It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas. If you want to add some new sounds to the mix — perhaps you've had enough of Gene Autry's “Here Comes Santa Claus” — check out these 12 albums that are sure to bring a cool vibe to your yuletide.
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Rhino Entertainment Company
Chicago's 37th album is a mix of traditional songs, unexpected treats and tunes written specifically for this collection. Produced by founding member Lee Loughnane, the veteran rock band's fourth holiday set features the group's trademark horn arrangements. It includes R&B and ballad reboots of “Sleigh Ride,” which originally appeared on the band's 2011 holiday album Merry Christmas, I Love You.
Standouts: The Hal David/Burt Bacharach chestnut “What the World Needs Now Is Love"; an original, “All Over the World"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Jazz at Lincoln Center, Inc.
Big Band Holidays II (Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra)
Wynton Marsalis led the Jazz at Lincoln Center's holiday concerts from 2015 to 2018, and this album captures some of his best moments. It includes original arrangements of Christmas classics, with the band joined by such guest vocalists as Veronica Swift, Audrey Shakir and Catherine Russell, who brings sass to “What Will Santa Claus Say? (When He Finds Everybody Swingin')."
One highlight is Aretha Franklin's previously unreleased “O Tannenbaum,” a solo piano performance from her surprise appearance at the 2015 concert.
Standouts: Denzal Sinclaire's “We Three Kings"; the instrumental “Brazilian Sleigh Bells"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Rhino Entertainment Company
Llegó Navidad (Los Lobos)
The first Christmas album by the East Los Angeles roots-rock band, active since 1973, is a Latin feast of obscurities plucked from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Texas border. Los Lobos sifted through roughly 150 songs to find intriguing holiday tunes based in Tex-Mex, cumbia, salsa, canción and ranchera. Most are acoustic, and all are performed with the group's reliable verve and proficiency. The most familiar titles are the 1958 novelty “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?", radically refashioned, and “Feliz Navidad,” the raucous closer.
Standouts: original “Christmas and You"; “La Murga"; “La Rama"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Kind Music Group, LLC
Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas
Dionne Warwick, whose sterling vocals on Burt Bacharach compositions elevated her to superstardom in the 1960s, drafts a diverse cast for this holiday album produced by her son Damon Elliott (known as Buck 22). The duets range from a jaunty “Frosty the Snowman” with Eric Paslay to a grand rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with Dianne Reeves.
John Rich, the Oak Ridge Boys and Ricky Skaggs join her for “Jingle Bells,” and Andra Day lends her voice to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Warwick takes the solo spotlight on “Silent Night” and “The First Noel."
Standouts: "This Christmas” with Aloe Blacc; “White Christmas” with Johnny Mathis; “Silver Bells” with Chloe x Halle
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Universal Music Operations / Geffen Records
Bing at Christmas (Bing Crosby and the London Symphony Orchestra)
No holiday hit in history rivals Bing Crosby's White Christmas, the top-selling record of all time (50 million copies and 1.8 billion streams globally). That iconic recording and other holiday fare by the late legendary singer get the royal treatment, courtesy of the prestigious London Symphony Orchestra, which upgrades his tracks with new lush arrangements.
A cappella quintet Pentatonix joins Crosby on one of the album's two versions of “White Christmas.” “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” recorded with David Bowie a month before Crosby died, is also here with fresh orchestration, as are Crosby's timeless “Sleigh Ride,” “I'll Be Home for Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland."
Standouts: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"; “The Christmas Song"
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PHOTO BY: ℗ 2019 Sony Music Entertainment
Christmas in the City (Lea Michele)
On her first Christmas album, the singer and Glee actress focuses on sacred and secular holiday favorites while also drawing inspiration from memories of growing up in New York City. She cowrote “Christmas in New York” with Glee songwriters-producers Adam Anders and Peer Astrom, her first collaboration with the pair since their work together on the hit TV series.
Michele also reconnects with Glee costars Darren Criss for “White Christmas” and Jonathan Groff (who also appeared with her in Broadway's Spring Awakening) for “I'll Be Home for Christmas.” British actress-singer Cynthia Erivo joins her on “Angels We Have Heard on High."
