It’s difficult to imagine the holiday season without music. Every year, dozens of CDs featuring Christmas carols and songs with a festive or wintry theme hit the shelves, with all genres represented. Some of my favourite holiday albums over the years have included James Brown’s funky Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag and Phil Spector’s Motown collection A Christmas Gift to You. There are always surprises, like the reggae-themed Natty Christmas or the decidedly downbeat jazz compilation Yule Be Miserable. There are few artists who haven’t felt compelled to don their gay apparel and trot out new versions of old favourites. Canadian stars, from Anne Murray to Michael Bublé, have all got into the act, and even Bob Dylan turned merry on us with 2009’s Christmas in the Heart.
This year, the bounty of holiday music continues with offerings ranging from pop, country and rockabilly to jazz, R&B and funk. Here are 10 of the most exciting releases.
Kylie Minogue – Kylie Christmas
This is a gift to Kylie fans everywhere. The Aussie pop princess sings Chris Martin’s “Every Day’s Like Christmas,” teams up with Iggy Pop on “Christmas Wrapping” and delivers a posthumous duet with Frank Sinatra on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
Sarah McLachlan – The Classic Christmas Album
This is an extended version of Sarah’s excellent Wintersong. Along with that album’s cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s sublime “Song for a Winter’s Night,” the new collection includes four tracks with Sarah’s youth choir and one new song.
The Braxtons – Braxton Family Christmas
Toni Braxton reunites to sing with all four of her sisters – Tamar, Towanda, Trina and Traci – on the family’s first holiday album. The gals perform Wham’s “Last Christmas” and lend their pipes to an a cappella version of “Oh Holy Night.”
LeAnn Rimes – Today is Christmas
LeAnn’s second festive album features seasonal classics and originals, including her own “I Still Believe in Christmas.” Her guest stars include Gavin DeGraw and soulman Aloe Blacc, who joins her on “The Spirit of Christmas.”
Frank Sinatra – Christmas
This 11-track collection from the Icon series belongs under every tree. Ol’ Blue Eyes delivers Yuletide favorites like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” is his distinctive croon, topped off by his lush rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Ella Fitzgerald – Christmas
There are few better sounds to hear at holiday time than Ella’s sweet, silvery voice. On this Icon collection, the First Lady of Jazz gets playful on “Frosty the Snowman” and her stately version of “O Come All Yet Faithful” will give you chills.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Rockin’ Rudolph
Christmas and rockabilly both come naturally to the former chief Stray Cat, who blends the two seamlessly on “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Best is the wild and swinging “Rockabilly Rudolph.”
Jann Arden – A Jann Arden Christmas
Jann’s is a great voice on this warm collection of seasonal favourites. Highlights include a twanging “Blue Christmas,” a bluesy “Please Come Home for Christmas” and a swinging “Rock Around the Christmas Tree.”
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Festive just got funky. Amy Winehouse’s former backing band delivers horn-heavy, syncopated versions of “Silent Night” and “Silver Bells” and offers a timely reminder to help the needy on “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects.”
Kenny Rogers – Once Again It’s Christmas
The country music hall of famer is as much a Yuletide staple as eggnog and mistletoe. On his latest seasonal offering, he teams up with Alison Krauss on “Some Children See Him” and gets warm and cozy with Jennifer Nettles on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
Plus, five of my must-listen holiday tunes: