By MARC MYERS
In the days of yore, many rock and pop singers and musicians recorded holiday albums decked with predictable fare. This year, the trend is to mix things up. Here are six new releases in which artists play against type.—Marc Myers
Cee Lo Green
'Cee Lo's Magic Moment' (Elektra)
Soul-rap crooner Cee Lo Green digs deep on this romantic but rousing collection of cool yulers. Gospel-flavored tracks range from "What Christmas Means to Me" and a pulsating "Christmas Song" to change-ups like "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and "Run Rudolph Run." Of particular note are the duets: "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Christina Aguilera, which leverages Marty Paich's original Ray Charles orchestration, and "Merry Christmas, Baby," featuring a sassy Rod Stewart and Trombone Shorty. Equal parts roadhouse caroling and fireplace fa-la-las.
'On This Winter's Night' (Capitol)
Though awash in strings and horns, country-pop trio Lady Antebellum still retain their earthy twang. Winner of seven Grammys, the vocal group brings cheery sincerity to their original title track and snowy standards like "A Holly Jolly Christmas," "The First Noel" and Donny Hathaway's soulful "This Christmas." As always, lead singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley are supported by vocalist Dave Haywood, who joins on mandolin. Best of all, crafty orchestrations feed the group's hickory-smoked conviction rather than slicking it up.
Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship
'Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey' (Indie)
Son of a minister, Atlanta saxophonist Will Scruggs assembled 11 canticles, hymns and traditional folk melodies to create a holiday narrative and jazz suite. Working with seven horns and a five-piece rhythm section, Mr. Scruggs arranged songs like "We Three Kings," "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" and "Joy to the World." Despite its religious theme, the album is distinctly a jazz effort—complete with fusion passages, World percussion and reed improvisation by Mr. Scruggs. An uplifting instrumental tale—free from the cloying clutches of Tin Pan Alley.
'Tinsel and Lights' (Merge)
British folk-pop singer-songwriter and guitarist Tracey Thorn—formerly of Everything but the Girl—weaves through a dozen woodsy gems, including two originals. Produced by English electronica remixer Ewan Pearson, the album includes Ms. Thorn's take on Carol Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas," Jack White's "In the Cold, Cold Night," "Snow" by Randy Newman, Ron Sexsmith's "Maybe This Christmas" and "Taking Down the Tree"—a duet with Scritti Politti lead vocalist Green Gartside. Warm-milk tranquillity laced with downtown synth-folk edge.
Kenny Vance and the Planotones
'Mr. Santa' (LaPlano)
Before Hurricane Sandy leveled his Queens home in October, Kenny Vance recorded this doo-wop holiday finger-snapper. In the 1960s, the singer-songwriter co-founded Jay and the Americans, and he was Steely Dan's first producer. Backed by a vocal-harmony quintet, Mr. Vance gives originals, classics and obscurities the '50s lamppost treatment—including the Shirelles' "Blue Holiday," the Flamingos' "I'll Be Home" and Shep and the Limelites' "After New Year's Eve." Holiday chestnuts roasting under an open fire escape.
'A Very Merry Perri Christmas' (Atlantic)
Singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist Christina Perri recorded her first album in 2011 and has another due next year. For the holidays, though, she recorded just six tracks, including "Please Come Home for Christmas." "Ave Maria" and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Also featured is "Something About December," a tender original, and "Merry Christmas Darling," which deftly rekindles Karen Carpenter—complete with overdubbed vocals. Doelike vulnerability matched by a ski-jump-length vocal range.