Looking for some fresh sounds? From originals to standards, this list of 2019’s latest and greatest has everything you need to spruce up your holiday!
Christmas: A Season Of Love, Idina MenzelIf one 2019 Christmas album is likely to become a big seller year after year, it’s probably Christmas: A Season Of Love. Menzel, whose roles in the “Frozen” movies made her one of the world’s most popular vocalists, applies her considerable talents to 18 songs, most of which are time-tested favorites. They’re given big, brassy treatments (that on occasion go just a bit overboard), but Menzel brings plenty of enthusiasm to this entertaining disc.
Moonlight, Mistletoe & You, Keb’ Mo’
Keb’ Mo’ has never been strictly a bluesman, so it’s no surprise that this isn’t a one-trick holiday album. The title cut and “Better Every Day” have a good bit of soul while “Christmas Is Annoying” (about how perspectives on Christmas change when one grows up) has a jazzy feel, and “One More Year With You” adds some pop to the equation. The variety is welcome, and one thing this warm, enjoyable album won’t give you is the blues this Christmas season.
Llego Navidad, Los Lobos
The great band from East Los Angeles, no surprise, brings a good bit of Mexican influence to its first Christmas album. But other places (Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Texas) also figure into this entertaining album. With most songs being sung in Spanish, Llego Navidad (at least for those who don’t know Spanish) doesn’t feel like a holiday album, enabling it to play just as well when it’s sunny and 90 as when snow blankets the ground.
Chicago Christmas, Chicago
On their third Christmas album, Chicago goes primarily with songs penned by the band members. The band, which shows a bit more of an R&B slant in its horn-laced sound, deserves credit for taking this risk. Some of the songs work well (“All Over The World”, “I’m Your Santa Claus”, and “Bring My Baby Back,”), but a few others fall flat. Even with a few duds, I find an album of originals more interesting than one of oft-covered standards.
Another Kind of Christmas, Ne-Yo
This refreshing effort favors original songs and has its share of creativity. The funky “Just Ain’t Christmas” is a break-up song that gets a twist because it happens on Christmas Eve. “Open Mine Tonight” has some clever wordplay in its tale of Christmas Eve romance after the kids are asleep. On the other hand, “Christmas Vibez” goes for a tropical feel but comes up a bit light in the song’s reggae styling. But that’s one of the few flaws on this fine holiday effort.
The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse, Josh Rouse
For years, Rouse has been writing a Christmas song annually for his family. Eventually, he realized they would make up an interesting Christmas album. So here we have nine originals that offer (mostly) light-hearted stories related to the season all delivered in Rouse’s familiar folky sound blended with dashes of pop, rock, and jazz. Glad Rouse decided not to keep these songs in the family.
Gifts of the Season, Dave Koz
Gifts of the Season offers more of what Koz’s previous six Christmas albums have delivered– a set of Christmas standards given a smooth jazz makeover. Koz’s accomplished and tasteful saxophone work often takes the lead, but guest vocalists, including Melissa Manchester, Jonathan Butler, and Chris Walker, also provide highlights on this solid effort.
Celestial, Rob Halford with Family & Friends
Halford may be the turbo-lunged singer of Judas Priest, but Celestial (his second holiday album) isn’t strictly a head-banging affair. “Away in a Manger” has considerable ambiance. “Morning Star” is a folky and gentle original tune and another original, “Protected by the Light,” is an Irish-accented hymn complete with accordion. Of course, Halford & company also crank it up, particularly on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Joy To The World”, and “Deck The Halls.” Suffice it to say, the fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-las of the latter standard have never sounded quite this way.
Down Home Christmas, The Oak Ridge Boys
Working with in-demand producer Dave Cobb, this latest Oak Ridge Boys holiday album favors heartfelt and humorous contemporary songs co-written by the likes of Anderson East, Jamey Johnson, and Mando Saenz. Cobb keeps the instrumentation lean and puts the four Oaks and their signature vocal harmonies out front, a wise approach that works well on Down Home Christmas.
For more on Down Home Christmas, read our exclusive interview with Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys!
Hometown Christmas, The Imaginaries
The husband-and-wife duo of Shane Henry and Maggie McClure has made minor waves as solo artists, but now paired up as the Imaginaries, they’ve made one of 2019’s best Christmas albums. Hometown Christmas is split evenly between familiar holiday tunes and equally strong original songs. With a cheery and rootsy brand of pop (think Sheryl Crow, Sara Bareilles), their songwriting chops shine on such appealing songs as “First Thing on My Christmas List”, “Christmastime Again”, and “Kiss For Christmas”.
December, Darling, Meg & Dia
Sibling duo Meg & Dia take an intimate and low-key approach here, keeping instrumentation spare and their vocals out front. The effect is quite charming if a bit simplistic. Renditions of favorites like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it Snow”, and “White Christmas” are fine, but it’s the four originals that stand out. The two sisters bring memorable pop hooks to “Lights Blown Out” (a tender, lyrically creative ballad about holiday loneliness) and the title song which explores the sights, sounds, and feelings that make the season special.
Merry Christmas Deluxe Anniversary Edition, Mariah Carey
Carey’s hugely popular holiday album gets a 25th-anniversary expansion with a second disc that includes six tracks Carey recorded in December 1994 at a benefit concert, remixes, and a few bonus tracks. If not essential, these extra goodies should entice many of the six million buyers of the original album to spring for the latest version.
Christmas in The City, Lea Michele
The star of Broadway and television has made a classic-sounding Christmas album, employing big band/orchestral arrangements on this collection mostly made up of holiday standards.
The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Collection, Danny Gokey
Gokey offers both the expected (standards like “Silent Night” and “Come Let Us Adore Him”) and less predictable fare on this outing. It’s the latter selections, like the epic ballad “Until You” and the bouncy “The Holidays Are Here” (both Gokey co-writes), that elevate this album.
Christmas Together, Jonathan Butler
This singer/guitarist’s second Christmas release is a guest-filled affair that sticks mostly to established standards. Things work because of the fresh elements in many of the arrangements. “Winter Wonderland” gets a bit of a hip hop treatment, the instrumental versions of “Joy To The World” (with sax man Dave Koz) and “We Three Kings” (with trumpeter Rick Braun) have nifty elaborations on their melodies, and “Jingle Bells” (with saxophonist Kirk Whalum) gets a jazzy accent.
A Foreign Affair Christmas, Michael Lington
Touted as having a global sound, the smooth jazz saxophonist indeed brings some Latin, Afro-Caribbean, and European flair to a few tracks. But most of the album sounds quite American. That’s fine because Lington and guests (including Vince Gill, Russ Freeman, and Rick Braun) deliver heartfelt performances on these nine familiar holiday tunes.
Christmas Morning, Silent Winters
This holiday album from the Canadian duo of Olenka Bastian and Jonathan Chandler is described in a press release as “fireside harmonies for a sparkling Christmas morning.” That pretty much captures things. If you like spare folk music, this album might get multiple spins in front of your fireplace this season.