As we know from decades of watching Charlie Brown, Christmas time is here.
And we all know what that means – inescapable holiday music, both pensive and perky, for the next month.
There is never a dearth of new Christmas albums, primarily because they’re easy to produce – lots of covers! – and they offer a solid return on investment for an artist. How many people are still pulling out their vinyl/CD/download of Amy Grant’s “Tennessee Christmas” or The Jackson 5’s “Christmas Album” or those assorted rockers who populated the “A Very Special Christmas” charity releases popularized in the ’80s and ’90s?
This season, several familiar names have hopped into the Christmas sleigh with new offerings. Here are some of the standout tracks worth a listen:
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Alicia Keys, ‘December Back 2 June’
Shades of The Jackson 5 and Boyz II Men color this finger-snapping slice of soul, one of four new songs on Keys’ first-ever Christmas album, “Santa Baby.” The 11-track album also includes a searing rendition of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and a seductive piano-based reading of the title track.
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Louis Armstrong, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’
The new album “Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule” collects all of Armstrong’s holiday music in one place for the first time, so even posthumously, he technically has a debut record. Along with memorable tunes “‘Zat You Santa Claus?” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” with Ella Fitzgerald, the standout is Armstrong's reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka, Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas”). This also marks the musician's final recording: Armstrong used a reel-to-reel tape recorder in his Queens, New York, home in February 1971 – five months prior to his death – to recite the classic, which has been paired with a newly recorded background instrumental by New Orleans pianist Sullivan Fortner.
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Pentatonix, ‘Kid on Christmas’ (with Meghan Trainor)
For their sixth holiday release, "Holidays Around the World," the beloved vocal group – now as synonymous with Christmas as Mariah Carey – took an international approach. Guests on the album’s dozen songs include Chinese pianist Lang Lang (a stately “Jingle Bells”); Congolese gospel singer Grace Lokwa (the rousing “Love Came on Christmas (Joy to the World x Kumama Papa)”); Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji (a world beat-infused “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”); and Filipina artist Lea Salonga (the lush “Christmas In Our Hearts”). But it’s the album’s opening salvo – the new “Kid on Christmas” with Meghan Trainor – that sets a joyful mood, thanks to the inherent cheerfulness in Trainor’s voice and the jubilant layered backing vocals from Pentatonix.
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Joss Stone, ‘What Christmas Means to Me’
The British soul-pop singer tackles the 1967 classic popularized by Stevie Wonder among the 16 songs on her debut Christmas album, “Merry Christmas, Love.” Two new tracks – “If You Believe” and “Bring On Christmas Day” – are tucked amid favorites including “Let it Snow,” “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night,” but Stone’s rendition of Wonder’s bop adds a touch of torch singer vocals and a swinging horn break for impactful appeal.
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Debbie Gibson, ‘Heartbreak Holiday’
The lively ’80s hitmaker tackles holiday tunes for the first time on “Winterlicious.” While her covers of “Let It Snow” and “Sleigh Ride” are appropriately refreshed – especially the latter, which she recorded 30 years ago and remastered for this release – it’s the sweet duet with frequent collaborator Joey McIntyre (of New Kids on the Block renown) that best showcases Gibson’s melodic gifts. The song builds into its soaring chorus worthy of a Broadway stage before decelerating into a whispery finale – an ideal cadence for a pair of symbiotic vocalists.
Elizabeth Chan, 'Merry Merry'
Even though Chan recently freed the "Queen of Christmas" phrase from being used by any one specific artist, she is truly royalty within the specialized genre as the artist with the most all-original Christmas albums in circulation. Her 12th album, "The 12 Months of Christmas," features "Merry Merry," a dance-floor holiday thumper that blends a Chic groove with her crystalline vocals and a relentlessly upbeat message.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best new Christmas songs of 2022: Pentatonix, Alicia Keys and more