If you’re looking for some new tunes to freshen up your regular holiday playlist for parties, tree trimmings and other gatherings, here are some recent releases available through most major music retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Target…
Dear December is a pleasant surprise. The Portland-based indie rock band with rotating membership, led by Scott McCaughey, recruited a bunch of high profile friends for this loose, sometimes humorous and heartwarming all-original holiday effort. Key examples: “Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp Gulp,” “Yule Tide Me Over” and “The Fourth Noel.” Among the contributors are Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M. (with whom McCaughey served as a touring sideman for years), Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, The Posies, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, M. Ward and others. Mills’ takes vocal lead on “Festival of Lights (Hanukkah Song).” Another good reason to buy this: it will help support McCaughey, who suffered a stroke while on tour with another act last month. There is a GoFundMe account to help defray medical costs for his rehabilitation: https://www.gofundme.com/c3npfr-scott-mccaughey-medical-fund
The veteran Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers have really been on a creative roll lately. In 2016, the band released studio album Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello and followed it up earlier this year with We’re All Alright! Now comes the guys’ first holiday collection and to put it simply, the thing rocks. Co-produced with regular collaborator Julian Raymond, the album starts with the impressive, driving original “Merry Christmas Darling,” complete with “la la la” vocals and party sounds. Roy Wood’s “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday,” from 1973, is a rousing good time. Not content to just do the expected, Cheap Trick makes “I Wish it Was Christmas Day,” penned by Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz, a driving manic rocker and turns in a nice piano ballad take on Harry Nilsson’s “Remember Christmas.” Elsewhere, Seventies glam rocker Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody,” The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and The Ramones’ irreverent “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” are right in Cheap Trick’s wheelhouse.
You Make it Feel Like Christmas
The No Doubt frontwoman and sometimes coach for NBC’s “The Voice” did an excellent job on her first holiday album. Half the tracks are past classics. It opens with a snazzy, horn-inflected “Jingle Bells” and some old school female backing vocals. A similar sound underscores smooth original “Under the Christmas Lights.” The fun, snappy title track is a duet with beau and fellow “Voice” coach Blake Shelton. “Santa Baby” proves a perfect fit for Gwen. “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” and Wham’s “Last Christmas” both feature sweeping orchestration. “My Gift is You” is a swell original that recalls Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Finally, plaintive original ballad “When I Was a Little Girl” finds her recalling younger years to lush accompaniment.
Not So Silent Night: Christmas
The band’s 2009 holiday release has been reissued with remastered sound, additional bonus tracks (now comprising 17 tunes) and a newly recorded version of the band’s original Christmas song, “I Believe In Santa Claus.” Highlights of this pleasantly rocking collection include ones where the guys add REO-styled guitar strains to favorites like “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” the sitar-laced “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings” and gospel-inflected “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Bassist Bruce Hall takes over lead vocals from Kevin Cronin on a countrified “Blue Christmas.”
My Kind of Christmas
(Nash Icon/Big Machine)
Like the gospel album “Sing it Now,” that came out earlier this year, “My Kind of Christmas,” was co-produced by Reba and her musical director Doug Sisemore. Here, the country legend’s first holiday album in 17 years takes a simple piano-based musical approach on mostly traditional fare like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (featuring Darius Rucker), classics like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa Claus in Comin’ to Town.” Also included is an elegant “Mary, Did You Know?,” alongside Amy Grant and Vince Gill (who sings and plays acoustic guitar) and “Back to God,” a dramatic 2008 spiritual duet with Dove-winning Christian artist Lauren Daigle that was co-penned by Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson. The album finishes with a nice take on “Silent Night” with Trisha Yearwood and Kelly Clarkson - a standout - that originally appeared on the latter’s 2013 album Wrapped in Red.
Sha Na Na
Rockin’ Christmas – The Classic Christmas Collection
(The Gold Label)
Yes, they’re still around. In fact, the lineup of Sha Na Na that recorded this album includes original drummer/vocalist Jocko Marcellino and vocalist Donny York, plus pianist/vocalist “Screamin’” Scott Simon, who joined in 1970. This reissue of a previous collection consists of 23 classic and original tracks, with six bonus new tunes like the humorous “Ugly Christmas Sweater,” “I Saw Mama Twistin’ with Santa Claus,” and “Rock Rudolph Rock” (Marcellino wrote 11 of them and served as producer). Various members of the septet take turns doing lead vocals on this fun rock ‘n’ roll collection, geared toward fans of oldies music from the Fifties and Sixties.
Back in 1985, these country music hitmakers put out Alabama Christmas, their first holiday effort and among the best of the genre during that period. Now they’ve returned with a genial follow-up to 1996’s Alabama Christmas Vol. 2. This laid-back album was produced by Alabama and contains favorites like “Away in a Manger,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” Four new songs were penned by the band: a harmony-rich “Why Can’t Christmas Day Last All Year Long,” “Sure Could Use Some Christmas Around Here,” the Southern country ballad “First Christmas Without Daddy” and the breezy, horn-laden “Ain’t Santa Cool.” There are also lesser known numbers like “Christmas Joy,” “Greatest Gift,” Joey+Rory’s “Remember Me” and the Big Bopper’s “(I Wanna) Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar.” Additionally, Alabama recorded a new mandolin-driven version of its own 1985 classic “Christmas in Dixie.”