Holiday classics re-imagined: memorable Christmas albums

Okay, you’ve heard all the typical Christmas collections — popular singers performing familiar carols, divas singing newly minted “contemporary” songs, tasteful arrangements of the same old same old — but you’re craving something unique, something that breathes new life into the tradition, something that stimulates both your need for nostalgia and your need for adventure. The following choices, spanning styles from jazz to alternative to folk to classical, deliver the goods.

10 Shades of Christmas10 Shades of Christmas
Jon O’Bergh
Reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi, these unforgettable piano-based arrangements of Christmas classics provide the perfect backdrop for the holidays. Ten of the world’s cherished carols are reinvented as you’ve never heard them before. iTunes

Midwinter Graces
Tori Amos
In this unique Christmas album, released in 2009, Tori Amos incorporates traditional carols into original songs. It’s a gutsy choice, but the result is sublime. Her unparalleled piano playing, as always, drives the music. There’s a wealth of creativity and artistry on this album that puts most Christmas albums to shame. iTunes

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Vince Guaraldi Trio
Yes, it may be well known, but it’s different enough from the run of the mill to qualify as one of the best. And besides, it’s indelibly linked to our childhood memories of the Peanuts gang. Interesting jazz arrangements of traditional carols, original compositions, children’s angelic voices, and the perennial favorite “Linus and Lucy” all mingle to create a deeply satisfying album. iTunes

Our Heart’s Joy
This a capella all-male singing group has recorded a number of wonderful, out-of-the-ordinary Christmas albums. On this album, they perform a wide variety of mainly lesser known sacred works from the 15th to the 20th century — songs that are among their best-loved repertoire. For those more interested in familiar territory, check out their collection “Our Favorite Carols.” iTunes

The Christmas Album
Manhattan Transfer
The voices of this jazz vocal quartet blend smoothly to produce thrilling harmonies and unique arrangements of familiar holiday tunes. John Lennon’s lovely lullaby “Goodnight” closes the album. No other version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” will be as satisfying after you’ve heard theirs. iTunes

James Taylor at Christmas
James Taylor
Despite the range of styles represented on this album, from blues to jazz to folk to lush classicism, Taylor’s voice unifies it all with tasteful restraint and simplicity, especially on the guitar-accompanied cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Of particular interest is a different take on “Jingle Bells.” It’s a risk to play around this much with a well-known tune, but the risk pays off. iTunes

For additional posts that provide interesting music lists, see About Music and This Site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.