I posted this last year but I thought I’d do it a bit earlier this year in case folks are in the market for some cool Christmas albums.
I have an iTunes playlist of over 250 Christmas/holiday songs and some of my favorites are what I consider to be “out of the ordinary” — songs you won’t likely hear on the radio. Below are some of my favorites along with a brief review of each.
Enjoy and here’s wishing a very Happy Holiday season to all my friends!
(Clicking on the album covers will take you to web pages where you can listen to clips from the albums.)
Yule B’ Swingin’ – Various Artists
My most favoritest Christmas song of all is off the album “Yule B’ Swingin'”. It’s by Louis Prima and it’s called What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’?) While this album is terrific, that one song makes it worth the price of admission, in my opinion. There are some classics here along with some you’ve probably never heard of. Mostly Big Band Swing, it’s my favorite Christmas swing album of the three I own.
- What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’?) – Louis Prima
- Cool Yule – Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
- Jingle Bells – Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald
- Dig That Crazy Santa Claus – Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Les Brown & His Band of Renown
- Merry Christmas, Baby – Lionel Hampton
- (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man with the Bag – Kay Starr
- Sleigh Ride – Johnny Desmond
- Medley: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town/Jingle Bells [Medley] – Pete Fountain
- Ring Those Christmas Bells – Peggy Lee
- Swingle Jingle – Lionel Hampton
- What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – Nancy Wilson
- I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Dean Martin
Martin Sexton – Camp Holiday
This album is pure acoustic-folk-blues joy. If you’ve never listened to Martin Sexton, you’re in for a treat. He’s got an amazing voice and is a remarkable guitar player. Even better than his albums are his live performances. I highly recommend this album. I assure you you’ve never heard versions of these songs quite like these. I’m particularly fond of his oh-so-bluesey version of Blue Christmas. Although the album is pretty much all just him and a guitar, the version of Silent Night features his father and sister and, while his dad’s singing isn’t completely professional quality, the homesy feel will make you smile. You can listen to NPR’s review of this album HERE.
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas
- Holly Jolly Christmas
- Blue Christmas
- Little Drummer Boy
- White Christmas
- Silent Night
- Do You Hear What I Hear?
- O Christmas Tree
- Welcome To The Camp
- Silver Bells
- Auld Lang Syne
- Let There Be Peace On Earth
This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1 – Various Artists
I’m a big fan of Jack Johnson and he has put out a Christmas album featuring artists from his record label, Brushfire Records. It’s a lovely, eclectic mixture of folk/indie rock tunes featuring Johnson himself, Mason Jennings, Matt Costa, Zee Avi, G. Love, Money Mark, Neil Halstead and Rogue Wave. Johnson’s version of Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer is one you may have heard on the radio. Additionally there are two previously-unreleased songs by him along with some original songs from the other artists. Brushfire Records donates 25% of the profits from this album to the support of children’s music education.
- Someday At Christmas – Jack Johnson
- Santa Claus is Coming To Town – Mason Jennings
- All I Want For Christmas – Matt Costa
- No Christmas For Me – Zee Avi
- Stuck At The Airport – Money Mark
- Christmas Baby – G. Love
- Christmas Time – ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra)
- The Man in The Santa Suit – Neil Halstead
- Christmas – Rogue Wave
- Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – Jack Johnson
- Silent Night – Zach Gill
California Guitar Trio – A Christmas Album
The California Guitar Trio is composed of three graduates from guitar legend Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft instructional program. What these three guys do with their custom-made guitars is nothing short of phenomenal. I’ve enjoyed them live twice (including with bass play Tony Levin) and they never cease to amaze me. This all-acoustic album is complicated yet simple at the same time. It’s great background music to any holiday gathering yet, if you listen closely, you’ll discover layers and complexity that isn’t immediately obvious. I was thrilled to find out they had done a Christmas album and I wasn’t disappointed. Also, if you ever get a chance to see them live… DO IT!!!
- Carol Of The Bells
- Oh Christmas Tree
- Greensleeves [What Child Is This?]
- Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
- Unto Us A Child Is Born
- Jingle Bells
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
- Happy Xmas [War Is Over]
- Silent Night
Putumayo Presents: Christmas around the World – Various Artists
Putumayo Music has a number of albums out featuring World Music and artists from across the globe including a variety of Christmas albums. This album has music from Cuba, Barbados, Puerto Rico, USA, France, Martinique and Haiti. Some new, some classics, all are a joy and a nice departure from the average, run-of-the-mill Christmas songs.
