Sounds of the Season

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a slew of new holiday albums for easy listening

click to enlarge Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward of She & Him - Photo: Columbia Records
Photo: Columbia Records
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward of She & Him
Country music fans must have been good this year because 2016 is rife with holiday albums from that genre. Several big-name Country artists headline a selection of holiday releases with plenty of star power, including Rascal Flatts and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. But if you’re looking for mainstream seasonal fare outside that genre, fear not: There are plenty of Pop and industry classics getting in on the action. Here’s a look at some of this year’s new and notable Christmas albums.

White Christmas Blue (Legacy) • Loretta Lynn

The Country legend keeps it pure Country on her latest holiday album, with plenty of fiddle, steel and other acoustic treatments of classics like “Frosty The Snowman,” “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.” A trio of solid originals — “Country Christmas,” “White Christmas Blue” and “To Heck with Ole Santa Claus” — gives the album something unique to go with Lynn’s distinctive unfussy singing. 

Christmas Party (Columbia/Sony) • She & Him

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are back in the holiday spirit with their second Christmas album in five years. As usual, the duo brings its vintage Pop flair to much of the proceedings, evoking a bit of girl-group Pop on “All I Want For Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Happy Holiday.” But there’s also a Klezmer/Cajun/Tex-Mex-accented treatment of “Must Be Santa,” a slightly jazzy “The Man with the Bag” and a laid-back version of “Run Run Rudolph.” Christmas Party is pleasing, but not as rowdy as the title suggests — unless the aforementioned party is a romantic party of two. 

Acoustic Christmas (Capitol) • Neil Diamond

Diamond brings his dramatic and distinctive singing style to a mix of often-performed Christmas classics, originals (“#1 Record For Christmas”) and somewhat lesser-known songs (a frisky Folky version of “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and Irish-tinged “Christmas in Killarney”). The treatments are acoustic, but they’re not stripped back, and that backdrop works well for Diamond here. 

Wonderland (Verve) • Sarah McLachlan

McLachlan might be famous for her fluttering, breathy singing, but some surprising musical arrangements make Wonderland the year’s most adventurous holiday album. The delicate guitar and horn on “White Christmas” is tasteful and the orchestration on “Silver Bells” adds drama to the standard. Other times, the results are more iffy. The synthetic percussion on “Away in a Manger” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” is a bit distracting. McLachlan doesn’t necessarily improve on the originals, but it’s nice to hear an artist take some real risks with songs of the season. 

A Very Kacey Christmas (Mercury) Kacey Musgraves

The title promises a distinctly Musgraves twist. By and large, she delivers, putting plenty of cheery spunk, twang and, in the case of some tunes (“Let It Snow”), some swing into things. It makes for a very smart and sweet holiday album. 

Celebrate Christmas (Big Machine) Jennifer Nettles

The Sugarland singer opens things with a fun, rocking version of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and then brings some gentle Country swing and notes of Jazz to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” But the rest of Celebrate Christmas is more safe, soft and comfortable. That’s all fine and good, but if Nettles had carried the creativity of the first two songs through the rest of this album, she might have really had something special. 

Simply Christmas (S-Curve) • Leslie Odom Jr.

The Tony winner and star of Hamilton joins the holiday album fray with lightly jazzy, restrained versions of standbys like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and, in the album’s most inspired song choice, “My Favorite Things” (yes, the song from The Sound of Music). 

A Pentatonix Christmas (RCA) • Pentatonix / I’ll Have Another… Christmas Album (Atlantic) • Straight No Chaser 

A Cappella is well represented this holiday season as these two leading acts bring plenty of creativity to their albums. The Platinum-selling quintet Pentatonix gets refreshingly playful with the normally staid “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and puts multiple vocals to good work on “Hallelujah.” And two originals, “The Christmas Sing-Along” and “Good To Be Bad,” stand up to the classics. Straight No Chaser, meanwhile, finds a good middle ground between the fairly serious tone of the group’s first Christmas album, Holiday Spirits, and the more humorous tone of its second holiday effort, Christmas Cheers. Creative vocal arrangements abound on I’ll Have Another… Christmas Album.

’Tis the Seasons (Rhino) • Frankie Valli

The Jersey boy gets top billing, of course, on his first Christmas album as a solo artist. But the real stars here are the big backing vocal arrangements (especially on “Winter Wonderland,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard On High”) and the instrumental arrangements that bring originality to “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Frosty The Snowman” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” 

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