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Albums of the week: From Jamie Cullum to Andre Rieu



Michael Ball and Alfie Boe's Together at Christmas

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe's Together at Christmas

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Michael Ball and Alfie Boe's Together at Christmas

It's a festive feast this week with releases from Ball, Cullum and Rieu.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe

Together at Christmas

The reliable cosiness of Michael Ball and Alfie Boe singing Christmas classics is probably just what many people need at the end of a year of unexpected challenges and stress.

Like a Premier Inn room, listeners get exactly what they expect as the hugely popular pairing pack their fourth duet album with Christmas classics such as O Holy Night and Silent Night as well as pop hits such as Mistletoe And Wine, White Christmas and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

Gregory Porter joins the duo for a gentle reworking of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).

New song My Christmas Will Be Better Than Yours is a light-hearted and entertaining duet and a spine-tingling version of I Believe, a song written nearly 70 years ago to give people hope, is perfectly timed.

Ball's melodic voice and Boe's deep tenor work well together but it is the warmth of their long-standing friendship which gives this album true Christmas cheer.

7/10 Beverley Rouse

Jamie Cullum

The Pianoman At Christmas

Despite creeping into his 40s, Jamie Cullum maintains his reputation as the fresh-faced poster boy of UK jazz.

With his first Christmas album, he takes that title a little further, positioning himself as a modern-day festive crooner.

Yet Cullum's tongue is firmly in cheek as he works his way through 10 originals, penned during the summer at the family home he shares with wife Sophie Dahl and their two daughters, and recorded with a classic big band at the famous Abbey Road Studios.

His appreciation of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra shines through in spacious, full-bodied compositions such as It's Christmas, while Hang Your Lights shows off the poppier instincts that have ensured his crossover appeal.

Aside from striking a much-needed mood of merriment, Cullum has also managed to make his songs sound like classics. You may not have heard them before, before they will strike you as pleasingly familiar.

The album's cover - a dolled-up Dahl asleep on her husband's shoulder in the back of a cab - sums it up: festive and fun with a dash of romance.

8/10 Alex Green

Andre Rieu

Jolly Holiday

The King Of The Waltz invites listeners to revisit his landmark Christmas concerts in his native Maastricht.

Andre Rieu performed with his Johann Strauss Orchestra across three nights to an international crowd of more than 35,000 in December last year.

His trademark brand of pomp might have sometimes been considered kitsch by the British public, but with hindsight these shows are pure emotion.

Rieu says the live recording "will take all of you on a beautiful music journey to experience the magic of Christmas" and he's not wrong. Fake snow falls on an ecstatic crowd draped in tinsel, as singers in a rainbow of pastel-coloured gowns belt festive standards such as Jingle Bells, Silent Night and What A Wonderful World, accompanied by brass, strings and dance.

It's hard not to love knowing the current state of live music.

Accompanied by a DVD, Jolly Holiday offers a much-needed dose of Christmas cheer.

7/10 Alex Green

Annie Lennox

A Christmas Cornucopia

From pop sensation and outspoken political activist Annie Lennox, this re-issue of her 2010 album feels a little uninspiring. The brightest moment on the new record, which has been remastered, comes from a previously unheard track.

Lennox has said her 2010 version of the haunting 17th-century aria Dido's Lament, by Henry Purcell, is for "the dying of our planet". The song offers a change of pace from some of her cheesier re-imaginings of festive classics. The rest feels much less creative and sees Lennox perform well-known carols without putting much of her own personality into the recordings. Her rendition of The First Noel and Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem feel particularly pedestrian and dull. Songs such as Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant and Lullay Lullay offer a slightly more interesting listen, however this album does not come close to replicating some of Lennox's more inventive releases.

5/10 Tom Horton

Belfast Telegraph

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