It's the most wonderful time of the year (to listen to music)
Do you have an album or artist that is a perennial favorite for the Christmas season?
I'm a music nut 365 days a year, but the holiday season does always rate a special mention.
Christmas has long been a destination for the commercial music industry. Every year the marketplace is deluged with new Christmas season releases. Even now, when the role of music labels in the retail music scene has dramatically changed, stores start loading up on seasonal music about the time of Halloween.
Each year I am looking for good music to add to my library. This year has been no different. It has, in fact, been a good year as several new releases have proved good additions to my collection.
What do I look for in Christmas music? Foremost, it has to be good music. I also love hearing original songs about the season. And if you are going to do a traditional favorite, I prefer if you bring some new energy or concept to it—though it's hard to do the old favorites better than Bing Crosby or Nat "King" Cole. I have that music as well.
This year I picked up four seasonal releases:
"Silver & Gold" by Sufjan Stevens is a mammoth box set of five discs with 58 songs. Stevens is more than a little extreme about Christmas. This mix of new songs and covers is his second box set of holiday music. He apparently does a Christmas record each year as a gift for friends and family. This is the compilation of those recordings. It's essential for lovers of Sufjan but others might want to sample individual songs. Some of this is extraordinary, and some of it is way too weird for grandma on Christmas Eve.
"CeeLo's Magic Moment" by Cee Lo Green is more traditional with an emphasis on dazzle and glitz. The man has a gift for singing a song even if at times his approach can be a bit too much for me.
"Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays, Vol. 1" by The Polyphonic Spree is a terrific choice for someone who enjoys creative variations on traditional tunes. Its highlight might be a lovely cover of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."
"Holidays Rule" by various artists has a wonderful mix of innovative and traditional songs. Among the highlights here is a great duet between Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten on "Baby It's Cold Outside," which radiates its own heat. This collection has many notable artists, including Paul McCartney, The Civil Wars, fun., Calexico, Punch Brothers and others. It is a very nice addition.
There's a lot of good stuff on those releases, but I am guessing none of those titles will crack my perennial favorites. Here is that list:
"We Three Kings" by The Roches. Wonderful voices, great humor and sincere feeling. These sisters are a holiday staple for me.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi. Brilliant jazz with great affection for the season. Perfect.
"Jingle All the Way" by Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. This makes the list for its stunning musicianship and wonderful creativity, which includes a throat singer singing "Jingle Bells" in Tuvan. Gorgeous.
"Christmas" by Bruce Cockburn. The brilliant Canadian singer/songwriter has an admirably offbeat holiday album that features his great guitar play as well as a lovely range of songs in multiple languages.
"The Bells of Dublin" by The Chieftains. The Irishman in me can't let this one go by. An all-star cast and the musical talent of The Chieftains makes for a perennial favorite.
"Christmas Album" by Jethro Tull. If you know the voice and flute of Ian Anderson and his work as the creative force of Jethro Tull, then you know all you need to know about this holiday classic.
"A Motown Christmas" by various artists. Motown. Christmas. Enough said.
Do you enjoy music of the holiday season? Is there a particular artist, album or song that you want to hear every year? Do you prefer traditional treatments of Christmas tunes or do you prefer creative variations? Please join the discussion and offer us your thoughts and favorites.
And great listening to all this holiday season.
Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.