.Merry Music: Holiday Album Guide

As the temperatures begin to drop, holiday albums start landing, and 2023 has brought its share of these releases. Here are some choices from this year’s arrivals.

Cher: Christmas – Cher’s first-ever holiday album, not surprisingly, touches plenty of stylistic bases. There’s modern dance-pop (“Angels In The Snow”); Motown/soul/pop on “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home (with Darlene Love, who sang the original Phil Spector-produced version); acoustic balladry (with Michael Buble joining Cher on “Home”); modern R&B/hip-hop (with Tyga adding a forced-sounding rap on “Drop Top Sleigh Ride”); rock (“Run Rudolph Run”); and a touch of blues on “I Like Christmas.” Depending on one’s perspective, Cher has something for everyone here, or Christmas is stylistically scattered. Either way, it’s unmistakably Cher.

Jon Pardi: Merry Christmas From Jon Pardi – The country star’s first holiday album is highlighted by its originals, including the rocking “Beer For Santa” and the swinging “400 Horsepower Sleigh.” Pardi also does a few standards on a fun effort that’s more adventurous than the usual holiday album.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Halley Neal & Sam Robbins: You and Me on Christmas Eve – These two solo artists harmonize nicely on one of the season’s best albums. It features several strong originals, including “Christmas is Coming Soon,” an easy-going melodic folk-rock tune, and the pretty pop-leaning title track.

Michelle Malone & the Hot Toddies: Toddie Time – Malone finds a sweet spot between bluegrass-tinged roots rock and swinging jazz on this refreshing acoustic-centric set of Christmas covers.

The Burrito Brothers: Christmas – The current lineup of the band that began in 1971 as the Flying Burrito Brothers brings their familiar ’70s-rooted country sound to a set made up almost entirely of original holiday songs. It’s a pleasant, if a bit uneven, effort.

Gregory Porter: Christmas Wish – The Grammy-winning jazz singer brings together some inspired song choices (Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” and Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes”), a few standards and three solid originals, “Everything’s Not Lost,” “Christmas Wish” and “Heart For Christmas,” on this classy effort.

Johnny Mathis: Christmas Time Is Here – The singing legend remains in good voice on this tasteful 10-song set consisting mostly of seasonal standards. It should become a perennial favorite for fans of classic Christmas albums.

Mark Tremonti: Christmas Classics New & Old – Tremonti is best known as the guitarist for hard rockers Alter Bridge and Creed, but he’s also carving out a niche as a Frank Sinatra-styled singer. That’s the Tremonti we hear on this set of familiar holiday fare. His smooth baritone can stand alongside the likes of Michael Buble, and Tremonti’s versions of these classics—with full orchestral arrangements—make for a timeless Christmas album.

Amber Lawrence: A Very Aussie Aussie Christmas – This family Christmas album comes with a down-under twist, courtesy of Lawrence, a popular country artist in Australia. Originally released in her home country in 2017, its songs (mostly originals) blend sprightly pop and country and will appeal to kids and adults alike.

Nils Landgren: Christmas with My Friends VIII – The veteran trombonist and jazz artist returns with his eighth seasonal set. Mixing familiar holiday standards and lesser-known selections, it’s another tasteful effort that unites jazz and pop.

Tarja: Dark Christmas – This selection of gothy, classical-leaning versions of Christmas standards is plenty unique. But including tunes with light lyrics (“Jingle Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Frosty The Snowman”) is a misstep on an otherwise intriguing album.

Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas – This comedian/singer brings together his skewed sense of humor and a taste for modern pop/R&B on this album. “Every Christmas Eve (Mrs. Claus’ Theme)” finds the jolly guy’s wife getting suspicious of her hubby’s Christmas Eve adventures, while the silky ballad “Have You Heard of Christmas” has some sneaky commentary and thoughtful observations.

Brandy: Christmas with Brandy – The popular R&B singer returns with her first holiday outing. The original material (including the sexy, silky ballad “Christmas Party For Two” and the bouncy “Christmas Gift”) makes Christmas with Brandy an album worth noticing.

Adam Blackstone: A Legacy Christmas – This multifaceted artist successfully crafts a jazzy set that also weaves in touches of R&B, hip-hop, gospel and pop over a selection of originals and freshly reinterpreted holiday favorites.

Seth MacFarlane: We Wish You The Merriest Christmas – Best known for his animated series, Family Guy and American Dad, McFarlane has also been making music rooted in the Great American Songbook. This collection of familiar holiday standards, also featuring his frequent singing partner, Liz Gillies, works well for MacFarlane and his rich baritone.

Kings Return: We Four Kings – The genre-spanning a cappella group gets plenty of vocal and sonic variety out of having just four vocalists, and the accomplished performances on “Jingle Bell Rock,” “The Kings’ Nutcracker Suite,” “Jesus Is The Reason For the Season” and others suggest Kings Return are among the best in their genre.

Philly Special: A Philly Special Christmas Special – Yes, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata shouldn’t quit their day jobs playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, but this trio’s second charity album is another credible effort, with a few surprise song choices (“Dominick The Donkey” and “Pretty Paper”) and notable guests (including Patti LaBelle and Amos Lee).

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers: Because It’s Christmas Time – The bluegrass-rooted string band led by acclaimed banjo player Mullins gifts us a fine album of originals and not-obvious covers that are at turns frisky (“Reindeer Boogie,” “Christmas At the Old Home Place”) and gentle and melodic (“From My Broken Heart To You,” “There Once Was A Time On Earth”).

A Winter Union: Sooner After Solstice: A Transatlantic Folk Christmas – This UK folk supergroup convenes for a set of melodic originals and covers that lean toward easy-going ballads, but occasionally kick up the energy (“Boxing Day” and “Ring Out, Solstice Bells”).

George Perris: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! – The PBS favorite makes a typical orchestral holiday album, repeating some tunes in different languages.

The Browns: Christmas in Prague – Here’s a holiday album for fans of Lawrence Welk.

A Few Other Worthy Holiday Albums

Straight No Chaser: Stocking Stuffer (an a cappella treat with humor); Michael Bolton: Christmas Time (holiday favorites with booming vocals, epic arrangements); George Gee Swing Orchestra: Winter Wonderland (a jazzy big-band-styled take on 10 standards); Christian Sands: Christmas Stories (the pianist brings jazzy accents to five classics and five original tunes); Hauser: Christmas (the Croatian cellist takes the lead on an orchestral set of Christmas classics); and The Gothard Sisters: A Celtic Christmas (the guitar/violin/flute trio puts an Irish folk accent on a dozen tunes).


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