John Legend, A Legendary Christmas (Sony) *****

Wrapping: Slavishly borrowing from Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, artwork features a becoming portrait of Legend in jaunty Santa hat on a clean white background. Very stylish.

Gifts inside: Although released by Sony, this 13-track selection feels like a modern version of the Motown Christmas Album. Why, even Stevie Wonder's harmonica turns up on What Christmas Means To Me.

Style: Hybrid of soul, smooth jazz and big band, encompassing most modern non-secular seasonal tunes and a couple of new songs.

'Tis the reason to be jolly: Probably the most polished, jolly and entertaining album of the season.

Scrooge moan: None. This is pure classy entertainment.

White Christmas? No, but we are treated to a celestial Purple Snowflakes.

Blue Christmas? The most melancholy moment comes in the form of a very stylish new ballad by Amy Wadge, $@iel Lafrombe and John Stephens, By Christmas Eve.

Stocking or shocking? Perfect present for all lovers of top-draw soul and cool jazz.

Ian Sime

York Press:

Jessie J: "Jazz and swing is a bit too schmaltzy for the young singer"

Jessie J, This Christmas Day (Republic Records) ***
Wrapping: Jessie in a red sparkly outfit with giant red bow – Santa-fabulous!

Gifts inside: A Scrooge-inspired 11 tracks, with few surprises, from Let It Snow and Jingle Bell Rock to Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Silent Night. Two collaborations: Winter Wonderland with Boyz II Men and The Christmas Song with Babyface. 
Style: Smooooth. Jazz and swing, which showcases Jessie’s voice, but is a bit too schmaltzy for the young singer. Would have liked something more edgy.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Her outfits in the festive photoshoot – a lot more colourful, festive and daring than her interpretation of these Christmas standards.
Scrooge moan: Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer segueing into Jingle Bells… seriously?
White Christmas? Yep! Slow sludge.
Blue Christmas? A few ballads too.
Stocking or shocking? Stocking, as it delivers the classic songs and would be perfect for This Christmas Day, but then shelved till next year.
Maxine Gordon

York Press:

The Mavericks: "Romantic, festive, nostalgic, and even nudge-nudge cheeky"

The Mavericks, Hey Merry Christmas! (Mono Mundo Recordings/Thirty Tigers) ****
Wrapping: Oh dear. No, no to ho-ho cartoon figures in Christmas red and green. Moving along swiftly to the...
Gifts inside: Eight Mavericks originals, with the word "Christmas" in six titles and Santa two, plus perfectly chosen covers of Christmas (Baby Please Com Home) and Irving Berlin's Happy Holiday.
Style: The Mavericks do 1963's Motown marvel A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, 2018 style, with Raul Malo on heavenly Roy Orbison vocals, topped off with a blizzard of Wizzard Christmas wishfulness. Romantic, festive, nostalgic, and even nudge-nudge cheeky on Santa Wants To Take You For A Ride.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: If ever a Tex-Mex/country/Latin/rockabilly band from Miami, Florida, should do a Christmas album, this is the one. 
Scrooge moan: Need we mention the artwork again?
White Christmas? In Florida? No!
Blue Christmas? It's Christmas Without You's lament for "another night of memories" when the red and green city lights have turned blue. Elvis would surely have covered it.
Stocking or shocking? Still looking for this year's best Christmas record? Look no further. 
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

Eric Clapton: "Middle-of-the-road reading of standards"

Eric Clapton, Happy Xmas (Polydor) **
Wrapping: A doodle of Clapton as the man in red, looking not a million miles from a typical cover of "unofficial" releases.
Gifts inside: Fourteen songs all on a festive theme, including a new original, For Love On Xmas Day.
Style: Oh that it were all blues. As well as the expected and desired Clapton sound, there are more middle-of-the-road reading of standards, closer to his Tears In Heaven sound.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Clapton's Xmas only comes alive when the blues kick in. The Muscle Shoals feel of Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday is a treat; the only song likely to warrant repeat listens. Clapton’s voice has matured over the years and is now something to savour.
Scrooge moan: Ragbag of styles don’t sit well together. The old chestnuts are bland and pureed, but Jingle Bells receives a bizarre reworking (in memory of Avicii) and sounds nothing like EC.
White Christmas? Kicking off the album in a soulful style.
Blue Christmas? The entire collection is sad, but for different reasons. Few do heartbroken as well as Clapton, but he sounds too comfortable here.
Stocking or shocking? Sadly shocking and brings nothing to the Xmas party. For Clapton completists only.
Paul Rhodes

