Tis the season to reach deep into the recesses of our music collection, (nowadays, clicking through the hard drive), and pull out the classic holiday tunes.
And while I’ll always rush to play Ray Charles’s “The Spirit of Christmas” and the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey hits the tupperware, it’s also important to introduce new (and new-to-me) carols to the rotation.
Here are four albums I’ve added to my Yule mix this year — two old, two new, all destined for repeated spins on my stereo until the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.
She & Him, “A Very She & Him Christmas”
On their first seasonal effort, actress/songstress Zooey Deschanel and indie rocker M. Ward offer hip renditions of holiday songs new and old. Deschanel’s gentle melodies convey a peaceful feeling, with a Ward’s guitar softly strumming in the background on “The Christmas Waltz” and “Christmas Day.” “Christmas Wish” is a holiday call to arms with Ward (“Him”), getting a rare first word.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” offers a cute role-reversal with Deschanel playing the aggressor, and the album is rounded out with an oh-so-delicate “The Christmas Song.” Play this album when it’s just you and your special someone winding down after a long day. You’ll be blissed out by the final strum.
Add to your holiday mix: “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Christmas Wish,” “Sleigh Ride”
Tony Bennett, “The Classic Christmas Album”
This iconic singer has had quite a year. Fresh off releasing “Duets II, ” an album that paired him with Michael Buble, Carrie Underwood and the late Amy Winehouse, Bennett brings the swing with this compilation of classics. As soon as the horns rev up on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” it’ll be hard to keep your fingers from snapping along. It’ll transport you to the jazz clubs of yesteryear where the music was swinging and the drinks were strong.
Bennett keeps his duet formula fresh by enlisting his daughter Alexandra’s help on “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and Placido Domingo on “The First Noel.” But at 85, Bennett brings the bravado on his own with “Christmas in Herald Square,” highlighting his his favorite things about Christmas in the big city. Overall, it’s a family-friendly album charming enough to sweep Grandma off her feet. Just make sure she doesn’t lose her balance.
Add to your holiday mix: “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Christmastime is Here” “Christmas in Herald Square”
James Brown, “Funky Christmas”
Everyone’s favorite gyrating Santa does not disappoint on this vintage holiday classic. Filled mostly with original songs, Brown hits the ground running with “Go Power at Christmas Time” and puts a smile on the kids’ faces with “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” — the first of three songs referencing the big guy.
In addition to the fun and games, “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” and the ballad “Sweet Little Baby Boy” remind us of the reason for the season. And above all, Brown feels that you, the listener, should be recognized for purchasing such a fine holiday album. On “Soulful Christmas,” he declares, “You buy my records/Come to see my show/That’s why James Brown/Loves you so!”
Add to your holiday mix: “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto,” “Tit for Tat,” “Go Power at Christmastime”
Rotary Connection, “Peace”
Released in 1968 during the throes of the Vietnam War, “Peace” calls for just that. It’s a collection of songs from the psychedelic R&B group that demand a cease fire. With “Christmas Love,” vocalist Minnie Riperton gives shout-outs to Chicago and Washington, two cities that, then and now, need a touch of holiday warmth.
“Sidewalk Santa” vilifies the red-outfitted man who rings the bell in front of the grocery store every year, “Last Call for Peace.”explores the challenge of putting on a happy face during wartime, and the druggy “Peace at Last” suggests that Santa might be flying with help from more than just his reindeer. With “Silence,” the album gives you thirty seconds of nothingness to meditate on what you’ve heard, (no, that’s not your iPod shorting out).
While the album does have a serious message running throughout, the sense of doom and gloom is balanced with the sweet melodies of “Christmas Child” and three separate versions of “Silent Night.”All three are great, but you’ll have the most fun with the raucous guitar-riffing “Silent Night Chant.”
Add to your holiday mix: “Silent Night Chant:,” “Christmas Child,” “Christmas Love”
To sum it up, as I get older and am turned on to a wider array of Christmas music, I only wish that (A) The season was longer, giving me more time to listen to all the holiday songs that are out there, and (B) that, I could wake up one Christmas morning to the sound of a live ten-piece band playing “Joy To The World” in my living room. I mean really, Santa, is that too much to ask?