Classic and contemporary Christmas albums to usher in the holiday season

by Theodore Siu correspondent

For better or worse, the holiday spirits have once again descended upon our home city of Chicago. Regardless of what you do to acquire that familiar Christmas spirit, there will always be one constant: warm, nostalgic Christmas tunes that have remained with every man, woman and child of America for as long as Christmas is remembered.

Seeing as we cannot escape this annual barrage of musical anomalies, here are a few suggestions of classic Christmas albums as well as newer Christmas albums to refresh your Christmas joy. Though diverse in scope and spectrum, each one of these will inevitably place the spirit of the season within your household.

1. Album: A Winter Romance

Artist: Dean Martin

Though not necessarily an original premise, this Christmas album expresses the precise tone and texture to mirror the emotions of the Christmas spirit. The large band ensemble emphasizes the precise dynamics of the performance without being overbearing or underdeveloped. Dean Martin obviously had fun with this production, and he consistently carries each line and rhyme with his rich baritone and warm personality.

Some standout tracks on this album include “Out in the Cold Again” which somehow captures the bitter chills of winter without losing that certain charm of Christmas; and the classic “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” where Martin woos his audience with charm and childish delight.

2. Album: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio

Who would have thought that a Christmas special for children would produce one of the most beloved Christmas albums of all time? With each track and melody, Vince Guaraldi exemplifies the true spirit of the season in tone and dynamics.

Mixing elements of jazz and traditional caroling, Guaraldi’s compositions ease the audience into enthralling styles and rhythms. Amidst the phenomenal jazz tunes, the subtle inclusion of such tracks as “Christmas Time is Here” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” gives the audience the warm nostalgic memories of their first time watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” Even those who have not seen this classic will be able to appreciate this gem. It is by far one of the best Christmas albums of all time.

3. Album: Merry Christmas

Artist: Bing Crosby

Although often overplayed, Bing Crosby’s classic album continues to be one of the most heartwarming and nostalgic Christmas albums. Who can forget such memorable tracks such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland”?

It has a charm, wit, and an unusual amount of repeatability. Using Crosby’s memorable voice and charisma mixed with a classic 40s band vibe, “Merry Christmas” reminds its audience of the little joys of Christmas. With its warming memories of times gone by, Crosby’s album deserves to be overplayed.

4. Album: What a Wonderful Christmas

Artist: Louis Armstrong and Friends

Since this album is titled after him, one would expect Armstrong to be featured prevalently; however, his appearances are actually rather limited. Instead, this underrated gem is actually an anthology of several artists gathering together to express in their own unique style what Christmas means to them. Blending together pop and jazz, this album features some of the finest entertainers of the 1950s. Though not one of the highlights of Armstrong’s career, this Christmas album contains enough perks to make it worth a listen.

5. Album: Christmas

Artist: Michael Bublé

In the past few years, Michael Bublé has become a household name during the Christmas season. Bringing the style and sound of the swing era to a new generation, Bublé continues to bedazzle his listeners with familiar energy and allure in his recent Christmas album.

The beginning of the album resonates with excitement and vigor as Bublé places his own unique signature on American Christmas classics. However, at the end of the album, Bublé shows significant control as he draws his audience into more slow somber tones in titles like “Ave Maria.” Keeping the same basic arrangement of these classic tunes, Bublé puts his own influence and style into each song, making them his own and creating a fun and energetic Christmas album.

6. Album: Christmas Joy in Latvia

Artist: New York Latvian

Concert Choir

If you are looking for a more traditional sound this Christmas, this album is the ideal choice. Fully expressing the range and emotions of the season, the album hits the perfect pitch of depth and tranquility without losing the magical charm of the season. With its Baltic influence, the New York Latvian Concert Choir utilizes every aspect of its parts to unveil a truly magnificent whole. Each member gives a passionate performance, making this album feel huge in scope and range. Breathtakingly beautiful, this musical accomplishment deserves to be heard.

7. Album: Sleddin’ Hill

Artist: August Burns Red

Regardless of how you feel about their other work, this Christmas album is one of the most energetic and entertaining instrumental albums August Burns Red has produced. This is the Christmas album for those who despise traditional Christmas music.

Implementing expertly constructed drum patterns and tight guitar constructions, August Burns Red brings its listeners a fresh take on familiar Christmas tunes. Spanning a variety of genres, this unique album enthralls its audience with its immature shenanigans and yet still captivates the heart with its stunning compositions. Without a doubt the standout track on the album is their alluring take of the traditional classic “Carol of the Bells.”

8. Album: A Very She and Him Christmas

Artist: She and Him

This album is marked by simplicity. Make no mistake — the album is not simplistic in execution. Rather, the goal it has set for itself is simple: capture the emotions of listening to an old Christmas song from the past. Although not considered a Christmas classic, this gem of musical whims does its job well. Using some bright blues tones and soft tempos, She and He are able to weave together a sweet Christmas album that incorporates classic tunes with accessible melodies that any person can get into. The album is fun and charming without being too cheesy and naïve. Some of the best tracks on this album include “The Christmas Song,” which places a jazz guitar behind the familiar tune; and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which reverses the roles of the man and woman in a memorable upbeat pop Christmas song.

9. Album: Peace On Earth

 Artist: Casting Crowns

Due to my own personal preferences, I generally tend to stay away from contemporary Christian Christmas albums. However, this one is an exception. Each song swells with sincerity and zeal that unfortunately is lacking in much of the Christmas market. Starting off with an astonishing ballad that epitomizes the Christian heart of Christmas and ending with a beautiful instrumental rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Casting Crowns exemplifies their true marks of musical mastery. If nothing else, Casting Crowns puts genuine effort into producing a record that reminds its listeners what the true meaning of Christmas really is.

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