Making a List

REL Holiday Music Recommendations

Christmas is never blue for lovers of music made for the holidays. There’s so much excellent music out there specifically written for Christmas, and as a seasonal treat, the absence over the rest of the year can make our hearts grow fond for this stuff.

I’ve got my own favorite festive records to spin for the occasion, but this year I took a chance and asked a few of my most musical friends what their favorite Christmas albums are. The immediate, vociferous and passionate responses I received took me by surprise. 

First of all, it showed me I needed to up my Christmas music game — big time, and it also highlighted what incredible diversity exists in the seemingly narrow genre. Each of the friends I asked gave me very different answers, although not too surprising given their tastes in music. 

My dad, who is a conductor, a music professor and choral director, suggested choral and traditional symphonic albums. Christmas Night: Carols Of The Nativity with the Cambridge Singers and Leroy Anderson’s orchestral tune “A Christmas Festival” were among them.

My friend Bill Leebens, hifi consultant, historian and marketing pro for PS Audio for many years (and creator of PS’ online journal Copper Magazine) and also, admitted über-fan of Shawn Colvin, suggested Colvin’s Holiday Songs And Lullabies and also a gem from Vince Guaraldi.

But my engineer friend Darren, sent me a barrage of texts and emails over a period of two days, just raining amazing Christmas music suggestions on me like a monsoon. I couldn’t escape it. Turns out he has a real passion for music of the season, and as I fired them up one by one, we found ourselves wondering why the recording quality of some great historical Christmas albums seems to be so excellent.

Darren’s take is that mostly it was “the greats” that recorded Christmas albums. The best musicians each in their own times felt obliged to do one or two, and the best studios and engineers were called for the task.

It’s also that new arrangements of well-known, tried and true compositions lends a certain confidence to the performers. There’s a familiarity that we get to engage in with the musicians while we’re listening, which adds an interesting layer to the experience. 

So, I spent some time with all of the suggestions as well as a few from my own stash. Here’s a quick list of my favorites.

1. Oscar Peterson – An Oscar Peterson Christmas (Telarc, 1995)

2. The Purple Hulls – Christmas  (2018)

3. Cambridge Singers – Carols Of The Nativity (Collegium, 1987)

4. Elvis Presley – Christmas With Elvis and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra  (2017)

5. Sufjan Stevens – Songs For Christmas  (2006)

6. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas  (2012 remastered)

7. Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir – Christmas With Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir (2017)

8. Peter White – Songs Of The Season (1997)

9. Jars of Clay & SHEL – A Family Christmas (2019)

10. Jimi Hendrix – Merry Christmas And Happy New Year (2010)

Everyone can use a new tune or two, so bolster that music library of yours, and enjoy the spirit of the season. Happy holidays!

December 20, 2019 - Posted in: Reconsider