We could all use the cheering up, right?
A less crappy year than 2020′ isn’t saying much but that’s what 2021 is, and congrats to you for making it to the end of it.
As usual, we celebrate December with get-togethers and emptying our wallets for the sake of retail stores and our family/friends, all to the tune of the same horrible music that we get to hear again and again. Luckily though, other than the aural trash that we have to endure in the shops as we look around, some artists have been thoughtful enough to provide us with some decent new holiday music, ranging from outlaw country to free jazz to blues rock to big band, along with some really old school singers.
And, Adam Sandler be damned, there was even some good Hanukkah music this time out.
Bad Bad Hats “Sally Sweet Tooth”
Culled from this Twin City indie band’s Patreon page last year, singer Kerry Alexander imagines a new holiday heroine who’s ‘sweet and sassy’ and not to be messed with. Autobiographical perhaps…?
The Beaumonts Christmas At the Beaumonts’ House
These Lubbock country jokers don’t have the happiest holiday: Santa passes them over for snorting up blow and then gets into a raucous fight with the Son O’ God. No spoilers about who comes out on top.
Busy Signal “Face Long Dung”
VIDEO: Busy Signal “Face Long Dong”
Jamaican dancehall Christmas with “Joy to the World” seems like the right place for some cautionary words for gangstas.
Disco People It’s Snowing In Key West
The Village People are alive and well at the bottom of Florida!
Kat Edmonson Holiday Swingin’! (A Kat Edmonson Christmas Vol. 1)
VIDEO: Kat Edmonson “Jingle Bell Rock”
This DIY ‘vintage pop’ singer and Broadway star dusts off ye olde holiday oldies in a sweet low key way that’s so appealing.
Kelly Finnigan A Joyful Sound
AUDIO: Kelly Finnigan A Joyful Sound (full album)
Actually a November 2020 release from the Monophonics singer, this neo-soul 70s style release was overlooked and deserves some props.
Billy Gibbons “Jingle Bell Blues“
AUDIO: Billy F. Gibbons “Jingle Bell Blues”
ZZ Top front man’s simmering blues rock.
Hamell On Trial “Jaime Nicole”
Surprisingly sweet heartbroken song from this NYC singer-songwriter jokester.
Hesitation “The Last Christmas”
A wonderfully odd little record where the holiday regulars are heard via low key synths and acoustic guitar
Hiss Golden Messenger “O Come All Ye Faithful”
Downhome country-soul that deftly layers guitar, keyboards & voices. Also note how he keeps drops the Son O’ God’s name to a whisper on “O Come All Ye Faithful” and throws Spiritualized, Woody Guthrie and Creedence into the mix.
Andreas Ihlebæk “A Northern Christmas“
VIDEO: Andreas Ihlebæk “A Northern Christmas“
Some lovely solo piano to evoke snow fall, ice skating and all the cozy things you like about the holiday.
The ultimate anti-corporate indie-punk label offers up a 2nd serving of holiday music, much of it actually not at punk speed, but instead more calmer, sweeter than you’d expect, plus some ace covers of Big Star, Tom Waits, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the late KRS label star Elliot Smith.
A.Y. Lee Christmas Madness: The EP (Deluxe)
AUDIO: A.Y. Lee “This Christmas”
Expanding on his 2020 holiday song, this North Carolina singer creates a quiet storm around Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.”
Jeremiah Lockwood “A Great Miracle”
A beautiful fusion of Jewish tradition, John Fahey guitar, Eastern modalities and Piedmont blues from the Sway Machinery leader. Kosher indeed.
The Knights The Knights Before Christmas
Normally, from an NYC chamber group, you’d expect something stuffy but with the punny title, you know it ain’t all highbrow. Yep, they do serve up a classical feast but with a dash of Spanish culture, Chinese culture and the Artist Who Will Always Be Known As Prince (and who is welcome ANY holiday).
