December 18, 2010

A Top 10 List of Christmas Albums

Here is my list of albums. Not songs. There are countless wonderful songs out there but here I'm concerned solely with craftwork of an album. A song has parts which makes a whole, so does an album. I like to think of an album as having just as much attention, or close to, given to it's completion as a song gets to have. In a world of random playlists and eternally streaming internet radio stations like pandora I want to give special tribute to the artistry of album compilations, Christmas style. So in partially particular order I give you these.

YoYo MaSongs of Joy & Peace
In this collaboration of artists brought together by YoYo Ma you will find an eclectic collage of classical, jazz, easy listening, folk, traditional and other musical traditions that span the globe. I had high expectations when I purchased the CD and was a little disappointed in my first couple of listens but sure enough it grew on me. Among my favorites are ‘My favorite things’ which features Chris Botti, ‘The Wassail Song’ performed by Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer and ‘The Wexford Carol’ sung by Alison Krauss.

JewelJoy: A Holiday Collection
Take caution, there is cheese located in certain parts of this album. Fortunately for her, she has a voice and style of playing that has a wide range and matches Christmas very well. The songs quickly become likable. Tracks to give special attention to are Winter Wonderland, Ave Maria and oh Holy Night.

Bela Fleck & the FlecktonesJingle all the way
Think of your genius musician friend. Now think of your genius musician friend who just had three cups of spiked egg nog at a yuletide party. This is what Jingle all the way sounds like. There is my all time favorite version of Sleigh Bells and on the 12 days of Christmas which is the easiest song to play they make it the most confusing by assigning each day with it’s own style of music, time signature and key. And on songs like Danse of the Sugar Plum Fairy (which sounds like the name of a Bela Fleck tune anyways) they give a solid performance. Perhaps the strangest part is in the beginning of the album where a tuvan throat singer leads Jingle Bells. Listen to this when you’re in a wacky mood only.

Third DayChristmas Offerings
This is one of my favorite holiday albums from the christian contemporary music scene. Third Day has always been one of my favorites and this is one of their best albums. It’s energetic without having that plastic pop component. Just like their other “Offering Albums”, there is an element of live worship mixed with studio tracks.

Steven PaseroChristmas Classics for Guitar
Obviously the most traditional of my top ten. Nothing can really replace the beauty of classical guitar playing christmas sounds.

SojournAdvent Songs
I recently came across this album. They’re a church band from Kentucky with excellent taste and superb artistry. Even though only eight songs, this shorter album is worth it. Advent Songs is split between originals and traditionals. My favorites include their arrangement of Joy to the World, and the originals, God is with us and Amen, Amen.

Johnny CashThe Christmas Spirit
You know the feeling when it’s late at night and all the lights in the house are off except the Christmas lights. You peak outside and hear nothing but a quiet stillness to suddenly notice the snow begin to fall. That’s what I feel when I listen to this album. There’s a calm and warm vintage vibe here. With baritone lullabies and storytelling, Johnny Cash is backed up by the sounds of a small reverberated choir ooing and aaing, an old electric organ with vibrato and of course his usual back-up band sound. If you never liked Johnny Cash, this piece might convert you.

Jars of ClayChristmas Songs
This is not for the hard core Christmas Carol traditionalist nor those of you who only enjoy the first album or two that Jars of Clay put out. They certainly mess around with beloved songs like O, little town of Bethlehem and make something that sounds completely different yet (and this is what I find fascinating) keep the song’s original vibe. There are also unexpected covers such as Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and Charlie Brown’s ‘Christmastime is here’. There is a flow throughout all fifteen songs which is something I highly value. The pervading feeling is one that exudes a transcendent frostiness all the while hanging on to cheer.

Vince GuaraldiA Charlie Brown Christmas
Who doesn’t like this album? It’s timeless.

Over the RhineSnow Angels
Cram together a Christmas Gilmore Girls episode with Ray Lamontagne as a woman and you’ve got Snow Angels. Well kind of. Melissa and I saw these guys live last December so they played most of this album in their set list. They were phenomenal. In twelve songs, almost every emotion is touched upon and a wide range of music style is heard without losing a cohesive feel throughout. Also, even though this is fully Christmas in spirit I can get away with playing it all throughout the year.


Sufjan Stevens
Songs for Christmas
42 songs of confusingly awesome uniqueness.. or was it 52 songs?

Loreena McKennit
A midwinter’s night dream
it sounds like it what it says.

Over the Rhine
The darkest night of the year
If they made two Christmas albums (this one is the first) you know they’re serious about Christmas. And seriously good at it too.


carl said...

and if you're wondering. Yes I do love Pandora. The last three albums are on my to get list.

Anonymous said...

love this! :) and I am being a impartial observer. ~Melissa