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From Idina Menzel to Pentatonix, reviews of 10 new Christmas albums

By Piet Levy

Nov. 3, 2014

The new albums of the holiday season might look like your lavish dinner on Dec. 25. There are traditional, satisfying favorites, some contemporary twists and, inevitably, that bizarre bit of fruitcake you regret sampling.

Inevitably, Idina Menzel capitalizes on her white-hot, post-"Frozen" career with a quick turnaround Christmas collection. "Glee" may be fading, but Pentatonix is at peak popularity as it offers its a cappella "That's Christmas to Me." And there's a country-pop star with a new holiday collection every year; this time, it's Darius Rucker.

Then there's the unexpected: "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane with his big-band ode "Holiday for Swing!" and Earth, Wind & Fire transforming "September" into "December" on "Holiday." And there's a new joint album with John Schneider and Lodi native Tom Wopat — that's right, the "Dukes of Hazzard" guys.

There are many other new holiday albums out now and coming soon, from "Christmas at Downton Abbey," out Nov. 17, to Heart's"Heart & Friends: Home for the Holidays," out Nov. 11 (not to be confused with Rucker's "Home for the Holidays," or Anthony Hamilton's latest, "Home for the Holidays").

For this roundup of reviews, we'll be using our traditional holiday-themed rating system, grading the albums on a scale from "Christmas Miracle" to "Good Tidings" to "Ho Ho Hum" and finally, the dreaded "Lump of Coal."

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2. Pentatonix, "That's Christmas to Me"

The fresh a cappella quintet continues its impressive streak of beautifully sung, creative arrangements, from a tempo-shifting "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" to a delightfully unexpected mash-up of "Winter Wonderland" with "Don't Worry Be Happy," and a surprising and gorgeous re-imagining of Fleet Foxes' lush breakout single, "White Winter Hymnal."

Grade: Christmas Miracle