Every year, I add dozens of albums of holiday music to my massive Spotify playlist, and then I listen through them to figure out which ones I really love.
Caitriona O’Leary, The Wexford Carols:The other eight albums are listed in no particular order, but this one is hands down my favorite of 2014. The most famous Wexford Carol is a 12th-century Irish song commemorating the birth of Jesus, and that’s on this album, but Caitriona O’Leary has also incorporated several other 17th- and 18th-century carols that haven’t been heard in a very long time, such as “Jerusalem Our Happy Home,” making this in some ways an album of new holiday songs. It’s also the most beautifully sounding record of this year’s holiday season, as Joe Henry’s production gives the proceedings an almost tangible atmosphere of place, with guest appearances by Tom Jones, Roseanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens. If you love the older, religious carols and seasonal folk songs, you will want to hear this album, and once you do, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.
Various Artists, It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue: I don’t usually put multi-artist compilations on my best-of lists, but this assortment from the Mack Avenue Records jazz label is really top-notch, starting with a great jam on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” led by Sean Jones on trumpet. There’s also a great one-two Vince Guaraldi suite, with Hot Club of Detroit’s country-swing “Skating” immediately followed by vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s “Christmas Time Is Here.” And the Christian McBride Trio’s instrumental romp through James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” is one of the most fun cuts from any artist this holiday season.
Anthony Hamilton, Home for the Holidays: This is easily my favorite R&B holiday album this year. “Spend Christmas with You” and the title track should immediately go onto pop radio’s Christmas playlists, and Hamilton’s cover of “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?” rivals the original version by the Emotions. The groove on the opening track, “It’s Christmas,” is a bit too gritty for me to imagine it’d be a radio hit, too, but it’s awfully darn infectious.
10 December 2014 | listen to this |
Every year, from Black Friday to Boxing Day, I totally immerse myself in holiday music. I used to collect my own Christmas CDs, but once I got on board with Spotify I was able to start compiling a playlist which is, as I write this post, just shy of 8,500 songs and may likely hit 9,000 before the end of the season. Last weekend, I searched out and added all the new albums of holiday songs (or #holidaysongs, as I’ve tagged them on Twitter) and listened to them straight through once before adding them to the ongoing shuffle. These are the ones I thought were the best:
Nick Lowe, Quality Street: It opens with a rockabilly version of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” then quickly settles into a humorous but groovy tone with songs like “Christmas at the Airport,” “The North Pole Express,” and “Hooves on the Roof.” There’s some fantastic horn and organ riffs behind the guitars on Lowe’s “Silent Night,” for example, and though some critics have sensed a bit of ska in his cover of Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” it feels a little bit more late ’50s rock to me. Out of all the 2013 holiday albums, this might just be my favorite.
Elizabeth Mitchell, The Sounding Joy: A Smithsonian Folkways collection of “Christmas songs in and out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger songbook,” as it says on the cover. It starts out with Mitchell and a children’s chorus on a gorgeous a cappella plus hand claps version of “Oh, Mary and the Baby,” with just a bit of flute and percussion for the bridge, and then she brings acoustic guitar in for “Mary Had a Baby” that’s equally beautiful. So many great cuts here, but probably my favorites (after those two) are the deeply soulful “Mary Was the Queen of Galilee” with Gail Ann Dorsey and Joan Osborne and the closing track—a lively version of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” that becomes a parade of guest stars.
Quire of Voyces, Christmas with the Quire of Voyces: This is a choir associated with Santa Barbara City College, and they’ve been recorded with a clear, beautiful sound. Some standout cuts for me included “The Cherry Tree Carol” and “In Judah’s Land,” but they’re all quite good; if you’re looking for a quiet, contemplative holiday record to play in the background, this is perfect.
6 December 2013 | listen to this |