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Christmas is coming at us like a linebacker, so let's take a look at what Santa has for us hipsters in his musical bag. This year, I'm presenting just my Top 10 albums, plus a fairly bare-bones look at all of the important reissues and new albums, and a meager handful of singles (all below). You see, I'm taking a big step back from most new music - especially the thousands of annual singles and downloads - so that I can focus on the preceding 100 years of classics. That'll keep me busy literally the rest of my life, and for all the online clatter, I happily refer you to websites like Mistletunes, Christmas Underground, Stubby's House of Christmas, and others.
All the same, what am I missing so far? Drop me a line...
Hip Christmas Top 10 (plus Two)
Eddy Arnold / The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings (2016)
Ray Conniff Singers / The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings (2016)
For the last few years, Real Gone Music has dominated the Christmas reissue world, and these two are about as perfect as they can be. The first collects the Eddy Arnold's 1962 LP and a whole slew of singles (learn more), while the second includes all three of Ray Conniff's Christmas albums plus one stray track. This year's crop of Real Gone reissues also includes CD's by Jack Jones, Sammy Kaye, Living Guitars, Norman Luboff, Mantovani, Mitch Miller, and Robert Shaw.
The Killers / Don't Waste Your Wishes (2016)
I'm not all that crazy about these Las Vegas rockers, but I admire both their tenacity - a Christmas single every year for the past decade - as well as their generosity - all proceeds benefit for the (RED) foundation. This year, we get a whole album: a compilation of all previous singles plus a new track, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (their first cover, by the way). The download is an iTunes exclusive, and the band will sell a limited edition CD starting December 9.
Loretta Lynn / White Christmas Blue (2016)
The legendary country singer returns with her second full-length holiday album, after making us wait a mere 50 years (see Christmas Collection). This one is produced by her daughter, Patsy, and Johnny Cash's son, and it's the second installment of her "Cash Cabin Recordings" series recorded at Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Loretta still sounds great as she covers her own classics like "To Heck with Ole Santa Claus" while waxing a new one with the title track.
Duke Pearson / Merry Ole Soul (1969)
This understated Blue Note jazz classic by underrated pianist Pearson (he's better known as an arranger and producer) finally gets reissued in the Western world - but only as an MP3 download. It's been available on compact disc for a while - but only as an expensive Japanese import (it's worth it, by the way). I should mention that last year's download-only jazzbo gems by Don Patterson and Bobby Timmons are now available on vinyl, as well - but not CD.
Del Reeves / Santa's Boy (1966)
This country album has never been issued in any digital format until now, and, sadly, it's only available as an MP3 download - no CD, no vinyl. Reeves was no towering giant in his field (though he was quite popular), and this album - like so many country Christmas albums - is no masterpiece. But, it has a high originality quotient, and it's nice to hear it without the pops and clicks. Also, note that Merle Haggard's oft-repackaged Christmas Present (1973) has been reissued on vinyl with it's original artwork for the first time since 1979.
Frankie Valli / 'Tis The Seasons (2016)
The leader of the Four Seasons follows fellow pop-rock icons Neil Sedaka (2008) and Paul Anka (2011) in making a mature Christmas pop album more in the vein of Crosby, Sinatra, or Bennett than his vintage work from the 50's and 60's. Frankie is in excellent voice - he's taken care of those famous pipes - and the album is produced and arranged by longtime Four Seasons svengali Bob Gaudio. Most amazing fact: English guitar wizard Jeff Beck cameos on "Merry Christmas Baby."
Ventures / Christmas Album (1965)
The Ventures' rock instrumental masterpeice is high on my list of Top 20 Christmas Albums of all time, so it's a no-brainer to recommend this reissue by the aforemention mention Real Gone Music. What makes it special is the inclusion of both the stereo and mono versions - cool! The Ventures inspired countless instumental combos over the years, including the Falcons (not the doo wop group) whose Canadian Christmas (2004) became widely available this year - also recommended.
various artists / Big City Christmas: 30 Groovin' And Croonin' Christmas Tunes (2016)
This new disc from German reissue specialists Bear Family is drawn from their extensive catalog, so it offers the rare opportunity to cherry pick the label's Christmas treats without buying dozens of expensive (albeit great) imported compact discs. A few tracks are common, though classic (e.g. Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run"), but most are rare, indeed. Tantalizingly, the liner notes trumpet a companion disc, Christmas On The Countryside, which the label tells me isn't actually due until 2018....