- New York Twoubadou • Joyeux Noël • (Haiti)
- Steve Schuch & Night Heron Consort • Here We Come A-Wassailing • (USA)
- Liuba Maria Hevia • Venid Fieles Todos (Adeste Fidelis) • (Cuba)
- Sheryl Cormier & Cajun Sounds • St. Nicholas • (Cajun/USA)
- Cuba L.A. • Deck the Hall • (Cuba)
- Banks Soundtech Steel Orchestra • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen • (Barbados)
- Los Reyes • White Christmas • (France)
- Michael Doucet • We Three Kings • (Cajun/USA)
- Dan Crary • What Child is This • (USA)
- Pepe Castillo • Aguinaldo Jibaro • (Puerto Rico)
- Kali • Douce Nuit (Silent Night) • (Martinique)
- Ramon F, Veloz • Paz en la Tierra (Joy to the World) • (Cuba)
Christmas Guitars – Various Artists
This is one of two all-guitar Christmas albums I’m reviewing. I particularly like this one because it features several of my favorite guitarists ever: Adrian Belew (whose guitar sounds variously like a piano, an organ and horns on We Three Kings), Michelle Shocked, and Taj Mahal. There’s a little something for everyone here and it’s mostly on the low-key side.
- White Christmas – Guitar Ensemble
- Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella – Nancy Wilson
- Christmas Song – Larry Coryell
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Al Anderson
- We Three Kings – Adrian Belew
- Christmas Passacaglia – David Tanenbaum
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Taj Mahal
- Christmas Medley – Yomo Toro
- Joy to the World – Terre Roche
- Winter Wonderland – Al Kooper
- We Three Kings – Emily Remler
- Taqasim for the Magi – Gerald Trimble
- Little Drummer Boy – Nina Gerber
- Wind Through the Olive Trees – Terry Garthwaite
- Christmas Song – Michelle Shocked
- I Saw Three Ships – John Renbourn
- What Child Is This? – Larry Coryell
- Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light – Scott Johnson
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – John Scofield
Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists
Unlike the previous guitar album, this one has some wallpaper-shredding, chainsaw electric guitar action. Jeff Beck. Joe Satriani. Steve Vai. Joe Perry. Alex Lifeson. This is real rock-and-roll Christmas music and, while not the most peaceful Christmas album in my collection (okay, it’s the least peaceful one!), it never fails to bring a smile to my face when one of these songs comes up on the mix.
- Rudolph The Red- Nosed Reindeer (Album Version) – Kenny Wayne Shepherd
- The First Nowell (Album Version) – Eric Johnson
- Amazing Grace (Album Version) – Jeff Beck
- Jingle Bells (Album Version) – Brian Setzer
- Silent Night/Holy Night Jam (Album Version) – Joe Satriani
- Joy To The World (Album Version) – Steve Morse
- Christmas Time Is Here (Album Version) – Steve Vai
- Blue Christmas (Album Version) – Joe Perry
- The Drummer Boy (Album Version) – Alex Lifeson
- Cantique De Noel (O’ Holy Night) (Album Version) – Richie Sambora
- Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (Album Version) – Hotei
David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas – David Grisman
At the end of the day, it’s folk music that I enjoy most when it comes to Christmas tunage and I own a number of folk music Christmas albums. However, this one by David Grisman is my favorite. As a totally lame mandolin player, listening to David Grisman is both inspiring and demoralizing. This album is full of classics along with a handful of not-so-classics. If you’re going to purchase any David Grisman albums, this one and his collaboration with Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead Grisman & Garcia are the ones to buy.
- What Child Is This?
- Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
- Respighi: Ancient Aires and Dances
- The Christmas Song
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
- We Wish You A Merry Christmas (Dedicated to Scrooge McDuck)
- White Christmas (Dedicated to Ben Webster)
- The Flower Carol (Good King Wenceslas)
- Winter Wonderland
- Silent Night
- Auld Lang Syne
Well, that’s it. I have many more albums but these are some most people aren’t familiar with and ones I think you’ll adore as much as I do.
Once again, to all my friends, have a great holiday no matter how or what you celebrate. Stay safe and have fun.
I’m just sayin’…
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