Merry Christmas 2015

Four more sleeps till Christmas. That means four more days to listen to Christmas music. Here are three new Christmas albums and one classic one worth trying out- one for each day!

The new:

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Jimmy Needham, Coal No MoreThis is only an EP, but it’s of a piece with Needham’s funky album from earlier in 2015, Vice & Virtue. With that album, Needham reached new heights of musical and lyrical creativity, and Coal No More continues that streak of quality. Anyone who has his hymn album knows Needham is a wizard at not only interpreting others’ songs but adding his own touches to the songs’ arrangements, and the sole original on this EP, “If Jesus Was Like Santa Claus”, is a soulful comparison of the two primary Christmas figures.

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MercyMe, It’s Christmas!MercyMe was never prepared for the wild success of “I Can Only Imagine”, so if their output since that single has been mixed, it’s understandable. I’ve often dismissed them as bland, the kind of white bread that CCM radio is only too happy to give plenty of airtime. But It’s Christmas! is among their best albums, a varied celebration of Jesus’s birth that treats holiday standards with interpretative care and adds a few pleasant originals to the mix, reaching exciting heights of emotions both serious and light-hearted.

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Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, It’s a Holiday Soul PartyNo one does classic soul music in 2015 like Jones and her band, so Holiday Soul Party is a nice throwback to Funky Christmas and A Motown Christmas. Jones’s beat cancer last year, but it returned this year, so she’d be forgiven for taking the year off. But Holiday Soul Party is such a cathartic kind of funk that I’m not sure I could have forgiven her if she hadn’t made it.

And the classic:

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Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt’s funny, because while jazz has faded (though it’s kinda back!), Charlie Brown Christmas‘s soundtrack has remained a strong staple of the season. I won’t pretend to understand its genre, but it doesn’t take a professional to appreciate the simple delights of the cascading piano on “Skating” or the floating chorus on “What Child Is This?”, not to mention the reckless chorus of children on “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Hark the Herald”. It’s a classic, which means something about it has likely remained relevant out of nostalgia, yes, but it’s also still popular because it harnesses the simplicity that we all crave out of this time of year, a simplicity that we can’t ever seem to achieve without the help of Guaraldi and his group.

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