Merry Music

By Cait Brennan, Dec. 4, 2014

It’s one of the great dividing hot-button issues of our times — holiday music. How early is too early? How much is too much? Can anyone stand “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”?

One thing’s for sure, though: Whether you turn it up to 11 or you’re a Christmas music Grinch, this is the perfect time of year to unwrap something new. Here are a few of this year’s holiday highlights.

Idina Menzel | Holiday Wishes

If you are that supremely organized early bird who got your shopping done two weeks before Halloween, then you’re in good company, because Idina Menzel dropped her Christmas album before the candy corn was cold. It’s a charmer, too, with sparkling takes on the standards, including “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and a revved-up performance of a Mariah Carey’s modern classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” There are also some excellent left-field choices, such as Joni Mitchell’s heartbreaking “River,” and a can’t-miss duet with that cheeky dreamboat Michael Bublé. Menzel even penned an original for the occasion, the lovely “December Prayer.” Menzel’s on an amazing run, and Holiday Wishes continues that trend.

Mark Kozelek | Sings Christmas Carols

The talented indie bandleader (Sun Kill Moon, Red House Painters), solo singer/songwriter and master of the radically reinvented cover song turns his attention to holiday carols on this lovingly curated selection of tunes. It’s an intimate, acoustic affair with Kozelek’s honest, emotive voice and nimble acoustic guitar work featured front and center. Kozelek spoofs his own sadcore persona in “Christmas Time Is Here” (Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi’s from A Charlie Brown Christmas) reenacting dialog from the actual TV special. Beyond that he puts a sweet spin on everything from traditional hymns to the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles.” It’s perfect soundtrack for a cozy holiday get-together.

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever Soundtrack

You’ve seen the Lifetime movie (you did see the Lifetime movie, right?) starring the Arizona’s own Internet sensation Tardar Sauce, aka Grumpy Cat. It’s a kitschy, fun holiday mess, and the official soundtrack captures that spirit with 14 songs from swinging hepcats like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and ex-Stray Cat Brian Setzer as well as indie joymakers Pomplamoose, The Bird and The Bee, KT Tunstall and many others. Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat, two other slightly-more-dated Internet meme felines, even make an appearance. The best of all, though, might just be “A Very Grumpy Christmas,” a gleefully sour old-timey, anti-anthem composed especially for the film by House Of Broken Glass — there’s a priceless music video, featuring Grumpy herself, to match.

Epic Records’ I’ll Be Home For Christmas

This year Meghan Trainor rocked our world with “All About That Bass,” while A Great Big World graced Echo’s cover and headlined Phoenix Pride on the strength of their smash “Say Something.” Both artists join labelmates Fiona Apple, Fifth Harmony, Tamar Braxton, and Sara Bareilles for Epic’s first-ever holiday release, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. The 20-year-old Trainor wrote and produced a brand new holiday original for the compilation, “I’ll Be Home,” a big, sweeping ballad to bring the house down. A Great Big World dares the impossible by covering one of the most love-it-or-hate-it songs in all of Christmastown, Gayla Peevey’s 1953 novelty hit “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.” Fiona Apple’s version of “Frosty The Snowman” is a treat, while Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s moving, spiritual “Winter Song” is transcendent.

Earth, Wind and Fire | Holiday

The eight-time Grammy Award-winning R&B legends are back with their first holiday album, and it’s an inventive mix that includes such traditional favorites as “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride,” but with a twist: the band is getting some of their own biggest hits into the act. “Happy Season” is a reinvention of the band’s 1975 track “Happy Feeling,” and the band’s 1978 hit “September” becomes “December,” with Bailey singing a “duet” with ex-lead singer Maurice White’s vocals from the original master tapes. (White retired several years ago due to Parkinson’s disease and no longer performs.) It’s a clever bit of studio finesse, and it’s great to hear White’s voice again. When it comes to EWF, no gimmicks are necessary and, on these fine holiday jams, these guys prove they haven’t lost a step.

Various | Christmas Joy In Full Measure

This new compilation features Christmas delights from some of the United Kingdom’s finest new artists, and it’s not to be missed. Among the many treasures here are “On Christmas Day” from the magnificent Citizen Helene, The Webb Brothers’ a pop marvel “Are You Coming Home For Christmas?” and the astonishing Mary Epworth’s “The Wolf And The Woods.” Epworth’s 2012 album Dream Life is a contender for the decade’s best, and her “sparkly Saturnalian disco” (that’s her label’s own description, and it fits) is welcome all year round. Eclectic, daring and enjoyable seasonal songs from Kiran Leonard, Young Knives and Papernut Cambridge are among the other standout tracks.

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