York Press:

Rodney Crowell: "Firmly stakes its place in the glass half empty end of Christmas"

Rodney Crowell, Christmas Everywhere (New West Records) ****
Wrapping: The artist walking past an ironic, sun-glass toting Santa, with Crowell photographed in karaoke mode on the back.
Gifts inside: Full of musical gifts, this has 12 Crowell originals and features Lera Lynn and Daddy Cool
Style: Firmly stakes its place in the glass half empty end of Christmas, with a mix of country styles to lighten the gloom.
‘Tis the reason to be jolly: Crowell, one of the most interesting and skilled writers in country and Americana circles, is is on great form. When The Fat Man Tries The Chimney On For Size deserves to be a future classic; wry, tuneful and fresh but with a traditional twist.
Scrooge moan: The standard does take a dip at the three-quarter mark, and Christmas In Vidor, the birthplace of George Jones, is, like its famous
son in his heyday, barely functional.
White Christmas? Absent and unlamented.
Blue Christmas? Crowell’s tales of tough love at Christmas sounds like hard work, but the musical wrappings make it surprisingly enjoyable. 
Stocking or shocking? In the stocking of anyone with an affinity for the dark stuff and a belly full of Christmas schmaltz.
Paul Rhodes

York Press:

Aidan Moffat & R M Hubbert: "Scottish brogue is as mumbling, mournful and often magnificent as ever"

Aidan Moffat & R M Hubbert, Ghost Stories For Christmas (Rock Action Records) ***
Wrapping: Haunting cover, which makes the arms-akimbo Santa hidden inside a little incongruous. Defines Christmas through Cecil Day Lewis's words in Christmas-card style. 
Gifts inside: Eight original works, with Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens as inspiration, and covers of Yazoo’s Only You and Mud’s Lonely This Christmas. Former Arab Strap and Delgados members pop round with a bottle and some vocals.
Style: This is Aidan Moffat, so you’re not going to have soaring soundscapes. His Scottish brogue is as mumbling, mournful and often magnificent as ever through these mainly spoken-word pieces.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: "Jolly" might be pushing it a bit, but Such Shall You Be is a beautiful piece of tender, piano-driven realism, while Desire Path nods to Moffat’s indie-disco days.
Scrooge moan: Might be too dark for most and not dark enough for Moffat and Hubbert’s intended audiences. A few (Christmas) punches have perhaps been pulled.
White Christmas? It was never all that likely, was it?
Blue Christmas? Any sad songs? Yeah, one or seven.
Stocking or shocking? For the offbeat friend whose first interior design project of 2019 will be to have Chemikal Underground’s logo stencilled on the wall of his flat.
Mark Stead

York Press:

William Shatner: "Fun in small doses"

William Shatner, Shatner Claus - The Christmas Album (Cleopatra Records) **
Wrapping: The former Captain Kirk in Aviator shades and shiny Santa suit peeking through the boughs of a Christmas tree and grinning like he can't believe his luck.
Gifts inside: Fourteen tracks including all the favourites - Jingle Bells, Run Rudolph Run, Silver Bells, Silent Night – with help from big names such as Henry Rollins, Rick Wakeman, Iggy Pop, Billy Gibbons and more.
Style: Well, it's Shatner, isn't it? He's notorious for his own spoken-word musical "style", accompanied here by some great jamming and rock'n'roll musicians. 
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Fun in small doses, and Run Rudolph Run, featuring Elliot Easton, and the chorus of the punk version of Jingle Bells with Henry Rollins are highlights.
Scrooge moan: Shatner's an acquired taste, and the novelty of his apparent disregard for musical timing wears thin. 
White Christmas? It's here, Jim, but not as you know it. Bossa Nova style and vocally all over the place.
Blue Christmas? Yup, featuring Brad Paisley; one of the best tracks. 
Stocking or shocking? Strictly for die-hard Shatner fans, those with an ear for the kitsch or a great "novelty" stocking filler.
Dan Bean

York Press:

