It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. Holiday music is all over, and for good reason: The near-incessant repetition of old favorites — even in new arrangements — provides a sense of comfort through its predictability. But if you’re tired of the same old canned holiday music, here are a few new albums (and one old favorite) to freshen up your family's collection.
Here Comes Christmas! is the first CD from Greg Page — the original Wiggle — on his own Yellow Entertainment label. Three original songs start the album, and the remaining tracks encompass classic holiday favorites like “Jingle Bells” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The album is unique in that Page has created new arrangements of the songs that pay homage to the versions he grew up with, including from Harry Simone Chorale, Andy Williams, and the Ray Conniff Singers, to name a few. As a result, kids will like the album because it sounds fresh and contemporary, but it will likely spark a bit of nostalgia among the adults in the room.
From beginning to end, this CD tells a cheerful story of the season, bringing some much needed light to the cold, dark days of winter. The album kicks off with the cheekily sinister “Halloween Masquerade” and the lilting “This Thanksgiving.” An up-tempo cover of “The Dreidel song” segues into five Christmas tunes (one of which — “O Christmas Brie” — details Santa’s love of soft cheese), and the album closes with “Auld Lang Syne.” Musically, the album encompasses a variety of rock styles with something to appeal to everyone.
A fine performance of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker, is the 12th and most recent release in the Maestro Classics series. For this recording, master storyteller Jim Weiss narrates an abridged version of the ballet score (the whole thing runs just under an hour), which is expertly performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The CD includes an informative booklet with the history of ballet, an overview of the harp (which figures prominently, particularly in “Waltz of the Flowers”), a biography of Tchaikovsky, and some easy puzzles. This CD is the perfect way to prime kids for a trip to the ballet, or to reminisce about a recent visit.
There’s nothing new about A Charlie Brown Christmas, but noteworthy is the fact that the beloved special is celebrating its 50th year this year. Vince Guaraldi’s bouncy melodies and transparent jazz textures have become almost as iconic as the characters themselves, with favorites like “Christmastime is here,” “Skating,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” CBS didn’t like the jazzy soundtrack, but like the special, it became an immediate hit, which has never gone out of print.
Guaraldi died comparatively young, at age 47, in 1976 before having a chance to realize the lasting impact his music has made on the holiday season.
Title aside, the album contains Christmas music from all over the world, and from a number of different historical periods. The choir is at its best with the traditional carols like “Adeste Fidelis” and “Joy to the World”; but even more interesting are its ventures into contemporary music such as Feliz Navidad" and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over).”
This CD offers a fun, swinging take on holiday favorites with a few twists on classics. “Yabba Dabba Yuletide” is a clever reworking of The Flintstones’ theme song with holiday lyrics; “Rockabilly Rudolph” has traces of the James Bond theme throughout. Contemporary classics like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” get up-tempo big band treatment. Fans of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby will enjoy this contemporary big band, and the album offers a nice complement to the Charlie Brown album.