various artists / Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 1: The Vocalists (2016)
various artists / Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 2: The Instrumentals (2016)
The venerable jazz label Verve has done a pretty good job of documenting the holiday tracks in their extensive library, going as far back as Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas (1989). This two-disc series digs way back (Bill Evans, Kenny Burrell, Dinah Washington), but it puts the spotlight on the Verve's more recent acts, as well (Norah Jones, Stanley Jordan, Patti Austin). Also worth seeking out: Sony's Classic Big Band Christmas Album, available as download and on vinyl (no CD).
various artists / Christmas On The Lam and Other Songs From The Season
Americana indie label Red House has unleashed their first-ever holiday album, and it's a fairly impressive mixed bag, including Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, folk legends Robin and Linda Williams, and newcomers like the Pines and the Wailin' Jennys. For my tastes, the main attractions are new tracks from longtime Texan Dale Watson, recent Texan Bill Kirchen, and my New York sweetheart, Suzzy Roche.
various artists / Norton Records Presents the Wild Sounds of Christmas
The good new? Legendary New York indie Norton Records has finally released a compilation of their Christmas singles - formerly available only on vinyl. The bad news? It's download only (no CD, no LP) and the tracks are "electronically captured from original vinyl 45's." Well, I already have the 45's! Anyway, these songs are, as advertised, wild, and I can't recommend them highly enough on a purely musical basis - but I could have done without the pops and clicks...
various artists / Seasonal Favorites Vol. 4
The moral of my story is "Christmas music doesn't have to be boring," and I've spent much of my life proving the theorem. Double Crown Records has bolstered my case with the fourth volume of Seasonal Favorites, their fabulous series of (mostly instrumental) surf and garage rave-ups - 20 tracks, some new, some old, plus the spicy cover art we've come to expect.
- Lynn Anderson / The Christmas Album (1971, MP3)
- Eddy Arnold / The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings (2016)
- Gene Autry / A Melody Ranch Christmas Party (2016)
- Count Basie Orchestra / A Very Swingin' Basie Christmas! (2015, vinyl)
- David Bazan / Dark Sacred Night (2016)
- solo and group recordings by Pedro the Lion singer
- David Bazan / Christmas Bonus (2016)
- vinyl-only EP with four songs not collected above
- Justin Bieber / Under The Mistletoe (2011, vinyl)
- Walter Brennan, Twas the Night Before Christmas (1962, MP3)
- Bright Eyes / The Studio Albums 2000-2011 (2016)
- includes his 2002 Christmas album
- Brothers Four / Merry Christmas (1966, MP3)
- Glen Campbell / That Christmas Feeling (1968, vinyl)
- Captain Kangaroo / Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas (1958)
- Carpenters / Christmas Portrait (1978)
- Carpenters / Old Fashioned Christmas (1984)
- Johnny Cash /
The Christmas Spirit (1963, red vinyl)
- Johnny Cash /
Christmas: There'll Be Peace in the Valley (2016, vinyl)
- Ray Conniff Singers / The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings (2016)
- Ray Conniff Singers / We Wish You A Merry Christmas (1962, vinyl)
- Bing Crosby / A Christmas Story (1957)
- Charlie Daniels / Christmas Collection (2016, 3-CD set)
- Bobby Darin / The 25th Day Of December (1962, vinyl)
- Deadbeat Poets / A Deadbeat Christmas (2011)
- John Denver / Rocky Mountain Christmas (1975, white vinyl)
- Faith Evans / Icon Christmas (2016)
- John Fahey / Christmas With John Fahey Vol. II (1975, vinyl)
- Falcons / Canadian Christmas (2004)
- Jackie Gleason / Merry Christmas (1956, MP3)
- Jim Galloway & Jay McShann / Jim And Jay's Christmas (1993)
- Vince Guaraldi / A Charlie Brown Christmas: 50th Anniversary Gift Pack (1965)
- includes 2010 Peanuts Portraits compilation
- Michael Gurley, I Ain't Gonna Sit On Santa's Lap (2003, MP3)
- Tony Hadley / The Christmas Album (2015)
- Spandau Ballet singer; new edition with two new tracks
- Merle Haggard / Christmas Present (1973, vinyl with original artwork)
- Glenn Hughes / A Soulful Christmas (2000, MP3)
- Deep Purple vocalist
- Jingle Punx / Re-Gifted Volume 1 (2016)
