These are some legit Christmas albums. Not too much schmaltz and not many cliches either. Just intelligent versions of old standards, and fresh perspectives that work their way into your consciousness and bring an appropriate amount of happiness and nostalgia.
James Taylor at Christmas
Here is a crooner in the very best definition possible. There’s something about his somber, high tenor that is just perfect for Christmas, a nice respite from the Rat Pack mainstream onslaught. I spent one hellish Christmas season in a retail store at the local mall, had to listen to this multiple times a day, and I still really, really, like it.
Gotta Hear: Who Comes This Night, River, The Christmas Song
She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas
A very She & Him Christmas indeed – every time I hear regular She & Him music, it makes me think of Christmas. Honestly it’s kind of ruined their other music for me, I like this one so much. It’s uber hipster cool, with simple harmonies, lots of give-and-take vocals and a warm vintage feel. Perfect for background music a party, but also turn it on when the house is empty and notice the happy feelings multiply.
Gotta Hear: Christmas Day, Christmas Wish, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,
Pink Martini – Joy To The World
Anyone who doesn’t know/love Pink Martini’s quirky jazzy music can totally start with this album. (And it won’t ruin their other stuff, promise!) The group brings in a lot of Jewish heritage and Yiddish lyrics, which make up some of my favorite tracks. And they’re not afraid to embellish with their own improvised lines as well. An absolute holiday essential.
Gotta Hear: White Christmas Part 1, Elohai N’Tzor, We Three Kings, A Snow Globe Christmas, Congratulations (Happy New Year).
Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
True to his form, the album is ridiculously long, with 42 tracks and 5 discs in the original release. We only own #5, which is enough, unless you want an entire playlist of Sufjan joy, which actually would not be all that bad, come to think of it. Even if you stick with #5 you still get the full experience with bouncy horn sections, warm strings, plinking keys, reverent introspection, hilarious rollicks, and self-conscious musings in a good blend of originals and classics.
Gotta Hear: Get Behind Me Santa, Christmas in July, Sister Winter.
Asleep at the Wheel – Merry Texas Christmas Ya’ll
It’s a funky western-swing Christmas with these goofy guys that manage to make me say “you know, that’s really not too bad” year after year. I always think what they do will be too silly or a little bit *too* Texan, but I keep coming back. It’s all about the sax and the boogie piano. And Willie Nelson’s perfect affect on “Pretty Paper.”
Gotta Hear: Xmas in Jail, Pretty Paper, Jingle Bell Boogie, Swingin’ Drummer Boy.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
It’s a classic, and no Christmas season is complete without that iconic piano melody and the chorus of children singing cheerfully.
Gotta Hear: Christmas Time Is Here, Fur Elise, Christmas is Coming, Linus and Lucy. Skating.