A Christmas Cornucopia, You Are Not Alone, The Wind That Shakes the Barley

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Phases & Stages

Annie Lennox

A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca)

Cornucopia's muscularly pagan arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is the centerpiece of this standard Christmas-album-with-a-twist. Annie Lennox makes anything compelling; the video for "Gentlemen" is high art, with the singer decked out in a Victorian fantasy that befits the traditional ("The First Noel") and the nontraditional ("See Amid the Winter's Snow"), though the modern composition "Universal Child" doesn't quite fit, except by grace of her voice.

**.5

Mavis Staples

You Are Not Alone (Anti-/Epitaph)

The youngest Staple Singers' Svengali this time around is producer Jeff Tweedy, playing Jack White to her Loretta Lynn. Together they reach broad and deep for stellar material (Rev. Gary Davis' "I Belong to the Band," Randy Newman's "Losing You"), extracting soul-stirring results. As nontraditional gospel, You Are Not Alone makes perfect winter fare.

***

Loreena McKennitt

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Quinlan Road)

Loreena McKennitt waltzes in at year's end to steal any and all holiday thunder with yet another near-perfect recording. The Canadian chanteuse has always worn her passion for Celtic music on her gold-embroidered sleeve with palms open, and here she offers the exquisite likes of "The Parting Glass" and "The Death of Queen Jane." The Wind That Shakes the Barley harvests the past, but its cornucopia empties ripe for today.

***.5

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Annie Lennox, Mavis Staples, Loreena McKennitt

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