Seven years after the release of their 1998 album The McGarrigle Hour, Kate & Anna McGarrigle have crafted a holiday album in much the same manner, which means they've brought together members of their family (including Kate's children Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright, both of whom have been enjoying successful solo careers), longtime collaborators (such as Chaim Tannenbaum), and talented friends (among them Emmylou Harris and Teddy Thompson) for a collection of Christmas songs. Much like The McGarrigle Hour, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour is short on new compositions from Kate and Anna (just three songs, though Rufus and Martha each bring in a new tune of their own), and given the wealth of guests, it seems curious that the McGarrigles, among the most gifted singers and songwriters extant, have chosen to make themselves mere supporting players on their own album. (There are three selections on which they don't appear at all.) But while certain passionate fans may quibble, this is still an ambitious and impressively diverse set of holiday songs, ranging from the pure-voiced piety of "Seven Joys of Mary" to the seductive yuletide romance of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and a well-mannered but passionate cover of Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus." Rufus and Martha's contributions rank with the better moments from their own records, Emmylou Harris's version of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" is lovely (as is Chaim Tannenbaum's "Blue Christmas"), and on the rare moments when Kate & Anna McGarrigle do step to the forefront, their harmonies are as strikingly beautiful as ever (and "Wise Men" and "Port Starboard Sox" show they're still superb songwriters). The McGarrigle Christmas Hour isn't the new McGarrigle sisters album we've been waiting for, but it isn't a holiday-themed throwaway either, and for that we can all be grateful.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming