No Christmas music list of recommendations should be considered reasonable unless it includes Bing Crosby. While other classic voices of Christmas music like Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, and Burl Ives certainly deserve your consideration, Crosby is absolutely essential. Christmas Classics by Bing Crosby is a thorough collection of Crosby’s classics including his legendary collaboration with David Bowie on “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” The collection features a number of other classics, too, ranging from his signature performance of “White Christmas,” to a song that has become a favorite of mine lately, “Christmas Dinner, Country Style.”
Holy Night by Kevin Max is a delicious change of pace when compared with the bulk of what is released in the category of holiday music. There is tremendous consistency in style, quality, and vision from the first track to the last. The general spirit of the album is one of respect for the original historical contexts in which many of these classic Christmas songs were written and an apparent desire by Kevin Max to present Christmas music as art as opposed to pre-formatted, Christmas pop. He seems to have intentionally shunned the crowded commercial sound often employed by artists when they decide to record a Christmas album. Many of the tracks adopt a darker and more mysterious mood. For example “Joy To The World” seems closer to David Bowie than it does Mahalia Jackson. Yet reverence for the focus of the lyric is maintained and the quality and craftsmanship of the music is remarkable. While a consistent thread of lonesome reverence is injected into each of the songs on Holy Night, a few of the tracks are hung on an up-tempo frame that, while continuing to maintain a level of intimate, personal sincerity, also breathe a sense of spirited optimism rooted in the birth of Jesus Christ. While songs like “What Child Is This” employ lush strings and the taste of a full orchestra for the musical backdrop, the basic, quick-tempo of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is much simpler, yet, equally
infectious and undeniably mood-lightening. Both songs have a character that grabs the heart of the listener and makes it feel just a little bit more than it did before. A personal favorite from this album include “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which opens treading lightly with a particularly lonely sounding piano, but, soon unfolds into what I can only try to describe (and perhaps not accurately) as some kind of Soviet/middle eastern kind of rhythm. Max’s unique and lush vocals inject an often-heard and under appreciated song with a sense of renewal that draws the listener in. The fantastic match between Max’s unique and piercingly powerful voice and the understated, yet masterfully present musical backdrop that blankets each track on this album is indeed magical if not, at least, worth a listen.
Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart, in the past couple of years, has become a staple Christmas album for me. Those not familiar with him usually, at least, raise an eyebrow at the first sound of voice as it drops on top of the lush, warm background arrangement. But, it doesn’t take long to find the groove and begin enjoying the album which comes across as a nostalgic remembrance of classic Christmas music of years ago. From “Here Comes Santa Claus,” to “Silver Bells,” and “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem,” the album is, indeed, a heartwarming collection that, with evident reverence Dylan has for the tradition of each song, will age well from one Christmas season to the next for years to come.
The final selection I’ll add to this shortlist of staple Christmas albums (all of which are easily accessible for download) is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s classic soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. As somebody who grew up watching the annual Charlie Brown Christmas special on network TV, the jazzy Christmas sounds of the Vince Guaraldi Trio can definitely set the mood for gift wrapping, cookie making, or just spending time with loved ones during the holidays.
Whatever you choose to listen to this year, please make sure you spend some time with those you love, savoring every moment, give to those in need, and, also, reflect on the blessings that we have to enjoy now and in the future, thanks to the birth of Jesus, the reason for the season.