There’s that moment when you’re on the hunt for different versions of your favorite holiday standards. While no one can replace Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis, there are artists releasing their own vibe on music to decorate your tree and party with. Here are a few recent releases that will help you get in the seasonal mood.
Braxton Family Christmas – The Braxtons: All the sisters, including Toni, Tamar and even brother Michael lend their voices through old standards and a few new Christmas songs. Originally released in 2015 ‘Braxton Family Christmas’ is the type of album where you want to sing along or can be satisfied hearing velvet renditions of holiday classics. The cover song of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ and the original songs written for this album (‘Everyday is Christmas,’ ‘Blessed New Year,’ ‘Under My Christmas Tree’) make this an album worth owning. But it’s the acapella version of ‘O’Holy Night’ that makes you remember why the Braxton name has been in music over 25 years. The harmonies on this cut will have you listening to this song in the middle of April.
Christmas After Midnight – Fantasia: Winner of American Idol, Fantasia has an envious vocal range. In her entry into the holiday music arena her voice shines. Released in 2017, ‘Christmas After Midnight’ is a jazzy, blues tinged mix of standards and new tunes. You will have favorites. ‘Give Love on Christmas Day’ will have you remembering why the season is celebrated. There’s a plea for kindness. But ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ will make you tingle. A brass band, a cool guitar with a smooth piano will have you looking for a slow dance. Likewise with ‘What are you Doing New Year’s Eve?’ is seductive. These songs will remind you that holiday time is also for lovers. ‘Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto’ may sound like a threat instead, it’s fun and upbeat. ‘Silent Night’ has always been a tough Christmas carol to sing, but Fantasia does it right. There’s the appropriate amount of gravitas and soulfulness in the vocal arrangement to emphasize the spirit of the season. Still, rare for a holiday album, Fantasia has the standard ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.’ Best known as a Frank Sinatra standard, you may not think it fits here, but it’s the perfect balance of reflection and need we may all feel to have someone during this time of the year. Fantasia caps off her album with arguably the most recorded song in recent history, ‘Hallelujah.’ You haven’t heard this version with its saxophone and choir as background singers. Not to mention the acapella break towards the end of the song. You need no other rendition. It’s that good.
Christmas Everyday – Smokey Robinson: Finally there’s Smokey Robinson. One of the pioneering acts of Motown, Smokey has his newest entry into the Christmas music genre. Filled with standards, Smokey’s familiar voice will make you remember it’s the holiday time. The one on continuous loop would be ‘O Holy Night’ with Take Six.
Holiday music should make you feel good. It should give you memories of past Christmases alongside rocking and grooving with family and friends. These albums will help you with the new memories you’ll be creating this season. And perhaps be on the holiday rotation for years to come.