Music

12 Holiday albums: Music beyond the usual carols

December 20, 2013
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What is the most effective way for you to be able to truly feel the Christmas spirit? Mine is listening to festive holiday songs. Every holiday season, I unearth my Christmas song collection in my iTunes library, which I make a point to leave unchecked and out of sight for the rest of the year.

Apart from the usual “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Joy to the World,” and countless other all too-familiar carols that most by now have grown tired of hearing on repeat in malls and restaurants, there exists less-than-popular troves of albums released by the latest artists presenting their unique take on regular classics, with a handful of fresh originals. From these, the songs I particularly like are those that you won’t notice in the first few bars that it is in fact a Christmas song – something that you can’t help listening to even after Christmastime is over.

Here are 12 albums worth listening to this year – a mix of this year’s new releases (#1-5), albums from the past 3 years (#6-11), plus a signature classic (#12).

Click on the titles to view the albums on iTunes.

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1. Christmas, With Love, Leona Lewis (2013)

Christmas, With Love is a festive mix of Leona Lewis originals and covers of classics. It’s also the British artist’s fourth studio album to date. For “One More Sleep” (which is perfectly made the album first track), the upbeat “Mr. Right,” and her chilling rendition of “Ave Maria”, getting the entire album is already worth it.

 

 

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2. Christmas Kisses EP, Ariana Grande (2013)

Ariana Grande, one of the year’s outstanding young artists, released a four-track extended play that contains a refreshing twist of “Santa Baby” and “Last Christmas.” But her two originals – “Love is Everything” and “Snow in California” – are what made this EP breathtakingly beautiful. If her debut album Yours Truly hasn’t convinced listeners yet, Christmas Kisses can help 20-year-old Grande make her mark one of this year’s most promising new artists.

 

Jewel, Shape Magazine, July 1, 2010

3. Let it Snow, Jewel (2013)

Jewel’s second holiday album Let It Snow is a rich collection of refreshing tunes that will make even the most stubborn of Scrooges feel the holiday spirit. Her signature high-pitched voice gives every holiday track the right blend of festivity and novelty.

“Blue Crystal Glow” is a notable song in her full-length album that will remind you of Imogen Heap’s brand of electronica.

If you are looking for one 2013 holiday album to splurge on, Let it Snow is the one to get.

 

4. Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson (2013)

For Kelly Clarkson to release a 16-track holiday album this year is a pleasant surprise. Wrapped in Red is a remarkable collection of old and new tunes – a welcome break from Clarkson’s pop-rock style.

Her strong soprano voice gives the typical Yuletide tune more emotion and more color but also still intensely red. “Just for Now” is a stunning signature Clarkson single hidden in a holiday album, while her covers of “Please Come Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas” and The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” will make you forget how many times you have heard of them before.

 

Glee-Christmas-Volume45. Glee: The Christmas Album (Vol. 1-4), the Glee Cast

Since its first year, Glee has been producing Christmas albums of covers and originals. Its latest offering in Volume 4 is the most creative volume yet, and distinctly Glee.

“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” is too adorable to miss, while the rest of the tracks are danceworthy songs for Christmas parties.

 

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6. A Very Merry Perri Christmas, Christina Perri (2012)

Christina Perri’s wittingly-titled Christmas album deserves to be part of everyone’s holiday music playlist. Perri presents her own melancholy take on holiday music, beginning with “Something About December,” a bittersweet track that is worth putting on repeat if for some reason you are feeling a little less festive this season.

A Very Merry Perri Christmas is haunting, moving, and one of the most sophisticated holiday collections released in recent years. 

 

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7. Christmas in the Sand, Colbie Caillat (2012)

Because of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Gavin DeGraw and three other collaborations, Christmas in the Sand sounds like a deluxe Colbie Caillat feature album packaged into a Christmas collection. Apart from a handful of captivating original tracks, Caillat has also successfully made “Jingle Bells” sound classy and will make you believe there truly are endless ways to sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

 

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8. A Very She and Him Christmas, She & Him (2011)

If there is one holiday album you could listen to all year round, it’s A Very She & Him Christmas. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, the quirky indie duo that makes up She & Him makes Christmas music sound not so Christmassy – which is not at all a bad thing. After all, that is what you can exactly expect from a indie folk band – the most unconventional of holiday sounds.

 

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9. Under the Mistletoe, Justin Bieber (2011)

Like most of his songs, Justin Bieber’s Under the Mistletoe makes Christmastime feel a lot more youthful with his charming music and sweet lyrics.

From “Fa La La” to “Home This Christmas” to “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”, every track is effortlessly catchy and an easy listen. Love him or hate him, this 19-year-old can masterfully transform classic carols into romantic pop tunes. What more could you ask for from the eleventh best-selling album of 2011 (in the US)?

 

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10. Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You, Katharine McPhee (2010)

The bittersweet “It’s not Christmas Without You” is the only original song in Katharine McPhee’s holiday collection, and yet, the entire 10-track album feels completely original. Each track is distinctly McPhee. With the right atmosphere, some wine, and good company, this makes the perfect romantic album to listen to this Christmas.

 

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11. The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection, Taylor Swift (2007)

If you miss Taylor Swift as a country singer, listen to her 2007 holiday album this Christmas. “Christmas When You Were Mine” and “Christmas Must Be Something More” are her more notable tracks, while all the rest are also great-quality, instantly likeable songs that will complete every Taylor Swift fan’s and even nonfans’ holiday playlists. 

 

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12. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)

You might have heard of the songs several times already, without having known that they came from Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas album. The official soundtrack for the first Snoopy animated special is one of the most popular holiday albums of all time. While it was originally recorded in 1965, a remastered and expanded version was released in 2012. Of all albums mentioned on this list, this is the only one comprised mostly of instrumentals, based on an animated TV special, and has a Starbucks Exclusive edition released in 1997 –  hallmarks of a true classic holiday album.

 

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Bonus: New Year’s Eve OST, Various Artists (2012)

For those looking for music fit for the new year, this is my personal recommendation. It’s the soundtrack of the film New Year’s Eve, featuring an ensemble cast where the characters welcomed 2012 with their varying stories of love, loss, success, failure, new beginnings. From Ian Axel’s “This Is the New Year” to Lea Michele’s  “Auld Lang Syne”, each song complements the entire album. If only every instance Jay Sean mentions “2012” in “2012 (This ain’t the end)” could be changed to “2014”, it would still be the perfect album to bring in the new year.

All albums are available on the iTunes Store, Amazon.com, and in select music stores in the Philippines.

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© 2014 Desiree Grace Tan. All Rights Reserved.

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