Merry Christmas II You

Sixteen years have passed since Mariah Carey released her first blockbuster holiday album, but she hasn't lost her desire to dress up in a Santa suit or the silky flexibility of her voice. Her take on a new batch of traditionals like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is straightforward and sweet, full of strings and torchy piano arrangements and outfitted with a cameo from her opera-singer mom, Patricia, on "O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus." Half of the disc's new originals are ballads — including "Christmas Time Is in the Air Again" and "One Child," both thick with gooey orchestration — but Mariah bops to a schoolyard-chant beat on "Oh Santa!" and digs out a retro groove for "When Christmas Comes." It's hard to figure out what's "extra festive" (as the full song title promises) about her "All I Want for Christmas Is You" update, and far easier to determine what's wrong with "Auld Lang Syne" (an awkward dance beat), but the LP's warm heart is in the right place.

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