Christmas music is my thing. Most of the time its old jazz standards… the rest of the time its nostalgic and cheesy. Either way, it’s awesome, even if it’s awesomely awful (looking at you Wham’s “Last Christmas”). Not everyone loves to listen to holiday music year round, but everyone has their own favorite Holiday tune that they can listen to when the snow is glistening and the fire is glowing… that is unless you’re Scrooge, Mr. Potter, or a certain co-worker of mine. Here is a ranking of all of the holiday albums that have come out this season. Some hits, some misses… and some meh. Happy Holidays to you.
10. Holiday Wishes, Idina Menzel
Striking while the iron is hot… or rather cold, Menzel, the infamous voice of the even more Ice Queen Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, has decided to release a holiday album. She has a grand array of hits ranging from Disney’s inspirational hit “When You Wish Upon a Star” to Mariah Carey’s impossible to sing hit “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Menzel takes a more gospel-y feel to this tune and just doesn’t hit the mark. Don’t get me wrong, she sounds fine on the tune, but also quite forced. Maybe it’s the extra pinch of melodrama added into the mix. She also has a duet with Michael Buble with my favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s cute, but isn’t this Buble’s 5th time doing a duet with someone on this very tune? Pitch perfect, but perfection wears thin without the right sentiment behind it.
Yes, the atheist creator of the controversial hit animated show Family Guy has indeed put out a holiday album. But in his defense, he is the rat packer that never was, and holiday tunes are almost synonymous with rat packers. MacFarlane has a great array of tunes on this album, including duet with Sarah Bareilles, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Honestly, I could have a bazillion covers of that song. I will say that although I think that MacFarlane sounds good and the arrangements are swingy and lush, he brings nothing new to the table that crooners Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble haven’t already brought. Also, I know this is stereotyping, but I was expecting a LITTLE bit of humor. I love a little tongue in cheek humor when it comes to the holiday seasons… Heck, we all need it, considering its a family event. It’s a cute listen, but not worth a second go round.
You either consider him the risen part of Hootie and the Blowfish or the second coming of Charlie Pride, it’s Darius Rucker. His Home for the Holidays album is nice, but not my cup of tea. I will say this, if Rucker decided to loose his twang, he would have a serious career in jazz. The man can seriously swing. “Candy Cane Christmas,” an original tune for Rucker, is OK at best. I can see it doing decently on the country charts, but I wouldn’t expect it to do monstrously well on the Christmas charts this year. Also on the album is a super country version of “Winter Wonderland.” Again, not my cup of tea, but it’s a toe tapper. Mr. Rucker, you win points for originality.
7. One Christmas: Chapter One, LeAnn Rimes
I was incredibly tentative to take a listen to notorious over belter LeAnn Rime’s second Christmas album, this album actually works for me. I was expecting the country version of Christina Aguilera over-singing, but this is just a fun little album, filled with songs that aren’t done that often. My first listen was “Hippopotomus for Christmas,” which is a delightful blend of pop/rock and silly. The only country I hear in the song is the twang in her voice… and even that’s slight. Also on this album is one of my favorites (because it’s a Dolly Parton song, and I LOVE me some Dolly), “Hard Candy Christmas.” Although I’d clearly prefer the Dolly version, the one is sweet. It’s very sparse and lets her powerhouse voice ring through. The only thing I’m annoyed with on this album is that it seems very unbalanced in the mix. It’s like Rimes was there in the mixing booth saying, “I’m not loud enough! MAKE ME LOUDER!” Dear LeAnn, you’re loud enough. Even when you whisper, you’re loud enough!
6. Holiday, Earth, Wind, and Fire
This to the old school funk/soul band takes EVERYTHING and makes it their own. As much as the album sounds incredibly foreign, and maybe even like 70’s porn music to me, it stays true to the acoustic aesthetic that Earth, Wind, and Fire created. The first track I listened to was “Winter Wonderland” which sounded more like a track from The Wiz rather than the old standard that I have grown accustomed to. I have to admit, though- it is indeed fun. Also in this album is “December,” yes indeed “September” turned into a holiday song by changing a mere word. Kind reminds me of “Christmas is All Around Me” in Love Actually. It should revolt me, but I’m having too much fun dancing!
