I thought it was a little nuts that two of my all-time favorite groups were putting out holiday albums this year. I mean, maybe it’s just my odd luck, but when they both ventured out on Christmas tours at the same time, 13-year-old me was absolutely in heaven. Then I noticed that Spotify was suggesting other albums – not the classics either. They were showing me all kinds of new holiday music being released this year. While I don’t know what caused the trend (though I venture it was out of a need for some kind of happiness in the world), it’s been a fun ride through many musical areas this holiday season. Let’s check out some of the best in each world of music.
The Ones We Probably Expected
Herb Alpert – The Christmas Wish
It’s around this time of year that we start to appreciate both choral and instrumental music much more than any other time. Herb Albert is one of the best in the business, especially if you can appreciate the sounds of brass. This combination of smooth jazz with upbeat Tijuana sounds is something from the classics but with an incredibly cool sound for now. If you need to feel warm in the cold months, this might just be right up your alley.
Josh Groban – Noel (Deluxe)
We’re starting this list off with some of the ‘obvious’ suspects because they’re the voices I’m sure the holidays wouldn’t be the same without. Josh Groban has been crooning for us for a few years now, and his vocals have become almost a necessity to Christmas. Noel was released in 2007, and following his successful run on Broadway this year, Josh brought it back around for the 10th anniversary, adding five new tracks. They range from the classics of “White Christmas,” to his own rendition of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – literally something for everyone.
Pentatonix – A Pentatonix Christmas (Deluxe)
Again we get a re-release, this time from a group that has solidified their position as a classic Christmastime act. This one is just a year later on the heels of last year’s charting release, and again adds five more arranged songs. The group took to their social media to help promote this year’s release as well, speaking more to the experience of putting these songs together, taking us deeper into the process. With the exit of one member and the entrance of a new bass, the group has certainly had an eventful year, and this tops it off nicely.
The Comebacks We’re Glad to See
Hanson – Finally It’s Christmas
The band themselves have labeled this “20 Years In the Making” and they did not disappoint. “Snowed In” is actually an acclaimed Christmas album that most people I know keep in heavy rotation over the holidays, so I’d imagine the pressure was on to live up to it this time around as well (Hanson fans, you’re welcome for the little joke there). From the opening harmonies on the title track through Ike’s quiet and beautiful ending with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the band has provided yet another classic album. And hey, now they’ve built up enough material to warrant a Christmas tour – aka the only way they can get away with doing a concert without singing “MMMBop” (though, thanks for sneaking it in during the NYC show, Mark Hudson).
98 Degrees – Let It Snow
Again, it’s been quite a while for these guys since their original Christmas album, This Christmas, and they still have every bit of the soulful vocals they always did. The biggest difference this go-around is their devotion to their social following and fans. They have been all over the place this season promoting the album, all starting with Nick’s impressive run on Dancing With The Stars (which brother Drew won years back… I may be biased on my Lachey brother choices though). The guys have grown and are letting us get to know them so much more now, showing their humor and talent as men who have grown to be comfortable in their own skins and with their own voices. This is a welcome addition to their classic sound (and yes, they were concert #2, same week as Hanson – bless you New York concert schedules).
Cheap Trick – Christmas Christmas
This is the one that took me by surprise. Maybe calling this section ‘comebacks’ doesn’t make a ton of sense, as every band has had recent releases in addition to their holiday albums, but they are certainly a group of albums I would not have expected last year. Anywhos, Cheap Trick is a pleasant surprise to this list, melding their old classic sound with upbeat holiday cheer, including three original tracks. The band said it was very natural to put this one together, and I have to say, it’s the perfect addition to all of us little weird punks’ collections amongst the sugary carols otherwise surrounding the season.
New Kids On The Block – Thankful: Unwrapped
I didn’t believe it when I first saw it, but apparently NKOTB jumped on the Christmas album train this year too. Don’t get too excited – they’re not singing the classics, and really it’s just three tracks added onto their earlier EP release from this year, Thankful. But hey, everyone needs an excuse to perform this time of year, and you need the right themes to the music to make that happen. Welcome to the train, once again, boys.
The Compilations We’ll Enjoy
Various Artists – Holidays Rule, Vol. 2
You may or may not remember round one of this compilation set, where there were some cool takes on some old classics. Well, five years after the first one, Paul McCartney has brought folks together to create that magic once again. This time we get such greats as The Roots, The Decemberists, and Andrew McMahon adding in their style. This is every hipster’s dream if they actually enjoy the holidays, and if not, it’ll help put them in the mood.
Various Artists – Now That’s What I Call Merry Christmas
On the flip side of styles, here we instead get all of the major radio pop artists of the past year putting their flair on holiday songs. NOW has always done a pretty great job of gathering the greatest hits together, and their specialty albums like this are no exception. They meld the old and new, kicking things off with deceptively new tracks from Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, but transitioning into the true bests with Elvis and the Beach Boys taking over the soundtrack. It’s all a bit confusing, but probably a good set for the whole family to enjoy.
The Unexpected New Sounds
Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel Like Christmas
I will willingly admit that post No Doubt (and really, Post Tragic Kingdom), I have not been a big fan of Gwen Stefani. That said, I think this album has actually allowed her to embrace the unique voice that I’ve otherwise never loved a whole lot these past few years. It’s a pop album through and through, and all the cuteness you might want while decorating for the holidays. Maybe if I had heard this one sooner, I would have actually decorated my apartment this year.
Blake Shelton – Cheers, It’s Christmas
It only seemed appropriate to follow one with the other, so we get into Blake Shelton’s Deluxe release this year. I have mixed feelings here, but for those of you that are looking for that sweet country Christmas sound, you’ll find it here. The bittersweet moment is hearing a newly written “Home” done as a duet with Michael Buble. It’s been Christmas-fied with many of the lyrics changing and a lack of Miranda’s backing vocals. It holds up, along with the gentle album from this otherwise seemingly raucous guy.
Sia – Everyday Is Christmas
Anyone else remember when Sia Furler was one of those songwriters who you didn’t know about, but you dang well knew the songs of? Yeah, that’s a distant memory for me too. Sia has really come out as a strong artist all on her own. This album is completely unique and a treat for anyone who is a fan of her in any way shape or form. Heck, there’s even a song called “Puppies Are Forever” – give me that over a diamond any day!
Kaskade – Kaskade Christmas
If nothing has been up your alley yet in this list, Kaskade is one of the final remaining pieces to cover just about every genre of music available. Yes, the dance/trance artist threw us this one out of left field and it’s got all the right grooves you’d want or need from him and his appearing friends throughout. I want to say this is a weird experience, but I think it’s borderline brilliant – this is an untapped market for sure, and it’s almost sort of nice to have that gap filled in.
Lindsey Stirling – Warmer In The Winter
I couldn’t explain why now, but I really did not like Lindsey Stirling for a while. I think it had something to do with the difficulty to track down her publishing when I first started my job, or maybe a bad experience on the business side. Whatever the case may be, all of that changed this season on Dancing with the Stars, where she was paired with Mark Ballas. This girl’s creativity and grace and just general amazing quirky attitude was a downright inspiration. She is a performer in every sense of the word, bringing such imagination to every single move she makes. Just take a listen to this album. It doesn’t fit a niche and I’m so glad for that. It’s so incredibly different and delightful and all I want to do is see every performance and video she could possibly create around this music. There’s a reason I saved it for last – this one’s the highlight of the season by far.