Various Artists: Stockings By the Fire

[19 November 2007]

By Aarik Danielsen

Whether you view Starbucks as a soulless corporation or an ally enabling your legal caffeine addiction, there’s no denying the coffee giant is wildly successful at what they do. This principle now seems to extend to the company’s foray into music; Stockings by the Fire is the Starbucks label’s new holiday compilation and a sonic treat. Matching icons like Sinatra, Martin and Fitzgerald with newer artists like John Legend, Jack Johnson and Hem, the record is designed to enhance the holiday experience. The best work on the album comes from its veterans: Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is pitch-perfect as is Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” while Ray Charles and Betty Carter prove wonderfully flirtatious on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Other highlights include Mahalia Jackson’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the fresh life injected into “Let It Snow” by A Fine Frenzy. While the lineup is stellar, the album’s few subpar moments prove that when it comes to Christmas music, even the best artists and songs aren’t always a sure thing. Herbie Hancock and Corrine Bailey Rae, for example, are both tremendous musicians but their take on Joni Mitchell’s “River” is curiously off-the-mark. It’s a wonder the track is included, especially when Sarah McLachlan (who appears here with “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) delivered a stirring rendition of the same song on her own holiday project last year. Overall, the album consistently hits its target: adding warmth and sound to the holidays.

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