15 new-ish Christmas albums that actually rule
Holiday music, when done incorrectly, can be unbearably cheesy. Schmaltzy tunes about mistletoe, red noses, and strolling (mit-covered) hand-in-hand through the snow release by the sled-load every single year. This makes it hard to willfully seek out new holiday releases, but, believe it or not, there are a number of albums from recent years that deserve a spin.
So hark the herald angels sing, here are 15 new-ish holiday LPs, for when you’ve worn out Bing, The King, and even Babs.
Los Lobos, Llegó Navidad
Feliz Navidad! Four decades into their career, East L.A. Latin-rock party starters Los Lobos finally lent their irresistible stylings to holiday fare. The group rips through 11 festive classics from the Spanish-speaking world—including Freddy Fender’s “Christmas Time In Texas” and salsa favorite “La Murga”—plus one original, a blues-tinged lament for the lonely called “Christmas and You.” Dig in.
You Wish, A Merge Records Holiday Album
The 2019 indie entry comes courtesy of Merge Records, who, in celebration of their own 30th birthday, rounded up 15 artists for a diverse set of well-worn classics—Hiss Golden Messenger and Lucinda Williams team up on a terrifyingly good take on John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison” while Apex Manor gently update “White Christmas”—and new missives. Telekinesis’s upbeat “Christmas Times Is Here (Uh Oh)” charms hardest, but Mac McCaughan and Annie Hayden’s lilting ode to, yes, sledding, “Down We Go (Sledding Song),” deserves a spin as well.
Andrea Bocelli, Si Forever (The Diamond Edition)
The opera legend’s first release of Si (2018) went platinum. The sprawling LP, which features duets with Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, and his son Matteo, gets an update with stellar, brand new features from Ellie Goulding (“Return to Love”) and Jennifer Garner (“Dormi Dormi Lullaby”). And while the set isn’t expressly meant for the holidays, it’s just about impossible to find a more fitting soundtrack for crisp air and cozy nights.
Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, Big Band Holiday II
The world’s premiere trumpeter Wynton Marsalis led the big band holiday shows at New York City’s fabled Jazz At Lincoln Center in their holiday concerts from 2015-2018, and this year he folded his highlights into a raucous, warm, undeniable live collection that begs for a spin in your tinseled-out, light-strung living room. (Its predecessor dropped in 2015.) The jazz A-list turns out in the form of Catherine Russell, Veronica Swift, Denzal Sinclaire, and Audrey Shakir, but it’s impossible not to call out Aretha Franklin’s never-before-released piano rendition of “O Tannenbaum.” It was a surprise when she graced the venue 2015, and three years after her death, it still shocks to hear her pure, perfect vocal.
The Last Christmas Soundtrack
First, a note: the Last Christmas soundtrack is not actually a Christmas collection at all. Second, none of the music on the set is new. Culled from George Michael and Wham!’s songbooks, it’s an album full of boisterous, funkified party cuts—to wit: the one-two punch of “Too Funky” into “Fantasy”—meant to accompany the new Henry Golding-Emilia Clarke cheesefest. Avoid the post-dinner lull and cue this up; even grandma will be moved to cut a rug.
Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas
Musgraves is one of the quickest wits writing music these days (give any of her three stellar and non-themed LPs a spin, including last year’s acclaimed Golden Hour). The holiday spirit lucked out in 2016 when she cast her pen towards it. A Very Kacey Christmas sees the singer channeling ‘60s nostalgia while covering much-loved classics (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”), teaming up with Leon Bridges (“Present Without a Bow”), and toking up with the Red Headed Stranger (“A Willie Nice Christmas”).
