By Rebecca the Bookseller and Friends
Well, it's the day after Thanksgiving, and it's now officially time, using even the most rigid calendar, to start playing holiday music.
So I conducted a small, very un-scientific survey on the new holiday music for 2006, and here, in summary, are the results.
First holiday album ever, which makes it a must for true fans:
Bette Midler's Cool Yule. This is divine, Miss M fan or not. Highlights include a holiday version of "From a Distance" and a lovely ballad called "Merry Christmas."
Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong. If you love her voice, you'll love this CD. Fans of more upbeat holiday music will have to content themselves with one or two tracks. Fans of the slow sad ones will be in slow sad heaven. Case in point: she does one of the best covers of Joni Mitchell's "River" since Robert Downey Jr. was on "Ally McBeal."
Brad Paisley's Christmas. Love him. Love the CD. In addition to being a wonderful showman and seemingly all around good guy, he is an incredible musician and songwriter. One track is a hilarious take on how tough it is to just sing a holiday song these days without ticking off the PC police. The track is called "Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday" and it features an all-star choir including Little Jimmy Dickens (remember kids - we don't say Elves - they're Little People), George Jones and Bill Anderson. A must for country fans.
Celtic Woman's A Christmas Celebration - if you couldn't tear yourself away from these beautiful voices singing in harmony on PBS, you'll want this one. But don't try to pronounce the tracks in Gaelic phonetically. You'll sound like a dufus.
Susan Egan's Winter Tracks - Susan Egan, as some of you may already know (I did not - had to use the Google) is a big Broadway star. So Susan and her friends (I am picturing the cast of Rent, basically) wrote some kooky holiday songs, and Susan and her beautiful voice recorded them along with some holiday standards. Perhaps the best version of "Let There Be Peace on Earth" that I've heard since we did it in high school at night in the cemetery on the Friday after Thanksgiving, accompanied by some Malt Duck. I still get misty just thinking about it.
James Taylor's At Christmas - if you were one of the lucky few who picked up his 2004 Hallmark CD, you've got all but two of these tracks already. If you missed it, run don't walk - now is your chance.
Johnny Mathis - who has got to be Mr. Christmas Music, really, has a new CD that celebrates 50 years of holiday music. FIFTY years, people. Naturally, his voice is beginning to wear, but it's still Johnny. No collection is complete without at least one of his.
Gladys Knight's A Christmas Celebration is part R&B, part gospel, part old school choir (as in Mormon Tabernacle - except this is The Saints Unified Voices). The choir is first rate, and Gladys can still bring it home. No new songs, but some great standards and some Christmas songs too.
Jim Brick man's Christmas Romance is the instrumental (piano solo, mostly) CD of choice for the class of 2006. Several original compositions and some standards included.
The Target Collections
In days of yore (you have to say that at some point in any holiday essay, don't you?) Target was the best source for cheap ($5) holiday compilation CDs called Sounds of the Season. This year, there's only one new compilation - Sounds of the Season Classic Holiday Songbook, which is a terrific way to start a collection. Mostly duets, and all are standards. In addition, if you are a die hard fan of any of the following, they have their own Target collections: Enya, Lionel Richie, and John Legend, for example. John Legend, by the by, is fantastic. Sounds like a young Nat King Cole.
Wynonna (Judd- I think she's only going by Wynonna now, though, so watch it, she could take you out) has a holiday CD called A Classic Christmas.
Rhonda Vincent's Beautiful Star is also a good choice for country fans.
But I have to say, you gotta go with the Brad Paisley if country is your thing.
This is music that celebrates the Christmas story and the Christian holiday - so if you don't, you can skip this part.
If you love Christmas music - CCR style, you're going to want to check out Joy to the World: The Ultimate Christmas Collection.
The group New Song has a new CD called The Christmas Hope - it has some new, some old and some standards. Close knit harmony and a great band make this a wonderful choice. Just skip over "The Christmas Shoes" if you still can't listen to it without getting racked up. I know I can't.
Mary Mary - A Mary Mary Christmas. A pair of women with magnificent voices singing songs of praise.
Todd Agnew and Friends - Do You See What I See? I had never heard him before. He and his friends are good.
Third Day'ss new Christmas CD is called Christmas Offerings- I really like this sound. It's definitely Christian rock, but it's got some folk to it as well. Worth a listen before you buy.
Worship Jamz Christmas is reportedly a dance music mix of boy and girl bands singing traditional carols. I tried to listen to it, but it all sounded the same. Seriously. Maybe I'm just getting too old for the dance mix. It actually gave me the jimmy legs.
Ally & AJ's Acoustic Hearts of Winter - no clue, but the kids were all over this one at the store.
The Time Life Treasury of Christmas - The Greatest Holiday Duets. Time-Life is one of those media companies that publishes all kinds of things. They excel at the Year-End photo books and these kinds of musical collections. All I can think is that they must have a whole building just for intellectual property files. This collection has everything from the classic (Bing and Ella; Peggy and Benny; Perry and the Fontaines; Al Hirt and Ann Margaret) to the contemporary (Barenaked Ladies and Michael Buble) with other tracks in between. If you have a lot of holiday music, you've probably got all of the covers already - if not, it's worth checking out.
Michael Bolton's Swingin' Christmas. If you already have his previous holiday CD (This is the Time 1996 Columbia Records) you already have this CD. If you don't and you love Bolton, regardless of hair length, well, you're in luck.
Manhattan Transfer is back with An Capella Christmas. This is a group with a distinctive sound - you either like them or you don't. I happen to like them, but even I'm a bit off by the third round of 'jingle jangle spingle spangle'. However, they do my favorite rendition of "Christmas is Coming" - you know - the goose is getting fat and so forth.
Now - as luck would have it, I just got an e-mail from iTunes - several of the CDs mentioned here are on sale if you buy the whole album. So pop over to iTunes, listen to some clips and make your choices.
Whew! We covered a lot of ground there. If you're online today, and you have a favorite, please share it with the rest of us.