Sounding Board

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas Album Time

Do you hear what I hear? Not the spooky cackling of our nation’s ghouls — the sound of sleigh bells on the horizon. It’s Halloween, which means ’tis already Christmas album season. You’d think by now the world’s supply of holiday music would be complete, particularly since most of these releases recycle the same handful of standards and rarely even put some kind of new spin on them. But nah; every year the recording industry churns out a new batch of mostly old songs, right on schedule, to bastion and/or bludgeon you with cheer. Who’s contributing to the Christmas Music Industrial Complex this year? Jingle on and thee shall see.

She & Him – Christmas Party


Who are they? Tastefully twee retro jazz-pop duo Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.
What have they done? Although selections on Christmas Party are surprisingly diverse (very few albums contain covers of both Mariah Carey and Vashti Bunyan), you already know exactly what you’re getting here, even if you haven’t heard 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas. It sounds like She & Him singing Christmas songs; the Starbucks cup will basically materialize in your hand.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Night


Who is he? Emo-folk luminary, formerly of Pedro The Lion.
What has he done? The lo-fi recordings comprising Dark Sacred Night are compiled from a series of 7″ singles Bazan released on Suicide Squeeze Records. It’s mostly just the guy and his guitar reinterpreting traditionals and covering the likes of Low and John Lennon, providing a sounding board for folks like himself who have complicated feelings about Christmas. It sounds like David Bazan singing Christmas songs.
When can you give and/or receive it? 11/11.

Sarah McLachlan – Wonderland


Who is she? Lilith Fair co-founder and pop-rocker responsible for “In The Arms Of An Angel” and other emotionally charged hits.
What has she done? Did you know McLachlan has built herself a late-breaking lane as a singer of holiday classics? Wonderland is her third Christmas release following 2006’s Wintersong and last year’s The Classic Christmas Album (a revamped Wintersong with extra tracks). This new one is straight-up oldies, with nothing newer than 1950’s “Silver Bells” on the tracklist. It sounds like Sarah McLachlan singing Christmas songs.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

Kacey Musgraves – A Very Kacey Christmas


Who is she? Mildly subversive, majorly talented country traditionalist.
What has she done? A Very Kacey Christmas is a chance for Musgraves to apply her unique skill set to the only American music tradition more rigidly codified than country music. Leon Bridges and Willie Nelson show up. It’s really nice.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now, and you really ought to.

Leslie Odom Jr. – Simply Christmas


Who is he? Actor and singer best known for his Tony-winning role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton.
What has he done? Odom has a side hustle as a jazz singer, and Simply Christmas is his jazz-side-hustle Christmas album.
When can you give and/or receive it? 11/11.

Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood – Christmas Together


Who are they? Married country legends Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
What have they done? Brooks and Yearwood have recorded a Christmas album together, and it’s called Christmas Together. It likely resembles a country-skewing Christmas album by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, but don’t quote me on that one because I haven’t heard it yet, so I have to base my conclusions here on context clues.
When can you give and/or receive it? 11/11.

Straight No Chaser – I’LL HAVE ANOTHER…CHRISTMAS ALBUM


Who are they? The most popular old-school a cappella group in the game.
What have they done? As the name implies, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER…CHRISTMAS ALBUM is not Straight No Chaser’s first Christmas album. It is their third. It sounds like an old-school a cappella group’s Christmas album.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

Pentatonix – A Pentatonix Christmas


Who are they? The most popular new-school a cappella group in the game.
What have they done? They’ve turned Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” into a Christmas song, just like Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” before it. Plus other yuletide fare.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

Band Of Merrymakers – Welcome To Our Christmas Party


Who are they? A rotating cast of musicians led by Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath plus producers Kevin Griffin and Sam Hollander, currently featuring Lisa Loeb, dude from Neon Trees, dude from Better Than Ezra, dude from Fitz & The Tantrums… so technically it’s an all-star band, but a particularly dim one.
What have they done? Last year they released Welcome To Our Christmas Party, and now they’re releasing it again with their new “A Very Merry Medley.” It sounds like a terrible office Christmas party.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now, though the only possible reason you could want to do this is because proceeds support MusiCares.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve


Who are they? Christmas-themed prog-rock band that makes bank touring arenas every holiday season.
What have they done? Don’t let this band fool you! You go to their show expecting a bunch of hard rock Christmas instrumentals like their rad “Carol Of The Bells” interpretation and you end up sitting through a two-hour lounge act! And they will completely screw up “Christmas Canon,” which is your wife’s favorite. Anyway, this is their 2001 rock opera The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve, previously available on DVD, now sold as a soundtrack album for the first time.
When can you give and/or receive it? Stick with Mannheim Steamroller, I say!

Neil Diamond – Acoustic Christmas


Who is he? One of the most famous singers in the history of recorded music, known for “Sweet Caroline” and dozens of other hits.
What has he done? Acoustic Christmas is definitely a Christmas album, but the album trailer does not indicate an especially acoustic album. It’s certainly no electric Christmas, though.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

Kylie Minogue – Kylie Christmas: Snow Queen Edition


Who is she? Australian dance music queen.
What has she done? Kylie Christmas: Snow Queen Edition is a reissue of last year’s Kylie Christmas with new material. Unfortunately, it still includes a duet with James Corden.
When can you give and/or receive it? 11/25.

Loretta Lynn – White Christmas Blue


Who is she? One of the most talented and successful country singers in history.
What has she done? White Christmas Blue’s title track is a new original, and the rest is a bunch of Christmas standards performed in the style of Loretta Lynn.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now.

R. Kelly – 12 Nights Of Christmas


Who is he? Problematic golden-voiced R&B lothario.
What has he done? Somehow R. Kelly has never released a Christmas album before now. Now he has, and it’s full of originals about how Kellz wants to sex you this Christmas. It would probably be pretty good if not for the voluminous evidence that R. Kelly is a “stomach-churning” perv.
When can you give and/or receive it? Now. Or never!