We have a few more days before we put the Christmas music CDs back in the bin and slide them back under the bed, so why not indulge in one final rush of holiday musical merriment?
As much fun as it is to prepare my fictional Holiday Music Hall of Fame, it does favor older recordings: The most recent recording on the list is one of this year’s honorees, Joni Mitchell’s “River,” and that will be 50 years old in 2021. (That makes me feel old.) This allows sufficient time to see if these recordings can withstand the test of time – but it does mean that I give short shrift to music that was made after, say, my adult children were born. (Adult children? That makes me feel old, too.)
To offer amends, I spent time this year listening to holiday music released in 2020 – and have prepared an end-of-year playlist of some of the songs that caught my ear. Here’s a link to the playlist on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/2KxRWbf
Here are some annotations for the playlist:
The singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor kicks it off with a pair of tracks, including one featuring Earth, Wind & Fire. The rock band The Goo Goo Dolls follows up with a big band-influenced song, “You Ain’t Getting Nothin.’” The young country duo Maddie & Tae offers a song about a newlywed couple’s first Christmas together; consider it a prequel to “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus,” the great 1980 track from George Jones and Tammy Wynette (which is included in the playlist, even though it’s 40 years old). Maddie & Tae show up later on the playlist with a cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that captures something of the desolation of that song – and I mean that as praise.
Dolly Parton shows up in a couple of duets, a sprightly one with Michael Buble and, later, a devastating cover of “Pretty Paper,” the Willie Nelson weeper, with Willie joining the, um, festivities. A fun Spanish-language version of “Rodolfo El Reno” is followed by two jazz tracks: vibraphonist Warren Wolf covers “O Christmas Tree” and the 3D Jazz Trio (3D stands for “Three Divas”) romps through “Winter Wonderland.”
The Bird and the Bee, a pop duo, offer a slick retro version of “Sleigh Ride” and then invite Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters and Nirvana) to play drums on “The Little Drummer Boy.” Grohl figures that if he’s going to play for the newborn Christ, there’s no point in playing softly. The R&B singer JoJo adds a catchy new song, “December Baby,” and an upbeat take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Another R&B singer, Tinashe, follows up with a very different “Merry Little Christmas” and adds an atmospheric “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
Let’s slow things down right now: The next section includes a couple of tracks from Barnaby Bright, a husband-and-wife duo, including “Star-Crossed Christmas,” with a Beach Boys vibe. Karla Bonoff, with her Laurel Canyon credentials, adds a fine cover of “River.” The father-daughter duo Mat and Savanna Shaw check in with an irony-free “Mary, Did You Know?” “American Idol” alum Jordin Sparks teams up with Matt Bloyd for “A Baby Changes Everything,” which maybe goes a little bit over the top. The pianist Chilly Gonzales and singers Jarvis Cocker and Feist offer the downbeat “Snow is Falling in Manhattan.” The Mexican quartet Fuerza Regida checks in with a cover of the mournful “Cada Diciembre.”
Let’s bring it home with some upbeat tunes: Atlanta-based Love Renaissance, with singer Summer Walker, has a new take on “Santa Baby.” “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. delivers a snazzy new holiday song, “Snow.” The R&B singer Cory Henry has a joyous new song, “Christmas With You.” It looks like someone snuck in that new live version of Mariah Carey’s “Oh Santa!,” with Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande, which goes way over the top. And the multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird carries us to New Year’s Eve with a Western-swing infused “Auld Lang Syne.”
Will any of these tracks make the Holiday Music Hall of Fame in a quarter-century or so? Probably not – but, in the meantime, here’s hoping that these songs bring you a last blast of holiday cheer for 2020. See you next year.
And here’s a link to the playlist again: http://spoti.fi/2KxRWbf