Each December brings another deluge of new, if not necessarily fresh, interpretations of ‘It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas’, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting over an open fire)’. Here are this year’s notable holiday albums that deserve special attention between revisits of the perennial collections of Bing Crosby, Phil Spector, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and Beach Boys.
Elizabeth Chan “If Fate Permits” (Merry Bright Music) The holiday season is at the forefront for this marketing director turned singer-songwriter for whom the season has become a cottage industry. His latest Christmas collection includes half a dozen songs aimed primarily at making listeners want to dance, but the breakout title song encourages welcome reflection and gratitude.
John Legend “A Legendary Christmas (Deluxe Edition)” (Colombia) Legend expands its 2018 album with four bonus tracks that include a witty duet appropriate for the #MeToo era with Kelly Clarkson on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” rewritten by Legend and Natasha Rothwell. Other additions include a parade-worthy read from a second-line “Christmas in New Orleans” parade. The Amazon Music version also adds its take on “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Idina Menzel, “Christmas: A Season of Love” (SRV / Decca) Menzel is back with a second Christmas collection, following her 2014 album “Holiday Wishes”, and this one also goes all out as she leads a big band and full orchestra to these mostly familiar tunes. The duo’s partners include Ariana Grande, Josh Gad, Aaron Lohr and Billy Porter, and Menzel injects freshness into the mix with less tried and true dishes, including the romantic holiday lament “Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas” and the quick-witted Hanukkah salsa “Ocho Kandelikas”.
Lea Michele, “Christmas in the City” (Sony / Masterworks) As the title suggests, Michele uses the most urban approach imaginable, fitting for her Broadway / Big Apple background. She wrote the title song, a bouncing musical sleigh ride through the city that never sleeps. Orchestral and choral forces abound in most of the dozens of pieces, with three benefiting from particularly inviting duet harmony parts for his collaborators: Broadway singer Jonathan Groff, actor and theatrical singer Darren Criss and the British actress-singer Cynthia Erivo.
Josh Rouse, “The Vacation Sounds of Josh Rouse” (Yep Roc) There are basically two approaches to the holiday music genre: a shopping spree through the existing catalog or, as the freelance singer-songwriter does here, write your own. It’s no small feat given how many people have done it before, it doesn’t matter how most listeners prefer the familiar over the novel. But Rouse is fully committed, evoking the spirit of Louis Prima in the “Lights of Town” swing and channeling pure pop effervescence in “Heartbreak Holiday”. Cleverly played.
R & B / BLUES / GOSPEL
The McCrary Sisters, “A Very McCrary Christmas” (Rounder) This Nashville-based sibling gospel quartet emphasizes the repertoire of African American church tradition, investing considerable verve in reference numbers such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Children Go Where I Send Thee ”and“ No Room at the Inn, ”as well as dishes of European origin, including“ O Holy Night, ”“ What Child Is This? ”And“ Silent Night. ”American musicians with whom they are often found on various tracks, including Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Jerry Douglas and Keb ‘Mo’ as well as the famous gospel singer Shirley Caesar.
Keb ‘Mo’, “The moonlight, the mistletoe and you” (Concord) The Los Angeles-born, Nashville-based blues musician brings a refreshing, low-key spirit to his vacation getaway. He co-wrote half of the songs, reinforcing the feeling that he really went into adding, rather than just rehashing, the canon of seasonal music. The sincerity of his original songs is reflected in clever covers of deep holiday tracks including Koko Taylor’s “Merry, Merry Christmas” and Charley Jordan’s “Santa Claus Blues”.
Various artists, “Blues Christmas” (Putumayo) It’s hard in 2019 for a vacation blues performance session to get past seriousness and predictability. This one, with tracks from Kenny Neal, Charles Brown, Chuck Leavell, Paul Oscher, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, among others, succeeds on occasion, the best example being the long boast of Earl King “Santa , Don’t Let Me Down. “
COUNTRY / AMERICA
Judy Collins and Jonas Fjeld with Chatham County Line, “Winter Stories” (Wildflower) This garland-less, molasses-free outing looks at winter not so much for the obvious specific vacation pitfalls, but for the emotions of family reunions, separation from loved ones, frozen landscapes, and thawed romance. The purity of Collins’ angelic soprano pairs beautifully with the sandy tenor of Norwegian singer Fjeld, and the savory backing of bluegrass group Chatham County Line maintains the instrumental parameters of an inviting humility.
