The Boston Pops - Sleigh Ride (Boston Pops Recordings): The Pops knows how to blend sacred and secular at the holidays and please a broad audience. In its first self-produced and distributed recording, conductor Keith Lockhart leads the orchestra in the bright anthem "Joy to the World - a Fanfare for Christmas Day," updating the classic hymn, and in a fresh take on the Pops' signature winter piece, "Sleigh Ride," which it introduced in 1948. A "Winter Weather Medley" of classic pop standards performed with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is as welcome as a mug of hot chocolate on a chilly night. The dozen tracks add up to a satisfying whole, suitable for a close hearing or as congenial aural wallpaper for the season. By Gregory M. Lamb
Chris Isaak - Christmas (Reprise): The album's sleeve includes several photos of Isaak and his band opening Christmas gifts on a beach, a jokey acknowledgment that the Californian singer's image is better suited to surfboards than sleigh bells. For this album of six originals and a clutch of standards, Isaak adopts a jazzier sound than usual. Fans of the coiffed star's usual fare will delight, however, in the lonely lament of "Washington Square" and the spirited mix of Elvis rockabilly and Tijuana horns on "Hey Santa." Less successful is a wan duet with Stevie Nicks on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Isaak's voice makes this an album you'll want to hear again in 12 months time. By Stephen Humphries
Jessica Simpson - Rejoyce The Christmas Album (Columbia): It would be easy to dismiss a Jessica Simpson Christmas album with a few choice Simon Cowellisms. Still, there's precious little to rejoyce over. "What Christmas Means to Me" is a sprightly romp, but Simpson sings "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" with a strangled vocal that suggests a horribly misguided attempt at a torch song. Track after track, the blonde Texan's voice is so overwrought that it repeatedly threatens to curdle the eggnog. - S.H.
Various - A Winter's Night (Nettwerk): The Nettwerk record label gathers an impressive roster of pop stars for a compilation that divides neatly between songs with a warm fireside glow and others that will leave you cold. The album's essential track is "Sweet Secret Peace," a sublime original by songwriter Neil Finn. Sarah McLachlan sounds suitably angelic on "Song For a Winter's Night," Dido chirps prettily on "Christmas Day," and Jack Johnson's Hawaiian guitar rejuvenates "Rudolph." But Avril Lavigne's "O Holy Night" sounds as if it's sung by a third grader at a Christmas nativity pageant. - S.H.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Everything You Want for Christmas (Vanguard Records): What better way to make the holidays swing than a mixture of yuletide tunes by the boys of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? This retro-swing band's horn and sax sections rip though a handful of Christmas classics - a list that includes a smooth vibraphone-accented rendition of "Blue Christmas," a baritone sax cha-cha of "Jingle Bells," and an eerie Grinch-sounding version of "Is Zat You Santa Claus?" Singer Scotty Morris adds three originals to the mix, the best of which is the uptempo "Rockabilly Christmas." But swing lovers desiring a harder rockabilly edge should check out the frenetic guitar work by Brian Setzer, whose swing band just rereleased its 2002 "Boogie Woogie Christmas." By Vic Roberts