Various Artists

Wonderland: A Winter Solstice Celebration

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If the mega-department stores put up their holiday displays earlier each year and the average suburban dweller decorates his or her home shortly after Halloween, then it only makes sense for record labels to get a jump-start on the Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season by issuing compilations in October. Now, thanks to Signature, one can listen to a fine collection of holiday songs while he or she drives past tacky storefronts and poorly hung garlands. Wonderland: A Winter Solstice Celebration features a dozen-plus singer/songwriters, most from Signature's fine cadre of artists, performing traditional pieces alongside self-penned ones. Peter Mulvey offers a fresh take on Joni Mitchell's "River," while Pete Nelson delves bravely into another contemporary classic, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The key reason this collection works so well is that these performers seem to go out of their way to bring something new to timeworn pieces like "I Wonder As I Wander" and "I Saw Three Ships." Most of the arrangements are simple and straightforward, combining guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and just a little percussion. Other highlights include Nerissa and Katryna Nields' "Christmas Carol" and Mark Erelli's bouncy "This Ain't No Time of Year to Be Alone." With a nice mix of the new and the familiar, Wonderland: A Winter Solstice Celebration will leave the listener in a mellow mood for the hectic holiday shopping season. Compilations like this one will always be welcome, no matter what time of year they arrive.

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