What does it take to make a great Christmas album? That might depend on your view of Christmas, or then again, maybe not. Music to think about, music to enjoy melodically, lyrics (if lyrics there are) and melody that bear repeated listening, surprise, joy, humor, faith — those are qualities to look for in music for the season, and for any season. Also, a good reason to find holiday albums you could listen to all through the year.
Here is music which fits that idea:
Naradaâ€™s Best of Celtic Christmas — one set the Ireland based group Dordan, instrumental and sung music which sets the stage for the holiday, and another set including thoughtful and thought provoking music from many of the Celtic worldâ€™s major players. Top tracks: The Snowy Path, from Altan; Help Me Make It Through December, Natalie Macmaster with Alison Krauss; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, from Cathie Ryan
Albert & Gage: One More Christmas — a nice original in the title track which was inspired by Albertâ€™s parentsâ€™ deciding to sell their home in New York State and move south; and a fine combination reverence, faith, fun, and the realities of Christmas in the day to day from Austin based husband and wife Christine Albert and Chris Gage. Standout tracks: The River, Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus, Must Be Tonight, Christmas Everyday
Tish Hinojosa From Texas for a Christmas Night –Hinojosa is also based in the Texas Hill Country, and sheâ€™s first generation Mexican American. Sheâ€™s also written a good handful of fine original holiday songs, and includes several covers as well. A very fine voice and folk style interpretation as well. Standout cuts Milagro, Arbolito (both English and Spanish versions), Building #9, Nanita Nana
Kathy Mattea Joy for Christmas Day — A rockinâ€™ song thatâ€™ll get you dancing, a reminder of what happened when The Baby Grew Up, a medley of tradition carols, a gentle tribute to her late father, and a quiet reflection on the lessons of the Christmas story through time, not to mention a really gorgeous alto and a fine set of backing musicians from Grammy winner Mattea. Notable tracks: Straw Against the Chill, Christmas Collage, When the baby Grew Up, All Because of HIm.
Amy Grant A Christmas Album — The first of Grantâ€™s the holiday collections, itâ€™s the gentlest and best: standout track: Tennessee Christmas
Lee Ann Womack The Season for Romance — if you like mellow but want something beyond Nat and Bing, Lee Annâ€™s got you covered. Track to check: The Man with the Bag
Trilogy 2000 Year of Christmas — it really is, from Canadian artists Eileen McGann, Cathy Smith, and David K. Listen to: The Huron Carol, Snow Shanty
Best of Narada Christmas — atmospheric, evocative, mostly instrumental To check out: I Saw Three Ships from David Arkenstone, Silent Night from Tingstad and Rumbel
If youâ€™d like to look into holiday music released just this year, go to these reviews from the Chicago Sun Times
See what Kathy Mattea has to say about making her holiday albums here
Kerry Dexter writes about, music, the arts, and creative practice at Music Road