Even those of us who are gleefully filled with holiday cheer can get burnt out from the oversaturation of Christmas music. When various radio stations and department stores switch over to all-holiday-music-all-the-time before Thanksgiving is even past, it’s sometimes hard not to feel some Scrooge-like sentiments bubbling up. Fortunately, there are some holiday albums that aren’t just the same smooth jazz and smarmy pop that inundate the airwaves. Here are a few that might help resuscitate your holiday cheer:
Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold (2012)
Indie rock darling Sufjan Stevens released Silver and Gold, a new collection of holiday tunes, this past November. With 58 tracks ranging from fresh takes on Christmas traditionals like “Silent Night,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Let it snow!” to new originals like “Lumberjack Christmas” and “Mr. Frosty Man,” there’s bound to be something for everyone in the almost five-dozen-song collection. Stevens’ characteristic folk instrumentations and mix of optimism and melancholia are sure to pull on the heartstrings and induce bittersweet nostalgia in even the most hardened of holiday hearts. Check out “The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne” (also known as “that song they always sing at New Year’s”) and feel your heart be warmed with holiday cheer.
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
If you’ve heard anything from jazzman Vince Guaraldi, it was probably the music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” He’s no one-hit-wonder – Guaraldi won a Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and had 17 albums to his name before his untimely death – but this album has stood above the rest.
There’s a reason why “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still a seasonal staple, and the soundtrack is as good as the TV special itself. The jazz piano solo tracks like “O Tannenbaum” and “Skating” are more than worthwhile on their own, but the songs that really shine are the endearing piano and children’s chorus songs “Christmastime Is Here” and “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”
The Sonics / The Wailers / The Galaxies – Merry Christmas (1965)
If you’re looking for something really non-traditional, look no further than Merry Christmas, a collaborative album from 1960s garage rock bands The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Galaxies. Etiquette Records brought these three groups from Tacoma, Washington together for this 1964 release, and it’s more than unfortunate that it isn’t more widely available. If your nostalgia for bygone holiday seasons is tinged with longing for the sounds of groups like The Kinks and Paul Revere & the Raiders, then this album should bring a smile to your face. And really, even if not, this is a great listen.
Unfortunately, this one seems to have never been reissued, so you’re pretty much limited to what’s on YouTube.
Sam Billen – Merry Christmas (2012) and A Light Goes On (2011)
Sam Billen has been releasing an annual free Christmas album since 2008, and this year’s edition is no letdown. Family has always been a central feature of Billen’s music, and this mostly-acoustic album features his brother Dan and father Bill alongside Sam and his oftentimes collaborator Josh Atkinson. It’s understated and folksy, with a tinge of retro synth. It’s a pleasant 22 minutes of holiday classics, with “I Wonder as I Wander” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” particularly standing out
Click ‘play’ to take a listen to Sam Billen’s “A Light Went On,” from A Light Goes On (2011).
But while this year’s instrumental album is great, for me it can’t top last year’s Billen Christmas project, A Light Goes On. And while there are plenty of fantastic takes of holiday classics in this one (Katlyn Conroy and Austen Malone’s take of “Baby Its Cold Outside” and Timbre’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” are particularly charming), the original and unexpected inclusions are where this really shines. Beau Jennings’ rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” – about the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster, where 73 people were trampled to death after someone shouted “fire” at a crowded miners’ Christmas party – is as hauntingly beautiful as it is tragic. Sam Billen’s title track, “A Light Went On,” is a story of nostalgia for the Christmastimes of childhood, all bundled up with endearing indie-pop trappings.
The Maccabeats – “Candlelight” (2010)
Okay, this one isn’t an album like our other selections, but it’s brilliant enough that we just couldn’t leave it out. The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group out of Yeshiva University, became an internet sensation for their hilarious parody of Taio Cruz’s party hit “Dynamite.” The new lyrics tell the Hanukkah-appropriate tale of the mighty Maccabees, and the impressive music video and top-notch a cappella work does not disappoint. Whether you’re one of the treasured people or you don’t know the difference between Seder and cedar, you’ll enjoy this wonderful remake.
Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland – Fireside Songs for the Soul (2010)
This list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of local flavor, and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland both have plenty of that. These two regionally acclaimed Texans have been significant players in the Austin music scene (as well as throughout the rest of Texas) for years, and there’s a reason why. Their country twang is charming in this cover of the wintertime classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Even though it’s never actually that cold in Austin, Texas (although I’ve heard 55 degrees described as “frigid” by some of the locals), this iconic tune is always fitting for the holiday season.
– Nick Curry, Marketing and Development Intern
The Long Center
The Long Center hosts Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland’s Holiday Roast on December 20- 22. Click here for more information and tickets.