’Tis the time of year again for me to share, beloved followers, my gift for knowing everything there is to know about Christmas music. I’m just glad you have such a super friend like me, someone with powers to identify great seasonal albums, someone who’s done all the listening to all the new releases by the likes of Pentatonix, Miranda Lambert, Nat King Cole (reimagined), Darren Criss, Chenoweth, Eagles of Death Metal, and Steve Perry (?). O, gather ’round the yule log good friends, here are the three outstanding albums I’ve selected for merry holiday streaming with friendly neighbors, or just drinking eggnog alone in a slow-glowing room.
Rob Thomas, Something About Christmas Time. Other years my selections for best holiday albums are biased toward Christmas pop standards, not new songs. But for lousy and precarious times such as now, this album is an apt expression of what the end of ’21 feels like. Thomas’ original songs seek a place that is both desperate and hopeful. His music and lyrics are optimistic, but his grieving vocal delivery sounds less certain. It’s peaceful, it’s longing, it’s Christmas. A note, I am most impressed with the mood Thomas sets on his solo tracks; there are also some celebrity duets I personally can take or leave.
Norah Jones, I Dream Of Christmas. Take it from a person who monitors what gets released every year, most modern holiday music, even by serious artists, falls into the no good categories of too kitsch, too sentimentally embellished, or too indy-over-reinvented. I love Jones’ vocal and jazz interpretations because she balances her originality with respect to the intent of the classics. New holiday-themed compositions as well demonstrate the perfection of Jones’ tone, not too hard, not too soapy.
Brett Young & Friends Sing The Christmas Classics. If you told me what would work is bringing together traditional Christmas songs, twangy pedal steel guitar, and slow-tempo trap beats I would have said not even on featuring your Nelly. Y&Friends pull off some surprisingly successful moody and modern country interpretations. These are your favorite songs of the season, with a vibe more about atmosphere than exuberance. And Young’s collab artists (not Nelly, most of them I never heard of, and, TBH, I never heard of Brett Young before either) all seem to be breathing the same dreamy holiday ether. There is a skip song for me which is the one with Darius Rucker. Not that Rucker’s bad, I just find the uptempo bluesy track kind of a buzz kill.
Two honorable mentions: Kelly Clarkson, When Christmas Comes Around. I wanted to like her second holiday album more. Clarkson’s been an astounding belting talent, no less so here, but she also does three original Christmastime songs about her recent divorce that I’m not interested in getting in the middle of. And the traditional Christmas songs she delivers feel a little lazy. I do love her duet with Chris Stapleton, save it, and if you don’t have Miss Clarkson’s 2013 album Wrapped In Red–listening to that recent classic is mandatory if you want to pass Professor RF Brown’s class. Brett Eldridge, Mr. Christmas. What Eldridge lacks in invention he makes up for in sounding like he’s having a really good time. Although the big swing arrangements are a bit high school senior jazz ensemble for my liking, I think some people will really enjoy these fun mostly classics voiced by a more-than-adequate singer.