My co-workers get a little annoyed when I start playing Christmas music mid-November – but I don’t mind. That’s about the time that the new holiday CDs start rolling in to Folk Alley and we need to start adding songs to our playlist if we’re going to have new content for seasonal shows. I usually am on the front lines as the submissions pile up, because music has always been a part of my Christmas celebrations – from my earliest days with my arms wrapped around The Kingston Trio’s Last Month of the Year and numerous Firestone Tire compilations to my dedicated seasonal CD wallet that lives in my car from Thanksgiving to the end of December.
Here is a sample of some new holiday CDs that may soon become part of your annual celebrations:
Sufjan Stevens: Silver & Gold – If I like Christmas music, Sufjan Stevens bathes in it and eats it every meal. I admire the guts and gumption it takes to assemble a collection with 58 tracks (it’s a massive package, with five CDs, a poster and temporary tattoos). To build his collection there are plenty of originals, along with beloved favorites, and instrumentation running from classical guitar and violin to Theremin.
Various: Holidays Rule – Every year, Starbucks sells a holiday CD – “I’ll take a grande decaf latte and some Christmas spirit!” This year’s collection on the Hear Music label (which can also be purchased at other outlets) is a mix of indie artists and music perfect for Folk Alley, including great contributions from The Civil Wars, the Punch Brothers, The Head and the Heart, Andrew Bird and some guy named Sir Paul McCartney.
The Sweetback Sisters: Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular – Really, any holiday CD that includes “Hark, the Herald Angles Sing” as if it was sung by cats, is most-likely going into heavy rotation on my Christmas playlist. The album mixes harmonies, rock-a-billy instrumentation and an appropriate sense of seasonal whimsy for what I’ll be playing – and singing along with – to get into the holiday spirit as I wrap my Christmas presents.
Tracey Thorn: Tinsel and Lights – I brought this album to the table. I’ve loved Thorn since her days with Everything But The Girl. The songs on this seasonal CD lean more towards the thoughtful (and sometimes, even sad) side of winter. Listening to her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” does NOT make me want to visit Canada in December, but her voice is so rich and beautiful, the collection is a lovely counterpoint to more treacle fair.
The Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band: A Fiddler’s Holiday – With the addition of Jay’s daughter Ruth and her husband, Mike Merenda (both of The Mammals), the Ungars are turning into an old-fashioned family folk band specializing in haunting instrumentals. This CD is a mix of traditional songs for the season from a new PBS special and features the University of Mary Washington’s Philharmonic Orchestra as a super-sized back-up band.
Willie Nelson: The Classic Christmas Album – Following in the footsteps of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, everyone’s favorite crooner, Willie Nelson, adds his voice to some of the most-treasured songs in the Christmas canon. And, the result is a lovely CD filled with heartfelt vocals and pared-back arrangements that will make the perfect holiday soundtrack and are sure to make this album a family favorite for years to come.
Listen to songs from these, and lots of other holiday albums, in the Folk Alley Holiday Stream.