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November 24, 2006

Holiday Music

Holiday Music

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.

Returning Champions

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.

Christmas Music

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.

Other Stuff

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.


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Hi Rebecca, these aren't new, but I have them on the CD player and couldn't imagine Christmas without them: Blind Boys of Alambama (gospel/soul and a hint of R&B) CD "Go Tell It on the Mountain"...they're on tour this year as well. First time I heard the CD I bought it! My other 'old fave' is from Amanda Shaw, a Louisiana fiddler all of sixteen years old. "Hurry Down the Bayou Tonight" is an EP CD that cajun-izes Santa Baby (Papa Noel)and Amanda does a credible job (she was thirteen at the time) of Amazing Grace. Hard to find outside the South, but I've seen her perform and she is astounding.
Let me however add my yaes to Celtic Woman, Christmas Celebration...it's breathtaking.

I'd love to say I'm off to the mall to buy these, but I'm not nearly that brave. Not today. Not on Friday After Thanksgiving.

I'm rather fond of "The Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas" (Miss Piggy singing "Santa Baby" is alone, worth it), Lee Ann Womack "A Season for Romance" (her "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Harry Connick Jr. is quite erotic), "Skynrd Family Christmas" really showcases what incredible musicians the guys are, and of course my two seasonal staples, "Christmas Island" - one by Jimmy Buffett and the other by Leon Redbone. That's just for starters.....

CHRISTMAS WITH THE RAT PACK still works. The beautiful "Silver Bells" by Marti McCall. Anything by Nat King Cole.

I love Christmas and I love Christmas music. Hence a collection of 40+ CDs. Scary, I didn't realize I had so many until I went to pick out some favorites for this post. Anyway, of all of them Amy Grant's 3 Christmas Albums are my favorites. As a bonus this year she's come out with "My Best Christmas" a collection of 12 of her Christmas "hits" + 2 new songs. Bigger bonus, it's available at Radio Shack or Amazon for only $3.99. Other favorites from various genres are - Ella Fritzgerald "Wishes you a Swinging Christmas", New Age instrumental- George Winston "December", Classical - Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert w/Kathleen Battle, Federica von Stade and Wynton Marsalis and Rock - any of Gary Hoey's Christmas albums. And I agree with William, what's Christmas with out Nat King Cole? Oh, and how about Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas? OK, I'll stop now...

I love my Time Life Treasury of Christmas Classics (the old 3-CD set). Bing Crosby's White Christmas CD still reigns supreme (even though, as a result of an Irving Berlin medley sung in high school, I can't stop following "White Christmas" with "God Bless America"). And yeah, Nat King Cole is just awesome. I also have some classical stuff -- Saint Paul's Choir, I think, and I just downloaded a lovely Voci Nobili CD with Britten's A Ceremony of Carols combined with Rutter's Dancing Day. A real delight.

But the bestest of the bestest (well, that may be an exaggeration) is Twisted Sister's "A Twisted Christmas", which my daughter and I bought for my heavy-metal hubbie. It is the funniest thing I've heard since the old Monty Python albums (anyone else remember the one with 3 sides?). The heavy metal treatments these guys give Christmas classics are just, well, twisted, and kept me in giggles and guffaws throughout the final prep for yesterday's feast. My favorites were the anthemic choruses of growling men and driving guitars (gave me a whole new appreciation for "Oh, come, let us adore him!").

I'll very soon be digging out the CD's from the back of the shelf and putting them on my iPod. New rituals for a new era, eh?

Great suggestions - believe it or not, I've heard all of them except Twisted Sister and the Voci Nobili CD. More to check out. I am loving my new Mac and iTunes!

I am thankful I no longer work in retail today - the news showed traffic at midnight - whuh?

Each year - there seems to be a theme song that plays often each year....it seems like Andy Williams ("It's the most Wonderful time") is in the lead this year....

Michael Buble needs to do a Holiday CD. Every time I hear him, I get the distinct impression Frank and Dean are smiling down upon the lad....

William - he did one - a short one, but a terrific one - called "Let it Snow" - 5 tracks -released in 2003, I think.

He also does a duet with Barenaked Ladies called "Elf's Lament" that's cute.

They all sound so nice; Bing, Nat, Dino, J.T. etc. But here in New Orleans we have the 12 Yats of Christmas and dawlin ya can't beat dat.

Thanks, Kathy! I'll track that one down.

And Ah know whut yew mean, Annette. As long as Harry Connick Jr. can ask "Whereyat?" all's well in the world...:)

(who is cranking up the stereo as we speak)

Great blog! Rebecca, you're amazing! I just put on the same cd's every year! But I have to ask, what about Barry (as in Manilow)?! He's put out 2 or 3 holiday cd's in recent memory. (Did anyone else see him on tv, I think for the parade, on Thanksgiving? He's been going to Joan Rivers' plastic surgeon...)

Beachfla - nothing new from Barry Manilow this year - and I agree - perhaps he and Kenny Rogers did a BOGO on plastic surgery. Yikes.

My all time favorite Christmas CD is Dean Martin's "Making Spirits Bright" gotta love a holiday CD cover with festive martini glasses. Next in line would be the infamous Vince Guraldi and his Charlie Brown Christmas CD, and a new favorite that I just picked up last year, Diana Krall.

Happy Holidays Everyone !

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