Now That's What I Call Christmas!, Vol. 3

Like the Now That's What I Call Music! series from which it was spun off, Now That's What I Call Christmas! has spawned a series of various-artists collections drawn from the archives of three of the four major labels, Universal, EMI, and Sony BMG, labels that have long-since absorbed nearly all the old independent labels and thus control an enormous chunk of recorded music. The selection and sequencing choices in the sub-series have tended to match those in larger series, which is to say, hits are chosen and then placed in an order that attempts to segue smoothly from one musical style to another. The first Christmas album in 2001 began with traditional fare -- Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, etc. -- and moved more or less chronologically and stylistically across two CDs until, by the end, it had arrived at the likes of Britney Spears and N Sync. The second album in 2003 reversed the order, starting with Destiny's Child and gradually moving back in time to Guy Lombardo. This third album goes back to the original formula; once again, Cole and Crosby (and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) are up front, and by the close of the second disc, Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna are dispensing their versions of Christmas cheer. Three albums in, it might seem that the compilers would have run out of hits, but in fact there are several tracks here that placed in the charts over the years: "Silver Bells," by Crosby and Carol Richards (Richards has been forgotten in the credits, however); "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," by Judy Garland; "Frosty the Snowman," by Gene Autry; "Jingle Bell Rock," by Brenda Lee; "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," by the Chipmunks; and "Little Saint Nick," by the Beach Boys. Christmas-related hit singles have become rare since the '60s, but as the compilers approach the present, they choose tracks from popular Christmas albums, among them such platinum collections as Celine Dion's These Are Special Times and Gloria Estefan's Christmas Through Your Eyes. They have also looked around for unusual holiday recordings, such as Alison Krauss' overtly sexy "Shimmy Down the Chimney (Fill Up My Stocking)." The last handful of tracks on disc two may not measure up to what has preceded them, but by then the collection has provided plenty of holiday pleasure. ~ William Ruhlmann

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