Ann-Margaret “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree“
AUDIO: Ann-Margaret “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
Now 80 years young, this Hollywood bombshell who once rocked Elvis’ world now vamps up a holiday class alongside Sonny Landreth’s slide guitar. And good for her- she’s doesn’t overplay the sultry angle.
JD McPherson – “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy”
VIDEO: JD McPherson “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy”
A long overdue video for this 2018 song but the holiday season is a great reason to dust this off. Even if JD doesn’t find much cheer in his four girlfriends here in the hilarious video, we can enjoy the doo-wop meets rockabilly sound.
John Mark Nelson, Tancred, Jenny Owen Youngs “Fireside Holiday”
Supergroups don’t have to bowl you over and this indie trio proves it with this charming, sweet song for winter.
Pistol Annies Hell of a Holiday
OK, so sometimes, supergroups CAN bowl you over. The country trio’s fourth album has them bracing for holiday fights, dreaming of a romance in a snow globe, crushing on Santa, covering a great hard-luck Merle song and they take “Sleigh Ride’ back to the land of girl groups, where it belongs.
Amanda Shires “Gone for Christmas (feat. The McCrary Sisters)”
VIDEO: Amanda Shires “Gone For Christmas”
And yes, another supergroup refugee (The Highwomen with Brandi Carlile) has her say. The country singer wants a boat, a swing, a radio station and to grow a few inches but most of all.. she wants her lousy guy out of her life.She saws a mean fiddle too.
Six13 “West Side Chanukah Story”
VIDEO: Six13 “West Side Chanukah Story”
If you’re excited about the Steven Spielberg revival, you should also hear the famous musical done by these six other nice Jewish boys, who have a cute sense of humor about their heritage and manage to keep their clipped-on yarmulkes straight as they do their Tic-Toc inspired dance moves.
Surfbort “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”
A wonderfully shambling affair from these NYC punks and an appropriately NSFW video. Tune’s overdue for a revival too.
Sweet Meg “Santa Baby”
VIDEO: Sweet Meg “Santa Baby”
Even if you’ve heard more than enough takes of this sultry classic, this NYC/Nashville singer wisely delivers it without too much sleaze and instead digs into her jazzy roots.
Stevie Tombstone “Christmas On Red River”
A sweet, lonesome country tune traces heartache, break-up and losing the TV and money from the icebox. This Atlanta crooner also speculates about his former sweetie spreading Xmas cheer all over the bars in town with everyone else.
The publicity company offers up an odd, multi-national celebration with various levels of revelry and reverence, including Too Much Joy, Tav Falco, horny chillwave, avant minimalism, psych-punk and even the return of the singer from Cutting Crew (you couldn’t wait, right?), all in a free download.
Mars Williams An Ayler Xmas Vol. 5
The Psychedelic Furs’ longtime sax player digs back at his jazz roots, again saluting Albert Ayler and mashing up his tunes with secular and non-secular holiday songs for raucous fun. More details in this New York City Jazz Record interview I did with him recently.
RUNNER’S UP IN THE CHRISTMAS PAGENT
Not exactly my cup of eggnog but these are also pretty good entries, maybe worth checking out- at the very least, they’re nowhere near the nauseating, overly-earnest tripe that Pentatonix, Kelly Clarkson and Steve Perry shared with us (no links for those- go search ’em out if you must).
- Nat King Cole A Sentimental Christmas With Nat King Cole And Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined (stick with the original version, without the newly added duets)
- Engelbert Humperdinck “Blue Christmas” (yes, the old warhorse lives and sounds fine with some country twang)
- Norah Jones I Dream of Christmas
- G. Love & Special Sauce Coming Back Home For Christmas
- New Found Glory December’s Here
- Leslie West “Silent Night” (revived from a 2015 compilation and worth revisiting the late guitar legend)
UGLY HOLIDAY SWEATER DIVISION
- Billy Idol Happy Holidays (reissue of his 2016 album and truly bizarre since he really gets into the spirit of things)
For y’all that were good and not naughty, we also have a Spotify playlist of the goodies above.