Los Lobos “Llego Navidad” (Rhino) Anyone who has followed the band’s long and distinguished career in East LA will not be surprised at their decision to focus on the songs of the season from disparate parts of South America, Central America and South America. South. Three bilingual holiday classics – “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus? “By Augie Rios and the Tex-Mex polka by Freddy Fender” It’s Christmas time in Texas “- supplement” Amarga Navidad “by José Alfredo Jiménez, irresistible” La Murga “by Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe and a original, “Christmas and You” by David Hidalgo and Louie Perez.
Melanie Penn, “Emmanuel – The Folk Sessions” This six-song EP consists of unplugged, studio renditions of songs that first appeared on Broadway singer-turned-Christian pop musician’s 2017 album “Emmanuel”. The understated settings reinforce the sense of wonder she seeks in the songs of faith, minus any proselytizing, which she wrote from the perspective of biblical figures meeting Jesus for the first time. An ambitious task, convincingly executed with Sheryl Crow friendliness and a welcome lack of pretension.
The Singing Contractors, “Building an Unforgettable Christmas” (Gaither / Capitol) The duo’s name, album cover and title created expectations of something akin to Tim Allen’s old sitcom “Home Improvement” – “More Power !!” – but the music is no joke. Singers Josh Arnett and Aaron Gray are utterly heartfelt, if not always stylistically distinctive, in this heartfelt and often playful country session.
Tara Thompson, “Hillbilly Christmas” (TDT Companies) The Tennessee native is linked biologically to Loretta Lynn and musically to country upstarts such as Miranda Lambert, Margo Price, Kacey Musgraves and even the great John Prine. His irreverent and witty album – featuring nine clever originals and a crisp version of “Blue Christmas” – is a welcome antidote to the overwhelming sentimentality of the vast majority of Christmas music.
Paul Winter Consort & Friends, “Everybody Under the Sun: Voices of Solstice (Volume One: The Singers)” (Live Music) Easily the most inclusive and expansive of this year’s holiday crop. “Everybody Under the Sun” lives up to its title with performances presented on two CDs by soloists from the United States and far beyond representing more than a dozen countries and cultures. The recordings are taken from winter concerts that saxophonist Winter has chaired annually since 1980 at Saint John’s Cathedral in New York. The second volume, expected in 2020, will highlight the many instrumentalists that Winter has welcomed.
The 5 browns, “Christmas with the 5 browns” (Steinway & Sons) Pianist brothers Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae apply the classical training they received at the Juilliard School of Music in New York to such sublime holiday classics and traditional as “O Holy Night” and “Jesu, Joy. of Man’s Desiring ”, as esoteric as“ Weihnachtstraum ”by Max Reger and as accessible as“ Greensleeves ”and a five-piano arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s eternal“ Sleigh Ride ”.
Ana Gasteyer, “Sugar and Booze” (Henry’s Girl Records) If Frank, Dino, or Sammy were still with us, some or all of it would jump into the deliciously boastful title track. Best known for her acting and comedian skills, “Saturday Night Live” alumna Gasteyer puts her considerable vocal talents to work here to have a wonderful effect on this bubbling big band jazz effort. Whether it’s the jump-blues orientation of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, the bossa nova of “Sleigh Ride” or a few solid originals she co-wrote, Gasteyer almost infallibly finds the right touch. freshness for everyone.
Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, “A Jazzy Little Christmas” (Gaither) The old-fashioned entry to this male quartet evokes memories of the Rat Pack and Tony Bennett, the latter not being a coincidence since its former musical director, pianist Billy Stritch, also co-produced this session. These are roughly half classics and half originals, presented most directly and effortlessly. Among the latter, “Love You Remember” is a vintage-sounding pop-R & B act in which Haase effectively slips into Elton John’s field.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, “Big Band Holidays II” (Blue Engine) Aretha Franklin’s solo interpretation of “O Tannenbaum”, which she sings in German and English while accompanying herself with her inimitable gospel piano work, is worth the price of admission. The album, taken from the 2015-18 annual New York concerts, plays like a dinner show of the finest genre, with echoes from the great Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman orchestras of the Swing era, expanded with arrangements socialites such as “Brazilian Sleigh Bells” which gives an irresistible touch of Latin jazz to the composition of Percy Faith. Other singers include Catherine Russell, Denzal Sinclaire, and Veronica Swift.