John Legend, A Legendary Christmas Deluxe Edition
The crooner’s first Christmas album, which arrived last year, got a headline-making update in 2019 when Legend teamed up with his fellow Voice judge, Kelly Clarkson, for a woke-ified rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Awkward and forced, the song landed to the ridicule of some and the general dismay of many more. But don’t let that distract you from the 17 other tunes. Most beg for a spot on your holiday party playlist—the gooey “Bring Me Love” is downright irresistible while the Stevie Wonder-featuring “What Christmas Means to Me” is pure vintage pop—and, better yet, Legend logs one of his most tear-jerking cuts to date with “By Christmas Eve.”
Cheap Trick, Christmas Christmas
With 18 albums in the can, the Hall of Famers finally had time for a holiday outing in 2017. (That year actually saw Cheap Trick release two albums with We’re All Alright! in June.) The group penned three originals for the set and elsewhere tackled oddities like Harry Nilsson’s “Remember (Christmas)” and Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.” In a market that too often sees acts doing more of the same, the willingness to be different wallops.
Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue
Country music's sequined queen had a productive 2016. Along with her lauded Full Circle album, her first collection in more than a decade, Lynn also released White Christmas Blue, a spry set of holiday songs. The icon previously recorded six of the 12 songs five decades ago on 1966’s Country Christmas, and there’s undeniable charm to seeing her reinterpret them again, here. Recorded with John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter Cash, who also produced Circle) at his home studio, your heart will just about break with her powerful rendition of “White Christmas.”
JD McPherson, Socks
You’ll find no covers on the Oklahoma native’s first Christmas set—literally, none. Instead, McPherson penned 11 brand new cuts for a retro-rock holiday revival that, with no kitsch or cutesiness, beams with festive cheer. From the euphoric “Hey Skinny Santa!” to the growling “Bad Kid” to the delicate “Ugly Sweater Blues,” there’s something for everyone.
The Mavericks, Hey! Merry Christmas!
No one knows, really, what to call the sort of music the Mavericks make. (Latin-infused rock? Tex-Mex party tunes? Caribbean-inflected rockabilly?) But there is one thing we all agree on: It’s fun as hell! Same goes for the Grammy-winners’ 2018 holiday LP, which bursts with bright horns, jazzy arrangements, and a heck of a lot of swing. Raul Malo and Co. wrote eight originals for the set and rounded the album out with two covers: “Happy Holiday,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which absolutely soars.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Released in 2015, Soul Party sees the legendary singer and her revered backing outfit injecting a whole bunch of funk into the yearly festivities. With bright horns and addictive melodies, new cuts like “8 Days of Hanukkah” and “Big Bulbs” are instant classics, while playful updates to “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells” will have you wondering why they weren’t done like this all along.
Smokey Robinson, Christmas Everyday
Christmas Everyday may be the Motown legend’s first solo Christmas set—released in 2017—but Robinson is hardly alone on the uber-inviting LP. Trombone Shorty guests on the swinging “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” while Jones’ cohorts the Dap-Kings appear on the glinting “You’re My Present.” All adorned with the singer’s honeyed notes, results are super smooth holiday magic.
Brett Eldredge, Glow
Brett Eldredge’s Glow is so good the singer's now released it twice—well, sort of. First issued in 2016, the deluxe version of the set, which includes 18 tracks, arrived in 2018. And while Eldredge made his name cutting certified pop-country winners, it’s hard to imagine a better vehicle for his bold baritone than the throwback, big band arrangements, here. Well, actually, there is one: cue up his a capella rendition of “The First Noel,” which stuns.
Sia, Everyday is Christmas
It’s hard to not-enjoy Sia’s warm, raspy vocals. It’s even harder to not-enjoy it when she's singing songs written with powerhouse producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson). So given that her first holiday album, which released in 2017, features exactly this recipe for success, there is a certain baseline of “good” the LP never sinks below. Not every song contends for space in the Christmas music canon—“Puppies Are Forever” never really adds up to its intended charm, “Candy Cane Lane” is almost too wispy—but turn on “Underneath the Mistletoe,” an throat-ripping banger, and then turn it way up. Go on, sing along. It is Christmas, after all.