Standouts: “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"; “Silent Night"
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PHOTO BY: ℗ 2019 RCA Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment
The Best of Pentatonix Christmas
The a cappella quintet cherry-picks from its own Christmas catalog, then throws in four newly recorded songs for this 19-track compilation. A version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” splices in the vocals of the late Whitney Houston from her 2004 recording. Jazmine Sullivan, Kelly Clarkson and Maren Morris are among other guests.
Pentatonix has released four prior Christmas sets, and their holiday songs have become seasonal staples. Among the most popular are “Silent Night,” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “That's Christmas to Me” and “Mary, Did You Know?"— all included here.
Standouts: “How Great Thou Art” featuring Jennifer Hudson; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"; “Hallelujah"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 SRV LabelCo, LLC
Christmas: A Season of Love (Idina Menzel)
The singer who catapulted to fame with her “Let It Go” smash from Frozen releases this swinging jazz-inspired holiday set to coincide with the release of Frozen 2, and references abound. Ariana Grande adds vocals on the original “A Hand for Mrs. Claus,” penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the pair who wrote “Let It Go.” Menzel's Frozen costar Josh Gad (Olaf) joins her on “We Wish You the Merriest,” a tune popularized by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
She also plumbs the crooner vault for Irving Berlin's “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” her duet with singer-actor Billy Porter. In addition to holiday classics, she turns in “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent and the Hanukkah song “Ocho Kandelikas,” sung mostly in Ladino, the ancient language of Sephardic Jews.
Standouts: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria"; “At This Table"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Just Koz Entertainment Inc
Gifts of the Season (Dave Koz)
The smooth jazz saxophonist enlists a variety of vocalists on tracks that range from the soulfully somber “Mary, Did You Know?” to a blissfully funky “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” which pairs Koz with fellow sax player Michael Lington, who also has a new holiday album out this season.
Koz shines on “Winter Wonderland” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and he and producer Darren Rahn turbocharge Wham's “Last Christmas."
Standouts: Melissa Manchester's subdued spin on Mariah Carey's “All I Want for Christmas"; Jonathan Butler's bracing revival of Donny Hathaway's “This Christmas"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Rounder Records
A Very McCrary Christmas (The McCrary Sisters)
The Nashville gospel quartet's first holiday album is both reverent and rousing, steeped in the soul and Southern roots they grew up with but also invigorated by jazz and pop. The singers are daughters of the late Baptist preacher Samuel McCrary, a founding member of the seminal gospel group Fairfield Four.
Here, the four women belt out 13 sacred songs — 12 traditional and one original — with diverse guests who include bluegrass queen Alison Krauss ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel"), country legend Buddy Miller ("What Child Is This?"), blues singer Keb’ Mo’ ("Away in a Manger") and the “First Lady of Gospel Music” Shirley Caesar ("Joyful, Joyful").
Standouts: “O Holy Night,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain"
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 UMG Recordings, Inc. and Sony Music Entertainment
NOW That’s What I Call Country Christmas (Various Artists)
Do you like a little twang in your carols? Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and Sara Evans are among 20 country artists contributing holiday tracks to the latest compilation in the multiplatinum NOW series, which has sold more than 250 million albums worldwide.
Among the selections: George Strait’s “Christmas Cookies,” Little Big Town’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Hunter Hayes’ “Merry Christmas, Baby” and Alan Jackson’s “Let It Be Christmas.”
Standouts: Vince Gill’s “Blue Christmas”; Martina McBride’s “Silver Bells”; Kenny Chesney’s “All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan”
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PHOTO BY: © 2019 Fallen Tree Records
Christmas Morning (Silent Winters)
The third album by this Ottawa folk duo (Olenka Bastian and Jonathan Chandler) is a warm and glowing batch of seasonal songs that includes such favorites as “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.”
Their voices entwine beautifully on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and they turn in a charming version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Standouts: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”; a bittersweet original “Christmas Morning”
Edna Gundersen is an American journalist and a former longtime music writer and critic for USA Today
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