New holiday albums from pop, country, and soul’s finest
Once Thanksgiving plates have been cleared, the holiday season is in effect — and the brief weeks begin in which holiday music is truly seasonally appropriate. This year’s crop of holiday albums is full of cheerful reinventions of Yuletide classics and potential new go-tos for holiday cocktail hours and singalongs.
Now the bandleader for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Batiste became beloved in New York for the chaotic performances that he’d bring into the city’s subway tunnels. On “Christmas With Jon Batiste,” he brings his festive spirit to the holiday season’s music, turning “White Christmas” into a gently rolling instrumental and transforming “Winter Wonderland” into a vampy strut. The grit-voiced Aloe Blacc lends his vocals to “Endless Love,” a smoothly unfolding reflection on the fellowship occasioned by the season.
Soul revivalist Andra Day’s EP “Merry Christmas From Andra Day” kicks off with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s holiday plea for peace “Someday at Christmas.” Wonder stops by to drop a few verses of his still-relevant track from nearly 50 years ago, and his wail meshes beautifully with Day’s impassioned voice. Day’s expressionism takes center stage on a stirring, bare-bones version of “Carol of the Bells” and a pillowy cover of “The First Noel” that showcases her high register.
Country upstart Kacey Musgraves is well known for tweaking Nashville’s expectations, and her first holiday album, “A Very Kacey Christmas,” continues her trend toward pushing boundaries. In addition to her playful but reverent run-throughs of holiday chestnuts like the Chipmunks’ wish-listy “Christmas Don’t Be Late” and Jose Feliciano’s generous “Feliz Navidad,” Willie Nelson drops by for the Hawaiian-tinged “A Willie Nice Christmas,” lending some roughness to Musgraves’s plaintive tone.
Nashville’s brightest stars are all over this year’s holiday-music landscape. With “White Christmas Blue,” spitfire Loretta Lynn delivers her second seasonally appropriate album, 50 years after her much beloved “Country Christmas.” The title track is a fiddle-accented romantic lament, and an updated version of “Country Christmas” showcases how the legendary singer’s voice has evolved over the last half-century. Reba McEntire, meanwhile, released her third holiday album, “My Kind of Christmas,” through a partnership with the down-home restaurant chain Cracker Barrel.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have been one of country’s power couples for more than a decade, but “Christmas Together” is only their first collaborative album. The collection includes some offbeat choices like “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” track “Hard Candy Christmas,” as well as a cameo by James Taylor on “What I’m Thankful For (The Thanksgiving Song).”
Well aware that a trip to Margaritaville might be on the Christmas wishlists of quite a few Parrotheads, Jimmy Buffett released his second holiday album, “ ’Tis the SeaSon,” this year; in addition to a Parrothead-specific version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” where French hens and golden rings are swapped out for markers of Buffett fandom like shark-fin hats and cheeseburgers, it has originals like “Drivin’ the Pig,” a sinewy tale of a Christmas spent in the Caribbean, and the anti-Black Friday broadside “Santa Stole Thanksgiving.”
Australian pop force Kylie Minogue’s high-gloss take on pop got a Yuletide spin on 2015’s “Kylie Christmas.” Minogue has just released a “Snow Queen Edition” of the album, featuring six new tracks that slightly expand the definition of holiday music. They include a cover of English boy band East 17’s pleading “Stay Another Day” (which topped the UK’s Christmas pop chart in 1994) and her reimagining of Rozalla’s 1991 banger “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good).”
Jane Lynch became a comedy-world staple for her winking portrayals of strivers on shows like “Party Down” and in the sprawling universe of Christopher Guest mockumentaries, but “A Swingin’ Little Christmas” is a straight-up homage to the elegant yet fun albums that dominated holiday hi-fis during the 1950s and ’60s. She’s assisted by Kate Flannery (“The Office”) and “Glee” music arranger Tim Davis, both of whom toured with Lynch on her 2015 revue “See Jane Sing.”
Other artists who have been captured by the Christmas spirit this year include British singer-songwriter Katie Melua, whose “In Winter” is a mix of originals and covers inspired by the way her holidays evolved after she relocated from the republic of Georgia to the United Kingdom; Canadian soother Sarah McLachlan, whose third Christmas album, “Wonderland,” creates snow angels out of traditional songs; Neil Diamond, who went unplugged for “An Acoustic Christmas”; and folk-pop duo She & Him, whose second holiday collection, “Christmas Party,” features a vampy reworking of Mariah Carey’s recently minted Yuletide classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”