JD McPherson: "Socks and jigs and rock'n'roll"

JD McPherson, Socks, A Christmas Album By JD McPherson (New West Records) ****
Wrapping: Caricature of despondent JD muttering "Socks" as he opens unwanted present by the tree. More festive drawings inside plus invitation to "Sing Along With...."
Gifts inside: Eleven original holiday songs by 41-year-old Broken Arrow, Oklahoma singer and guitarist Jonathan David McPherson and friends.
Style: Retro, retro and more retro, from Louis Jordan jumpin' jive (All The Gifts I Need and Hey Skinny Santa!) to Gene Vincent rockabilly (Bad Kid); from Cab Calloway big band swagger (call-and-respond Claus Vs Claus duet with Lucie Silvas) to Chuck Berry's joy in modes of travel (Santa's Got A Mean Machine); from Elvis rock'n'roll (What's That Sound) to Little Richard holler (Twinkle [Little Christmas Lights]).
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Socks rocks, from start to finish.
Scrooge moan: None; Ebenezer unemployed here
White Christmas? No. Green, red and blues instead.
Blue Christmas? Title song's crushing disappointment at receiving socks and Hank Williams-evoking country lament Ugly Sweater Blues.
Stocking or shocking? Joyful and triumphant present for anyone who loves socks and jigs and rock'n'roll.
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

Martina McBride: "Collects nine of the most recorded Christmas songs of all time"

Martina McBride, It’s The Holiday Season (Broken Bow Records) ***
Wrapping: Oh my goodness, what a rubbish cover. A sepia blue and white shot that looks as if it was cobbled together on a basic PC. Shameful!
Gifts inside: One of the best voices of her generation. Although her roots are firmly in Nashville country, Martina has a strong rock sensibility too. Here she collects nine of the most recorded Christmas songs of all time. 
Style: Despite the poor cover and rather uninspired choice of material, the songs are impeccably performed in a country rock and big-band swing style.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: I have a fondness to the American standard Home For The Holidays, which is beautifully performed.
Scrooge moan: Apart from the above, the other eight songs are such obvious, over-familiar choices with no new songs whatsoever. 
White Christmas? Surprisingly absent.
Blue Christmas? That confounded cover! 
Stocking or shocking? Fans will still appreciate Martina’s wonderful, clear strong voice. Hopefully, Ms McBride is working on new material for the New Year.
Ian Sime

York Press:

Engelbert Humperdinck: "Perfect malt voice for the season"

Engelbert Humperdinck, Warmest Christmas Wishes (OK! Good Records) ****
Wrapping: Engelbert, now 82, dressed for black-tie dinner, with both face and fireplace aglow. 
Gifts inside: Fourteen "heartfelt holiday songs" on the Hump's first Christmas platter since 1980's A Merry Christmas With...set. The trad (Silent Night, O Tannenbaum); the "home" classics (Please Come Home For Christmas, Driving Home For Christmas, I'll Be Home For Christmas) and two retro, immediately nostalgic newbies, Christmas For The Family and Around The Christmas Tree, all done warm and toasty, bathed in Hollywood studio balm.
Style: Fireside smooth crooning from Leicester balladeer Gerry Dorsey, sticking to the middle of the Christmas road, with children's choir, sleigh bells and New Year's Eve finale.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: Living up to his adopted opera composer's name, he sings O Tannenbaum and Leise Rieselt Der Schnee in German.
Scrooge moan: What took him so long to make a second Christmas record? Perfect malt voice for the season.
White Christmas? After going all Engilbert O'Sullivan for Christmas Song (I'm Not Dreaming Of A White Christmas), he does a U-turn for palm court orchestra swing through the Bing favourite.
Blue Christmas? Blue cheese, in a good way. 
Stocking or shocking? Stocking filler for the silver age and smoothies alike.
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

LeAnn Rimes: ""Still a little bit country and a little bit rock'n'roll"

