Los Angeles Times

Music for every mood this holiday

This year's bounty of holiday albums includes offerings from pop music heavyweights such as Sia, Gwen Stefani, Fantasia, Reba McEntire, 98 Degrees and veteran rockers Cheap Trick.

But don't let familiar names prompt you to overlook rewarding new albums from lower-profile acts including Us the Duo, Lowland Hum and MARi.

Artists who make seasonal albums know their most loyal fans will snap them up no matter what; the yearly challenge is to what lengths they're willing to go to craft something worthy of consideration beyond ye most faithful.

Balsam Range

"It's Christmas Time"

(Mountain Home Music)

Bluegrass seems particularly in sync with the humility that's a cornerstone of the Christmas tradition. This North Carolina quintet proves that point in a half-dozen numbers. Check the minor-key wistfulness of Doc Watson's "Christmas Lullaby," the sprightly mountain lilt in the Stanley Brothers' "I'm Going Home, It's Christmas Time," and the earnestness in harmony-rich arrangements of "The First Noel" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The added layer

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