Caroling Through The Night
I started spinning Christmas tunes just before Halloween believe it or not. What can I say? When you’re working on holiday gift guides, sometimes you need a little musical inspiration. But I also had the chance to listen to a few new releases in the holiday music world. If you’re in the market for an affordable hostess gift, nothing works better than a holiday mix – or an iTunes card to pick it up on your recipient’s own. So here’s some of the latest and greatest Christmas albums out there!
12 Nights of Christmas by R. Kelly – $12.99
It makes sense that R&B king R. Kelly would do a groovy, slowed down holiday album that channels a crackling fireplace and spiked cider. With 12 slow jams to get you in the (holiday) mood, what’s particularly of note here is that every track is actually an original. While some snippets of melodies might seem familiar, or the titles, believe me – you’ve never heard any of these before. But if there’s one thing I know about holiday music, it’s that all you really need are some chimes, bells, and pretty piano to make a song feel bright and festive.
My Fave Track: The pulsing rhythms of ‘It’s Christmas Day’ will make your spirits bright – and perk things up from this otherwise tres mellow album.
A Very Kacey Christmas by Kacey Musgraves – $21.92
If you’re into a country Christmas, you’re in luck – the market is widely flooded with new albums from the country set. But Grammy-winning songstress Kacey Musgraves probably has the most hotly anticipated one out there. While there’s definitely twang present, it’s got a bit of a retro-country vibe that the June Carter Cash-esque album cover channels. Plus Kacey’s voice is plenty pleasant, making it totally accessible to non-country fans too. It’s 80% covers, including some quirky picks like the Chipmunks’ ‘Christmas Don’t Be Late’, ‘Mele Kalikimaka’, and ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’. Look out for surprise guest star Willie Nelson on the tropical-infused ‘A Willie Nice Christmas’.
My Fave Track: Original tune ‘Present Without a Bow’ shines with the soulful vocals of guest star Leon Bridges.
Christmas Party by She & Him – $12.88
I was more than a little jazzed to see folk-pop duo She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) were back at it again with a new holiday album. Despite the party title, the album isn’t exactly over the top with its holiday spirit – expect a more subdued, chilled out sound instead. It’s still got a fun, bouncy, jangly, slightly 60s-inspired vibe, however, making it the perfect album to play when enjoying a holiday brunch with your hipster friends. While there’s a few originals in the mix, the cover tune choices are pretty playful; listen out for unexpected twists on tracks like Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, ‘Must Be Santa’, and ‘A Marshmallow World’.
My Fave Track: Zooey Deschanel’s jazzy vocals lend themselves really well to ‘The Man With The Bag’, but I also appreciated hearing from M. Ward on ‘Run Run Rudolph’.
A Pentatonix Christmas – $12.88
Acapella supergroup Pentatonix shines bright during the holiday season – after all, it’s the season that most warmly accepts cover tunes. That’s not to say there’s not some originals in here that work as pleasant little eardrums, but most of the fun comes when the five-part group harmonizes beautifully with their creative Christmas carol covers. And acapella is definitely not one note – you’ll bounce from an African-inspired version ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ to a jazzy ‘White Christmas’ with The Manhattan Transfer, to the poppy ‘The Christmas Sing-Along’.
My Fave Track: Tough one! The originals on this album are shockingly catchy, but I also appreciated the amusing choice of covering *NSYNC’s ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays’, a perfect pop confection.
To Celebrate Christmas by Jennifer Nettles – $10
Like I mentioned, Christmas country albums are a big thing this year. It’s not really my cuppa tea, but if you’re game, you can pick up a holiday album from the likes of Garth Brooks + Trisha Yearwood, Chris Young, Rascal Flatts, and Amy Grant. Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland is one of the more anticipated albums, and it’s less country fried, more bluesy rock. It’s a bit of a weird mix, but if you’re a fan of Nettles’ voice, you’ll likely appreciate this opportunity for her to stretch her vocals and drop any twanginess for a pretty standard, if soulful, holiday album.
My Fave Track: The mash-up of doo-wop and roadhouse blues on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (with guest star Andra Day) is a weird mix – but it oddly works for me.
Glow by Brett Eldredge – $12.88
Every year there’s at least one ‘classic’ Christmas album, usually released by the likes of Michael Buble, Matt Dusk or Seth MacFarlane. This year’s honour goes to Brett Eldredge, and while he’s certainly not reinventing the wheel, I’m still drinking the eggnog he’s serving. It’s just nice to hear these throwback-type albums, sung in the style of the classics like Bing and Frank. Even a contemporary guest star like Meghan Trainor (on ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’, predictably) feels completely timeless. If you want to evoke a sparkling tree and the hustle and bustle of yesteryear, pop this baby on, drink some whiskey on the rocks, and wear your ugliest Christmas sweater.
My Fave Track: Honestly, the album is top-down enjoyable, but what’s surprising is how original title track ‘Glow’ blends pretty seamlessly with the rest of the classic fare.
Wonderland by Sarah McLachlan – $12.99
Eyebrows were raised at the sight of another Sarah McLachlan album hitting the shelves this holiday season. The Canadian singer has already released two such albums (although last year’s release was basically a repackage of her Wintersong album, with a few new tracks added) over the course of me writing this blog. Regardless of the motivation (label pressure? lack of inspiration? a desire to only sing Xmas tunes?) behind the latest holiday release, it’s just as pretty and ethereal as anything else McLachlan has released. Interestingly, the album is back to front covers – no original tracks pop up at all, although there’s a few fun spins on traditional tunes. ‘Let It Snow’ is begging to be the opening credits song for a holiday fantasy film while ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’ has a classic, hymnal feeling. The Canadiana cover of ‘Huron Carol’ was another unexpected find.
My Fave Track: Sarah McLachlan’s voice on ‘Silver Bells’ sounds like the musical equivalent of a hug. Enough said.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of new Christmas music for 2016, there are a handful of others like Jimmy Buffett and Straight No Chaser, plus some I didn’t get a chance to listen to when writing this post. For example, I heard Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton fame will be launching a new album imminently, and god knows Leanne Rimes will continue her holiday album EP streak. Plus you never know when a pop star will drop a little surprise EP – I think I missed Ariana Grande’s catchy little album Winter Things last year. Keep your ears peeled – but for now, spin any of these albums to get into the festive swing of things!
And how about a BONUS ENTRY into my Find of the Month for Tense watches? Just tell me in the comments below – which of these 2016 Christmas music albums would you most like to spin?
Fun reminder – you can check out all active giveaways by visiting the Winners Circle section of my site!