Rod Stewart

Merry Christmas, Baby

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Hard as it may be to believe, but Rod Stewart has gotten through five decades without succumbing to a holiday album. That streak ends in 2012 with the release of Merry Christmas, Baby, an easygoing and chipper collection of secular seasonal standards. A couple of carols are thrown in for good measure but these songs -- "Silent Night," "We Three Kings" presented as a duet with Mary J. Blige -- along with a mildly incongruous "When You Wish Upon a Star," slide by easily on the mellow big-band swing of the rest of the record. Song for song, Merry Christmas, Baby is very much of a piece with Rod's ongoing Great American Songbook series, with Stewart not straying from the familiar form of these songs and producer David Foster laying on all manner of soft, soothing sounds, whether it's acoustic guitars, synthesizers, strings, or a children's choir on "Silent Night." Very rarely does this hint at the Rod of the '70s -- and when it does on the closing "Auld Lang Syne," its intro given a spare folky treatment reminiscent of his Mercury work, it's a bracing, effective reminder of Stewart's skill as a singer -- and instead relies on a gladhanding charm that suits the season, not to mention Stewart in his crooning dotage.

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