By Robert Ham
Another holiday season brings another tidal wave of Christmas music into the world with the hope of thawing our frosty spirits and quelling our inner Grinch. The trick is figuring out which new batch of tinsel-encrusted tunes will bring joy to the world and which will have you shouting “Bah! Humbug!” at your stereos.
Let us be your guide through the new class of Christmas jams, with our lists of the albums that are going into heavy rotation or the re-gifting pile.
Idina Menzel – Holiday Wishes (Warner Bros.)
If your tween daughters haven’t soured you on the sound of Idina Menzel’s singing by wearing out their CD of the Frozen soundtrack, you’re going to delight in this lovely collection of Xmas standards. The musical arrangements stick to the basics with lots of sweeping strings and the jingle of sleigh bells, but Menzel finds some real holiday spirit in a gospel-tinged take on “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (her sassy duet with Michael Buble), and the always lovely “White Christmas.”
Various Artists – All Is Bright (Amazon)
This one deserves inclusion on the Nice list for quantity alone. Big e-retailer Amazon has compiled the ultimate Christmas playlist, with 43 newly recorded tunes for you to either download en masse or – as we would suggest – to cherry pick a la carte to make your perfect holiday mix. Some highlights to consider: Laura Gibson’s adorably wobbly take on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” a charming original by firebrand singer/songwriter Liz Phair entitled “Ho Ho Ho,” the stirring psychedelia of the Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono’s duet on “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” and the spiked eggnog of “This Christmas” by pop/punkers Sinclair.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Xmas Tape (Geographic North)
A perfect stocking stuffer is this cassette release from this Philadelphia-based indie pop outfit. The coed group puts the emphasis on original material, stirring in equal parts dreamy psychedelia and holiday hallmarks like orchestra chimes and church organ. These five songs get mighty playful, too, with singers Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma pitching their voices down to manly levels for their woozy rendition of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and the swinging reminder to “Shut Your Mouth, It’s Christmas.” Don’t wait to snap this up; the tape is limited to 300 copies.
Seth MacFarlane – Holiday For Swing! (Republic)
The emphasis on Seth MacFarlane’s second album is on the “swing,” with the multimedia kingpin wrapping his surprisingly agile voice around the jazzy work of a 65-piece orchestra recorded at legendary Abbey Road Studios. And the Family Guy creator sounds like he’s having the time of his life recording these tunes, smiling his way through some deep cuts like “Christmas Dreaming” and “Moonlight In Vermont,” and more familiar fare such as “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Marshmallow World.”