recognise Hanson. Many will be pleasantly surprised with this joyful set.
Ian Sime

York Press:

Ebor Singers: "Mainly peppy seasonal pieces as sung/danced/played at Charles I’s out-of-town court"

Ebor Singers/Paul Gameson: A Cavalier Christmas (Resonus RES10202) * * * *

Wrapping: Luscious snow-scene (‘Winter forest’). Nice colour images of choir in booklet.
Gifts inside: 14 numbers, including three instrumentals (Chelys Consort of Viols), all but one by English composers. David Pipe (organ) tootles too. A lovely Alleluia from the shepherds, a lullaby from Mary, two pseudo-madrigals. Finally, a beautiful Amen from Byrd in a carol for New Year’s Day, following gorgeous solo by alto Laura Baldwin. Viols lend fireside touch.
Style: Mainly peppy seasonal pieces as sung/danced/played at Charles I’s out-of-town court when Puritans tried to ban Christmas. You can’t keep a good man down.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: English Christmas without commerce, nearly 400 years ago. Great singing, excellent booklet.
Scrooge moan: One or two over-keen soloists perhaps.
White Christmas? Only on cover. But snow in Bethlehem? Not mentioned here.
Blue Christmas? Not really. Couple of implied laments for the good old days.
Stocking or shocking? Stuff Santa’s sack with lots of these. Anyone with taste – and not yearning for Christmas ‘standards’ – would love it. Peaceful, happy, positive, it’s all of these.
Martin Dreyer

York Press:

Heather Findlay performing at her Snowstorms & Icicles Christmas concert at York Central Methodist Church

Heather Findlay Band, I Am Snow (Black Sand Records) ***

Wrapping: A girl in a pink scarf and hat battles to hang on to her pink umbrella as she braves a strong winter gale.
Gifts inside: Nine songs, whose tone means they could only be released when the weather is cold and daylight is at a premium. The words snow, winter, blue and dark feature in six out of nine.
Style: Acoustic guitar features heavily throughout, with many songs given a long musical introduction. Findlay's lyrics paint a wintery picture very well.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: It's original and that's unheard of at this time of year, when every daytime TV celebrity going is desperate to sell a covers album.

York Press:

Heather Findlay: "Her lyrics paint a wintery picture very well"
Scrooge moan: Many tracks are too long.
White Christmas? On an album of original music, no. 
Blue Christmas? Shrinking Violet is five-and-a-half minutes of sadness.
Stocking or shocking? Findlay is a talented vocalist and the album is extremely festive. Your mum and dad will love its chilled-out vibe when winding down after a busy Christmas Day.
Alexander Ross

York Press:

Cheap Trick: "Veteran American rockers go Christmas partying like it's 1973"

Cheap Trick, Christmas Christmas (Big Machine Records) **

Wrapping: Cheap looking! Red as a robin's breast with gold lettering and Cheap Trick's trademark black-and-white checks for a bow.
Gifts inside: Cheap Trick's first Christmas album in 44 years; made in Nashville, but no country songs. A dozen numbers, nine with Christmas in the title; three Zander, Nielsen and Peterssen originals, two a cross between Slade and The Darkness (Merry Christmas Darling and Christmas Christmas). Well chosen covers of The Kinks (Father Christmas), the usual Slade and Wizzard suspects and The Ramones' Merry Christmas that alas don't match the originals.
Style: Veteran American rockers go Christmas partying like it's 1973 all over again with Slade and Wizzard. Occasional curve ball, be it a hymn or a Harry Nilsson lament (Remember Christmas), sung as a Barry Manilow show tune.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Our Father Of Life, a Cheap Trick original, in grandiose spirit of Greg Lake's I Believe In Father Christmas.
Scrooge moan: Silent Night...if only it was. Instead it's a dirge. 
White Christmas? Black and white, more like. 
Blue Christmas? Please Come Home For Christmas, done Mud-play-the- blues style. 
Stocking or shocking? They want you to want it, but you won't.
Charles Hutchinson