Well known Christian artist Michael W. Smith has released an album this year, and it’s quite good. Featuring some of Christian, country, and pop music’s best, the album is sincere, sweet, and fun. He stays close to his roots with “White Christmas” with Lady Antebellum with a lovely, fun little rendition of the tune. He then switches gears to a strange track with Bono. Yes, Bono from U2. Bono whispers a talked track from Scripture with what seems to be a Native American track in the back. It seems beautiful yet pretentious, and not exactly what I want from a Christmas tune. I will say, though, it’s quite unconventional for a Christian artist, and I have to applaud Smith for that.
Downton Abbey is one of those shows that I really should be watching, but I’ve never started. The soundtrack from the popular British series’s Christmas special is something special. It harkens back to a more traditional time, just like the show. It’s not the typical crooner, belter, or cheese-ball soundtrack, just good Christmas tunes sung with beautiful voices and lush arrangements. I wish I could tell you all which characters are featured. But alack and alas, all I can tell you is that Maggie Smith is not featured on this album. I feel like I should listen to this, snuggled with that someone special, whilst drinking hot buttered rum… or whatever those elegant Brits drink.
This title is a little misleading. You think that you’re getting either a compilation of amazing Christmas songs from Motown’s heyday, or that you’re getting loads of secular R&B artists singing to the old Motown arrangements of classic Christmas songs. Instead it’s a bunch of R&B gospel artists singing old school Christmas songs. One is Brian Courtney Wilson singing one of my favorites “This Christmas,” which had a good groove and was fine. But honestly his version didn’t hold it’s own against Donny Hathaway’s, Jennifer Hudson’s, or even Chris Brown’s versions. But then there was the “Go Tell it on a Mountain/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Mash-up, that had me dancing in my seat. It was infectious and fun. There are some more secular artists on the album, including my personal favorite neo-soul songstress, India.Arie. And surprise, surprise, she stands out alone. Her sparse arrangement of “Mary Did You Know” with almost what seems to be an English/ country fiddle is so incredibly provoking that I don’t know if I’ll ever listen to ANY other version.
2. Grumpy Cats Worst Christmas Ever Official Soundtrack, Various Artists
The Lifetime Move… yes, Lifetime movie based on Grumpy Cat, has an amazing Christmas soundtrack. I’m serious! Jam packed with great artists and offering a grand array of the classics, this album does not disappoint. Start with KT Tunstil’s “Sleigh Ride” which is delightfully polarized with the slightly poppy arrangement against her raspy vocals. But then there’s The Bird and The Bee’s “Carol of the Bells” which is groovy, and dare I say, dark? So delicious. If you’re a weirdo and like your Holiday season to be like a Tim Burton movie, then this is probably a safe bet for you.
1. That’s Christmas to Me, Pentatonix
For those of you who never get on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking, THE accapella group to listen to is Pentatonix. They are seriously sick. And I kinda knew that this one would be my number one Christmas album of the year, not only because I love accapella groups, but also because I knew these guys and one girl would KILL IT! We start with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which starts with a beautiful madrigal interpretation, and then goes into a fun hip pop version that would make even the Scrooge-iest of Scrooges dance. I then went to my go to, which is the all important accapella “Mash-Up.” This time they did “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy,” which is in a word, magical! I can’t help but smile the whole time listening to this song… also their featured artist Tori Kelly KILLS it! The album is insanely hard to put down! The group even covers the famed (and overplayed) Disney hit, “Let It Go.” It’s fantastical. These cats are going to be in the second installment of Pitch Perfect, and to be honest, I’m a little more excited to see these guys more than the protagonists, the Bellas. This is SUCH an amazing album and a perfect edition to anyone who’s willing to listen outside the lines.