LeAnn Rimes, It’s Christmas, Eve (Everle) ****
Wrapping: For the soundtrack to LeAnn’s Hallmark television seasonal movie – a likely big hit in mid-America's country music belt – sadly the cover is merely functional and unimaginative.
Gifts inside: Way above average collection of nine tracks, including new songs You And Me And Christmas, The Gift Of Your Love and the movie’s title number. Plus two medleys, one a very traditional Carol selection with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Hark The Herald Angel, the other, a more secular pop combination.
Style: LeAnn crossed over to the mainstream years ago, but she’s still a little bit country and a little bit rock'n'roll.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: LeAnn is a formidable talent. Can’t wait to see the movie.
Scrooge moan? What’s not to like?
White Christmas? Yes, in all its glory.
Blue Christmas? Pop medley includes George Michael’s Last Christmas, guaranteed to prompt a tear. What wasted talent!
Stocking or shocking? For those who like LeAnn, this is a great selection. For those not familiar with her music, it will be way off the radar.
Ian Sime

York Press:

The Albion Christmas Band: "Respectful versions of Laurel Canyon alumni's winter songs"

The Albion Christmas Band, Under The Christmas Tree (Talking Elephant Records) ***
Wrapping: Twinkling Christmas tree with this very album sleeve under its branches in a case of uncanny product placement.
Gifts inside: Fifteen-track compilation from band's Christmas records since 2003 formation (An Albion Christmas, Snow On Snow, Winter Songs), plus In The Bleak Midwinter, Tears For Fears/Donnie Darko cover Mad World and Calling On/Hogmanay from Bob Harris's Under The Apple Tree radio sessions.
Style: Traditional and self-penned Christmas songs, complemented by respectful versions of Laurel Canyon alumni Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and Clive Gregson's Comfort And Joy, delivered in festive folk colours by Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: I Love This Time Of Year The Best lives up to its title.
Scrooge moan: Readings of poetry and literary excerpts between songs need more oomph, or Jeremy Irons/Simon Callow reading them. 
White Christmas? "Christmas" is not in the title of even one song here.
Blue Christmas? None bluer than In The Bleak Midwinter.
Stocking or shocking? Safe choice for folk festival frequenters.
Charles Hutchinson

York Press:

The Fizz: "Go on, give it a listen; let's get Fizzical! You may be surprised"

The Fizz, Christmas With The Fizz (Absolute) ***
Wrapping: Absolutely tacky. The artwork is so appalling, as if marketing a third-rate regional hotel. However, the personalised essays inside from Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston are rather sweet.
Gifts inside: Fifteen Fizzing festive favourites.

Style: Bucks Fizz were always far better vocalists than given credit for. Producer Mike Stock and a guest pianist ensure the 15 tracks sound great, showcasing the band well.
'Tis the reason to be jolly: New numbers Don’t Start Without Me and Home For My Heart are really good pop songs, and a Christmas makeover of The Land Of Make Believe is absolutely fabulous, darling!
Scrooge moan: Despite the gems, Bucks Fizz always allowed more than their share of tacky moments. The world really did not need yet another version of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmas Time or Mull Of Kintyre.
White Christmas? Inevitably yes.
Blue Christmas? Joni Mitchell’s River is given a very professional airing.
Stocking or shocking? Cheryl and Jay have their stockings on display on the back cover. Despite the rotten artwork, herein lies a decent album. Go on, give it a listen; let's get Fizzical! You may be surprised.
Ian Sime

York Press:

Juice Vocal Ensemble: "Intoxicatingly blended voices"

Juice Vocal Ensemble, Snow Queens (Resonus) * * * *    
Wrapping: The three singers, University of York alumni Anna Snow, Sarah Dacey and Kerry Andrew, in bridal white in a moorland landscape on the cover; colour pics inside the booklet.
Gifts inside: Seventeen world premiere recordings on a wintry/seasonal theme; originals and arrangements by the trio, plus five pieces by invited composers, one specially commissioned from Emily Hall. Four traditional carols are modernised: Cherry-Tree, Sans Day, Coventry and Corpus Christi.
Style: Close harmony, some contemporary, some trad or folk, by two sopranos and an alto.
’Tis the reason to be jolly: Intoxicatingly blended voices, always sensitive to rhythm, in settings of some lovely poetry.
Scrooge moan: Words could sometimes be clearer, but atmosphere is top notch.
White Christmas? No, actually, but shedloads of snow in the lyrics.
Blue Christmas? Yes, a few songs about wintry chills or break-ups.
Stocking or shocking? No problems here. Anyone vaguely musical – even maiden aunts or fastidious fathers – will love this.
Martin Dreyer