December 7, 2015

Classy Christmas

Christmas music is a family tradition in our home, and its on most days and into the night after Thanksgiving is over. Our collection covers a variety of styles, pop to R&B, country to jazz, vocals to instrumentals, sacred to secular. With family all around and music in the air, it's difficult to not thank God for His blessings- especially the gift of Jesus, the centerpiece of the holiday.

Let's take a look a some of the most beautiful Christmas album covers. While much of the year album art is meant to be eye catching and can be trendy or even garish, Christmas albums often are elegant and simple in their beauty. Here are a few favorites in alphabetical order and some comments on the music within.

Mary J. Blige guests on Andrea Bocelli's album for its centerpiece performance- the rich and delicate "What Child Is This?" What a gorgeous voice this man has. I first came to really appreciate it hearing him on Chris Botti's Italia album. 

Each decade seems to produce a most favored vocalist that listeners hear repeatedly on Christmas radio. In the new century, Michael Buble seems to rule the Christmas roost. His Christmas disc (deluxe edition) contains 19 tunes, covering a wide variety of styles but with an overall 40's crooner flair. There are many cuts to enjoy, all well done without a single stand out. Well rounded or just all excellently performed? Doe sit matter? Mr. Buble is probably the finest male vocalist of the decade. 

The first of two Christmas albums by the beloved duo Carpenters. This 1978 release was quite the surprise in one way as Christmas albums had long gone out of style. Karen Carpenter's voice is the voice of the holiday in our home, and the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas season officially begins once Karen sings "Frosted Window Panes"- the opening line from the gorgeous sweeping "Christmas Waltz". Richard's concept for this album comes from a Spike Jones' holiday disc. While Spike's disc is campy and tongue in cheek, while in comparison the Carpenters Christmas Portrait was traditional sounding and became an instant classic upon first listen. Although many have tried, no one, and I mean no one, sings "Merry Christmas Darling" like Karen. Bonus points for the striking, Norman Rockwell inspired album art. A very detailed look at each song on the disc can be found here.

Nat King Cole was the voice of Christmas in the 60's as much as Karen Carpenter was in the 70's. His version of Mel Torme's Christmas Song is still beautiful after 50 years. 

When it comes to pop radio and Christmas music, no one comes close to "owning" the holiday like Amy Grant. Last count, she has recorded six Christmas albums, with the rarest being "The Animal's Christmas" with Art Garfunkel. It's long out of print but a worthwhile find. Home For Christmas, album number 3, is Amy's most popular seasonal release. It includes the modern standard "Grown Up Christmas List" and a compelling version of another classic, Amy's penned "Breath of Heaven". Lovely. Looking for another instant classic but one less known? Check out Amy's album A Christmas to Remember, and listen to the incredible composition  "Christmas Lullaby".

Time for some country Christmas fun! No one delivers like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers on this classic Once Upon A Christmas disc. "The Greatest Gift of All" tops an excellent collection featuring buoyant performances and heartfelt lyrics. It's a family favorite from when our kids were little.

Perhaps there is a competition between Michael W. Smith and his long time friend Amy Grant to see who can release the most Christmas collections. I believe this disc is his fourth of now six or seven. This one is stuffed with original compositions and one traditional hymn, "What Child Is This?" A full orchestra joins him with the recording completed at the famous Abbey Road Studios.

A worship album for Christmas? It's a perfect fit! To quote a now fairly tired but still true cliche: Jesus is the Reason for the Season. His birth is celebrated by all who believe it was because of love that God sent his only son to die for the sin of all men who would choose to believe in Him and give their lives to Him. A god who loves his creation and set his son to die sacrificially for the devoted? A totally new idea compared to all other expressions of spirituality. And a perfect reason for worship! Chris Tomlin has written and performed some of the most loved church songs of this generation, and this album is full of a mix of old and new. "Silent Night" captures the heart of the season and why Christians celebrate. A beautiful collection for the faithful.

To end this post on classic Christmas album covers, the R&B field brigs us This is Christmas by Luther Vandross. An elegant take on the classic Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas stands above the rest of the disc. His voice is warm and the arrangements lovely. 

As you'd expect, this is just a slice of what's out there. My own collection includes great albums by Vince Gill, Al Jarreau, Reba, Boney James, Elliott Yamin, Donna Summer, Crystal Gayle, Marilyn McCoo and many more. Who is in your collection?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Karen Carpenter's voice is the voice of the holiday in our home, and the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas season officially begins once Karen sings "Frosted Window Panes"- the opening line from the gorgeous sweeping "Christmas Waltz"."

This is true in my house too :D Nice to know it's not just us!