’Tis the season to give the gift of music. And this season offers several stockingfuls of fantastic and festive holiday fare, from the sublime (Paul Williams, Ingrid Michaelson) to the sublimely ridiculous (William Shatner, RuPaul). Enjoy these albums, and have a not-so-silent night.
William Shatner, Shatner Claus
The Golden-Throated ironic icon blesses us this season with a collection of merry-making madcap duets with Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, Brad Paisley, Judy Collins, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and more. And let’s face it, it’s not really Christmas until you’ve heard the artist formerly known as Captain Kirk do a punk-rock version of “Jingle Bells” with Henry Rollins.
Paul Williams, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
Speaking of punk-rock, is there any holiday song more all-out rawkin’ than “Riverbottom Nightmare Band”? Hear that rager — and other, kinder, gentler Muppet carols — on the forever-delayed official soundtrack from HBO’s charming 1977 Christmas special, which kickstarted a long musical partnership between songwriter Williams and Jim Henson.
John Legend, A Legendary Christmas
The EGOT-winner has now won Christmas with this instant-classic collection, a mix of oldies and originals featuring contributions by Stevie Wonder and Esperanza Spalding. Legend recently played Jesus Christ on live television, so clearly the man is qualified to record this material.
Ingrid Michaelson, Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season
The singer-songwriter drew inspiration from classic crooners like Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra to create “an instant, nostalgic classic.” She even takes on the most beloved and perennial of all modern-pop carols, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and transforms it into a stunning piano duet with Leslie Odom Jr.
The Monkees, Christmas Party
Produced by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger with an assist from Monkee Michael Nesmith’s sons Christian and Jonathan, this collection features new holiday tunes penned by Schlesinger and other powerpop heroes like XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. Also included are some charming rock ’n’ roll covers (Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” Big Star’s “Jesus Christ”) and two sentimental posthumous recordings by Davy Jones, “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Silver Bells.”
RuPaul, Christmas Party
If the Monkees’ party is too tame for you, pick this same-named collection of holi-slaying club bangers from the hardest-(t)werking man in showbiz. Expect plenty of puns about candy canes, hot roasted nuts, sugarplum fairies and Christmas cookies, of course. As Ru puts it, this is a celebration you definitely “don’t gotta be in church for.”
Various artists, Christmas Queens 4
Need even more RuPaul’s Drag Race this season? Past winners BeBe Zahara Benet, Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska and Sharon Needles, along with other All Stars, will have you gagging on their holiday eleganza. Halleloo!
PIG, Black Mass EP
This English industrial act’s sludgy, Scroogey covers of Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” all sound like 45 singles of “Riverbottom Nightmare Band” played backwards and slowed down to 33 1/3 rpm. But don’t worry, you won’t go to hell for listening to this black-as-coal record: Proceeds from its sales go to the International Rescue Committee.
Martina McBride, It’s the Holiday Season
The Americana legend recorded this collection of classics at Los Angeles’s Capitol Studios and Nashville’s Blackbird Studio with a 40-piece band of world-class musicians, for a vintage vibe that, like Michaelson’s record, evokes Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald.
Michael McDonald, Season of Peace: The Christmas Collection
If your idea of the perfect Christmas is sipping piña coladas — not eggnog — on a yacht, here’s your sunny soundtrack. But the smooth, soothing soul of Season of Peace is suitable for cold, cozy nights by the fireplace as well. Only a fool would believe this album isn’t worth purchasing.
Pentatonix, Christmas Is Here
These a cappella superstars seem to crank out a Christmas album every year. But their discography is clearly the gift that keeps on giving, because their third holiday LP is yet another solid seasonal offering. Their surprising decision to turn the Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” into a Christmas song borders on genius, actually.
Jessie J, This Christmas Day
The British diva with a voice of a Christmas angel joins forces with Boyz II Men, Babyface, David Foster, Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for a pure pop confection.
The Mavericks, Hey! Merry Christmas!
The exclamation point-riddled title of this album is indicative of the cheerful fare within. Here, the veteran rockabilly/Latin/folk/blues/jazz band creates a Beach Boys/Spector wall of sound on eight new originals and a handful of festive favorites.
Eric Clapton, Happy XMAS
The guitar god bluesifies such standards as “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” (the latter is dedicated to Avicii, who died this year). There’s also one new original, “For Love on Christmas Day.” It’s a blues Christmas, indeed.
Old 97’s, Love the Holidays
Rhett Miller and his fellow cowpunks blaze through nine roof-raising originals, plus a ramshackle rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” that’s sure to get your 2018 New Year’s Eve party started.
Mitch Ryder, Christmas (Take a Ride)
Have yourself a rockin’ little Christmas with the Detroit rock ’n’ soul veteran’s first holiday album, featuring guest appearances by the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, the Stooges’ James Williamson, bluesman Joe Louis Walker, and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers’ Walter Lure.
Rodney Crowell, Christmas Everywhere
The highlight of this Americana veteran’s first-ever holiday album has to be the title track, featuring a bittersweet dream sequence in which a child asks Santa Claus for a time machine to go back and stop John Lennon’s murder.
David Archuleta, Winter in the Air
The American Idol Season 7 runner-up returns with his first holiday album since 2009’s Christmas From the Heart. The cheery lead single, “Christmas Every Day,” features backup vocals by another Idol fan favorite, Melinda Doolittle.
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