Holiday music, when done wrong, is unbearably cheesy. Schmaltzy tunes about mistletoe, red noses, and strolling (mit-covered) hand-in-hand through the snow release by the sled-load every single year. This makes it hard to willfully seek out new holiday releases, and we just want to say, we get it.
But, believe it or not, there are a number of albums from recent years that deserve a spin. So as temperatures drop, fire up these soon-to-be-classics. Here are 20 new-ish holiday LPs, for when you’ve worn out Bing, The King, and even Babs.
Pistol Annies, Hell of a Holiday
Not that the Pistol Annies, a country music trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley, can do much wrong, but their first holiday LP shocks in its ability to get everything right. Their attempts at original fare (the humorous title track, "Snow Globe") land with just the right amount of wink, and their covers of well-worn classics like "If We Make It Through December" and "Auld Lang Syne" will have you reaching for a tissue to dry your eyes.
Kelly Clarkson, When Christmas Comes Around...
If there's a star who knows exactly the right amount of cheek to make holiday music fun, it's Clarkson. Which is why the single, "Christmas Isn't Canceled (Just You)," a guaranteed groan-fest in the hands of any other talent, manages to sore—and charm. Clarkson's second holiday set, which is, at times, also sexy and heartbreaking across its 15 songs, should be a regular spin come the end of the year.
Leslie Odom, Jr., The Christmas Album
If I told you that what "Little Drummer Boy"—a song long-since added to the Christmas music canon—needed was the infusion of global music sounds courtesy of the venerated Mzansi Youth Choir out of South Africa, would you believe me? It is the season for miracles, after all. The Hamilton star was fearless when approaching his 2020 holiday LP, a decision that surprises, and delights. The Christmas album is a merry, merry affair that sparkles with a whole world's worth of influences.
The Bird and the Bee, Put Up The Lights
Greg Kurstin and Inara George have rounded up some of their favorite festive songs, plus Dave Grohl (why not?!), for a sweet, eight song ode to the holidays. This is easy listening at its finest.
Andrew Bird, Hark!
After 12 LPs and a quarter century of whistle and violin loops, Bird was, finally, feeling festive in 2020. His layered, folky-but-theatrical stylings are a perfect match for Christmas fare, and the history books may well reference his COVID-inspired meditation on the holidays, "Christmas In April," for years to come.
Los Lobos, Llegó Navidad
Feliz Navidad! Four decades into their career, East L.A. Latin-rock party starters Los Lobos finally lent their irresistible stylings to holiday fare. The group rips through 11 festive classics from the Spanish-speaking world—including Freddy Fender’s “Christmas Time In Texas” and salsa favorite “La Murga”—plus one original, a blues-tinged lament for the lonely called “Christmas and You.” Dig in.
You Wish, A Merge Records Holiday Album
The 2019 indie entry comes courtesy of Merge Records, who, in celebration of their own 30th birthday, rounded up 15 artists for a diverse set of well-worn classics—Hiss Golden Messenger and Lucinda Williams team up on a terrifyingly good take on John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison” while Apex Manor gently update “White Christmas”—and new missives. Telekinesis’s upbeat “Christmas Times Is Here (Uh Oh)” charms hardest, but Mac McCaughan and Annie Hayden’s lilting ode to, yes, sledding, “Down We Go (Sledding Song),” deserves a spin as well.
Andrea Bocelli, Si Forever (The Diamond Edition)
The opera legend’s first release of Si (2018) went platinum. The sprawling LP, which features duets with Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, and his son Matteo, got an update in 2019 with stellar, brand new features from Ellie Goulding (“Return to Love”) and Jennifer Garner (“Dormi Dormi Lullaby”). And while the set isn’t expressly meant for the holidays, it’s just about impossible to find a more fitting soundtrack for crisp air and cozy nights.
Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, Big Band Holiday II
The world’s premiere trumpeter Wynton Marsalis led the big band holiday shows at New York City’s fabled Jazz At Lincoln Center in their holiday concerts from 2015-2018, and the following season, he folded his highlights into a raucous, warm, undeniable live collection that begs for a spin in your tinseled-out, light-strung living room. (Its predecessor dropped in 2015.) The jazz A-list turns out in the form of Catherine Russell, Veronica Swift, Denzal Sinclaire, and Audrey Shakir, but it’s impossible not to call out Aretha Franklin’s never-before-released piano rendition of “O Tannenbaum.” It was a surprise when she graced the venue 2015, and five years after her death, it still shocks to hear her pure, perfect vocal.
The Last Christmas Soundtrack
First, a note: the Last Christmas soundtrack is not actually a Christmas collection at all. Second, none of the music on the set is new. Culled from George Michael and Wham!’s songbooks, it’s an album full of boisterous, funkified party cuts—to wit: the one-two punch of “Too Funky” into “Fantasy”—meant to accompany the new Henry Golding-Emilia Clarke cheesefest. Avoid the post-dinner lull and cue this up; even grandma will be moved to cut a rug.
Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas
Musgraves is one of the quickest wits writing music these days (give any of her stellar and non-themed LPs a spin, including this year’s acclaimed star-crossed). The holiday spirit lucked out in 2016 when she cast her pen towards it. A Very Kacey Christmas sees the singer channeling ‘60s nostalgia while covering much-loved classics (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”), teaming up with Leon Bridges (“Present Without a Bow”), and toking up with the Red Headed Stranger (“A Willie Nice Christmas”).
John Legend, A Legendary Christmas Deluxe Edition
The crooner’s first Christmas album, which arrived in 2018, got a headline-making update in 2019 when Legend teamed up with his fellow Voice judge, Kelly Clarkson, for a woke-ified rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Awkward and forced, the song landed to the ridicule of some and the general dismay of many more. But don’t let that distract you from the 17 other tunes here. Most beg for a spot on your holiday party playlist—the gooey “Bring Me Love” is downright irresistible while the Stevie Wonder-featuring “What Christmas Means to Me” is pure vintage pop—and, better yet, Legend logs one of his most tear-jerking cuts to date with “By Christmas Eve.”
Cheap Trick, Christmas Christmas
With 18 albums in the can, the Hall of Famers finally had time for a holiday outing in 2017. (That year actually saw Cheap Trick release two albums with We’re All Alright! dropping in June.) The group penned three originals for the set and elsewhere tackled oddities like Harry Nilsson’s “Remember (Christmas)” and Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.” In a market that too often sees acts doing more of the same, the willingness to be different wallops.
Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue
Country music's sequined queen had a productive 2016. Along with her lauded Full Circle album, her first collection in more than a decade, Lynn also released White Christmas Blue, a spry set of holiday songs. The icon previously recorded six of the 12 songs five decades ago on 1966’s Country Christmas, and there’s undeniable charm to seeing her reinterpret them again, here. Recorded with John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter Cash, who also produced Circle) at his home studio, your heart will just about break with her powerful rendition of “White Christmas.”
JD McPherson, Socks
You’ll find no covers on the Oklahoma native’s first Christmas set—literally, none. Instead, McPherson penned 11 brand new cuts for a retro-rock holiday revival that, with no kitsch or cutesiness, beams with festive cheer. From the euphoric “Hey Skinny Santa!” to the growling “Bad Kid” to the delicate “Ugly Sweater Blues,” there’s something for everyone.
The Mavericks, Hey! Merry Christmas!
No one knows, really, what to call the sort of music the Mavericks make. (Latin-infused rock? Tex-Mex party tunes? Caribbean-inflected rockabilly?) But there is one thing we all agree on: It’s fun as hell! Same goes for the Grammy-winners’ 2018 holiday LP, which bursts with bright horns, jazzy arrangements, and a heck of a lot of swing. Raul Malo and Co. wrote eight originals for the set and rounded the album out with two covers: “Happy Holiday,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which absolutely soars.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Released in 2015, Soul Party sees the legendary singer and her revered backing outfit injecting a whole bunch of funk into the yearly festivities. With bright horns and addictive melodies, new cuts like “8 Days of Hanukkah” and “Big Bulbs” are instant classics, while playful updates to “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells” will have you wondering why they weren’t done like this all along.
Smokey Robinson, Christmas Everyday
Christmas Everyday may be the Motown legend’s first solo Christmas set—released in 2017—but Robinson is hardly alone on the uber-inviting LP. Trombone Shorty guests on the swinging “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” while Jones’ cohorts the Dap-Kings appear on the glinting “You’re My Present.” All adorned with the singer’s honeyed notes, results are super smooth holiday magic.
Brett Eldredge, Glow
Brett Eldredge’s Glow is so good the singer's now released it twice—well, sort of. First issued in 2016, the deluxe version of the set, which includes 18 tracks, arrived in 2018. And while Eldredge made his name cutting certified pop-country winners, it’s hard to imagine a better vehicle for his bold baritone than the throwback, big band arrangements here. Well, actually, there is one: cue up his a capella rendition of “The First Noel,” which stuns.
Sia, Everyday is Christmas
It’s hard to not-enjoy Sia’s warm, raspy vocals. It’s even harder to not-enjoy it when she's singing songs written with powerhouse producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson). So given that her first holiday album, which released in 2017, features exactly this recipe for success, there is a certain baseline of “good” the LP never sinks below. Not every song contends for space in the Christmas music canon—“Puppies Are Forever” never really adds up to its intended charm, “Candy Cane Lane” is almost too wispy—but turn on “Underneath the Mistletoe,” an throat-ripping banger, and then turn it way up. Go on, sing along. It is Christmas, after all.
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