• Various Artists “A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years Bringing Joy to the World” (Big Machine/ Special Olympics) * * 1/2
This long-running series benefiting the Special Olympics boasts an impressively broad roster of contributing artists, from Aguilera and the Dave Matthews Band to Train and Vince Gill. The quality of performances is up and down, but the cause is unassailable.
• Various Artists “Holidays Rule” (Hear Music/ MPL) * * *
This album’s executive producer, Randall Poster, alone is a good indication of the eclectic talent here, and the prospect for inspired arrangements. Highlights among the 14 tracks: The Civil Wars’ aching rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Calexico’s mariachi-tinged treatment of Green Grows the Holly (written by Henry VIII!) and Y La Bamba’s beguiling Senor Santa (Mister Santa).
• Colbie Caillat “Christmas in the Sand” (Universal Republic) * * 1/2
The pop-folk chanteuse puts a decidedly Southern California spin on the breezy title track she cowrote, and three other originals gently explore the joy and melancholy inherent in the season. Adding marquee value are such music-world pals as Gavin DeGraw, Jason Reeves, Justin Young and Brad Paisley.
• The Eastern Sea “First Christmas” (Whitelab/ Blacklab) * * *
The Austin, Texas, indie pop band fronted by singer-songwriter Matthew Hines pumps lots of rhythmic drive into peppy arrangements of 10 yuletide chestnuts and a pair of originals, the title track and This Is Christmas. Imagination and humility are nicely balanced.