- Jingle Punx / Re-Gifted Volume 2 (2016)
- Jack Jones / The Jack Jones Christmas Album (1964)
- Sammy Kaye / I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas (1957)
- Diana Krall / Christmas Songs (2005, vinyl)
- Living Guitars & Living Strings / The Joy of Christmas/The Sound of Christmas (1969/1970)
- Living Voices / The Little Drummer Boy (1965, MP3)
- Living Voices / Sing Christmas Music (1962, MP3)
- Norman Luboff Choir / Songs of Christmas/Christmas with the Norman Luboff Choir (1956/1964)
- Mantovani / Christmas Carols (1958)
- Brian McKnight, Icon Christmas (2016)
- George Melachrino / Christmas Joy
- Don Messer & His Islanders / Christmas with Don Messer & His Islanders (1960)
- Mitch Miller / Christmas Songs And Carols (1958)
- Mitch Miller & The Gang / Christmas Sing-Along with Mitch (1958)
- Kylie Minogue / Kylie Christmas: Snow Queen Edition (2015)
- six new bonus tracks
- Mike Nicolai / Christmas Is For Losers (2006)
- Don Patterson / Holiday Soul (1964, vinyl)
- Duke Pearson / Merry Ole Soul (1969, MP3)
- Elvis Presley / Christmas Album (1957, red vinyl)
- Elvis Presley / Christmas Album (1957, green vinyl)
- Elvis Presley / Christmas Album (1957, white vinyl)
- Elvis Presley / Merry Christmas Baby (2016, vinyl)
- Del Reeves / Santa's Boy (1966, MP3)
- Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton / Once Upon A Christmas (1984, white vinyl)
- Robert Shaw Chorale / Christmas Hymns and Carols Vol. One (1957)
- James Taylor / Christmas (2016, vinyl)
- B.J. Thomas / All Is Calm All Is Bright/Love Shines (1985/1983)
- second album is gospel, not Christmas...
- Bobby Timmons / Holiday Soul (1964, vinyl)
- Luther Vandross / This Is Christmas (1995, vinyl)
- Ventures / The Ventures' Christmas Album (1965)
- Joseph Washington, Jr. / Merry Christmas To You (1983) (MP3 and candy cane vinyl)
- Trisha Yearwood / Icon Christmas (2016)
- MP3 edition listed separately
- various artists / And They Killed Christmas (Baker & Taylor, 2016)
- billed as "the worst Christmas album ever!"
- various artists / Big City Christmas: 30 Groovin' And Croonin' Christmas Tunes (Bear Family, 2016)
- various artists / A Capitol Christmas (2016)
- various artists / Christmas Cheer (Decca, 1950)
- various artists / Christmas Favorites (Concord Music Group, MP3, 2016)
- various artists / A Christmas Record (Ze, 2016, MP3)
- various artists / Classic Big Band Christmas Album (Legacy, 2016, vinyl and MP3)
- various artists / Classic Christmas Country Album (Legacy, 2014)
- formerly a Wal-Mart exclusive
- various artists / Classic Christmas '80s Album (Legacy, 2015, vinyl)
- various artists / Country Christmas Greatest Hits (MCA, 2016, MP3)
- various artists / Icon R&B Christmas (Universal, 2016)
- various artists / Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 1: The Vocalists (2016)
- various artists / Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 2: The Instrumentals (2016)
- various artists / Latin Christmas (Putumayo, 2016)
- various artists / A Little Golden Christmas Album (1951)
- various artists / Norton Records Presents The Wild Sounds Of Christmas
- mastered from original vinyl 45's
- various artists / Now That's What I Call A Merry Christmas (2016)
- various artists / Now That's What I Call Music: The Christmas Album (vinyl, 2016)
- revised version of 1985 UK LP
- various artists / The Real Christmas Crooners (Legacy, 2016)
- various artists / 20 #1's: Jazz Christmas (Verve, 2016)
- various artists / A Very Special Christmas (A&M, 1987, vinyl)
- various artists / The Wonderful Sounds Of Christmas (Acoustic Sounds, 2016)
|Previous Years. We've been compiling this "what's new?" list for awhile, going back to 2004 (Chris Isaak, Dwight Twilley), 2005 (Diana Krall, Brian Setzer), 2006 (Aimee Mann, Bootsy Collins), 2007 (Smithereens, Darlene Love), 2008 (Weezer, Pretenders), 2009 (Bob Dylan, Los Straitjackets), 2010 (James Brown, Shelby Lynne), 2011 (Killers, Carole King), 2012 (Rod Stewart, Polyphonic Spree), 2013 (Salsoul Orchestra, Nick Lowe), 2014 (Blue Rodeo, Earth Wind & Fire), and 2015 (Sharon Jones, Brian Setzer).
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Now, you can hear the Christmas music I write about! My Christmas Jukebox is bulging with over 450 tracks, and I'll be adding more rockin' Yule tunes throughout the year. [listen now]