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The best Holiday music releases for the 2021 season

Goldmine contributor Gillian G. Gaar gives her annual holiday music recommendations.

By Gillian G. Gaar

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It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one spin of A Charlie Brown Christmas, music from the classic cartoon TV special, as performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This year, Craft Recordings is releasing two special editions of the album, on green or white vinyl, packaged in a new silver foil sleeve, along with a silver cassette edition. It’s the first time in decades this soundtrack has been available in the latter format … also from Craft is Christmas with Ronnie Milsap, the country star’s only holiday album. Originally released in 1986, it’s long been out of print. The centerpiece is a medley of “Carol of the Bells”/“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”/“Silent Night”/“Joy to the World.” Plus originals like “It’s Just Not Christmas (If I Can’t Spend It With You)” and a spoken message about keeping the seasonal spirit alive all through the year in “Christmas Thoughts.”

Did you know the music of Blondie’s hit “Rapture” also provided the backdrop for a Christmas tune? A slower take of the song was used for “Yuletide Throwdown,” featuring holiday-themed vocals from both Debbie Harry and Fab Five Freddy, and only released on a holiday flexi-disc in 1981. Now it’s been reissued on a 3-track EP (on UMe-Capitol/Numero Group) on black or magenta vinyl, as well as digitally. The release has the original track, a remix, and a radio edit.

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A Sentimental Christmas with Nat “King” Cole and Friends: Cole Classics Reimagined (Capitol) takes Cole’s classic vocals and drops them into new musical arrangements, with the occasional duet vocal. So it’s John Legend you’ll hear accompanying Cole on the timeless “The Christmas Song” and Johnny Mathis on the lively opening medley “Deck the Halls”/“Joy to the World.” There’s some solo Cole, too (the heartbreaking “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”), and a few standards (“The Very Thought of You”) to round things out.

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The Great Miracle: Jeremiah Lockwood’s Guitar Soli Chanukah Record (Reboot Records) is the guitarist’s celebration of the Jewish holiday. The album features eight instrumental songs — one for each night of the “Festival of Lights” — beautifully played by Lockwood on solo guitar. From the solemnity of “Ritual” to the foot-tapping “Little Dreydl,” it’s a fine accompaniment for your festivities.

Cliff Beach describes his music as “Nu-funk,” an engaging blend of funk, jazz, and soul. Turns out it’s a style that goes well with holiday music, making Beach’s Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (California Soul Music) an entertaining collection. Beach has fun with “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” glides through “Zat You Santa Claus,” and turns in the bluesiest “Merry Christmas Baby” you’ll hear this year … NOW That’s What I Call Music! Christmas Classics (NOW) is the perfect compilation for those with a taste for holiday tunes that never go out of style: Gene Autry’s “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” — you get the idea.

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And speaking of classics, Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (Verve/UMe) is back, part of the label’s Acoustic Sounds Series, on 180-gram vinyl. Ella delivers sublime renditions of favorites like “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” A 12-track LP you’ll definitely wish was longer … Winter Carols (earMUSIC) by Blackmore’s Night (that would be Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night) returns in a remastered and expanded edition. New to the release is a lovely version of “Coventry Carol,” a haunting melody dating back to the 16th century (this version features new lyrics). There’s a modern folk feeling to the album, which focuses on traditional carols like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslas.” Plus their single “Christmas Eve” and live tracks … pianist Duke Pearson’s Merry Ole Soul (Blue Note/UMe), first issued in 1969, is a terrific jazz-influenced cruise through the holiday season, an instrumental album featuring the stellar talents of Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums), and Airto Moreira (percussion), who was busy recording tracks for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew at the same time. “Sleigh Ride” gets top honors here, along with “Jingle Bells.” Available on 180-gram vinyl … Real Gone Music: it’s the first CD release of Merry Christmas, Baby, an excellent collection of R&B holiday classics. Such as Charles Brown’s original version of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” Lowell Fulson’s “Lonesome Christmas (Parts 1 & 2),” “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by Mabel Scott, and other good stuff. Highly recommended.

VARIOUS ARTISTS 'DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!' (above) is another popular "Grinch" soundtrack album on vinyl.

VARIOUS ARTISTS 'DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!' (above) is another popular "Grinch" soundtrack album on vinyl.

If you missed picking up the label’s previous reissues of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Home Alone Christmas or Cyndi Lauper’s Merry Christmas…Have a Nice Life!, they’re back in assorted colored vinyl editions: red and white “Santy Suit” swirl vinyl (Grinch), red and green “Christmas Party” swirl vinyl (Home Alone), and red and white “Candy Cane” swirl vinyl (Lauper) … and speaking of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” Mick Kolassa gives his own spin to the number on Uncle Mick’s Christmas Album (Endless Blues Records). This is an album steeped in Memphis blues; indeed, “Beale Street Christmas Jam” will conjure up visions of a Christmas table laden with fried catfish and pulled pork sammiches. Highlights include “Frosty the Snowman” and a great romp through “Christmas Morning Blues” … Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album was Bennett’s first holiday album, reissued by Columbia/Legacy in vinyl and digital editions — the first time the record has been available on vinyl since its original release in 1968 (the original cover art has also been restored). It’s newly remixed as well, so it sounds better than ever. Aside from a medley of carols, this is a collection of modern seasonal classics, including a nice medley of “I Love the Winter Weather”/“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and a heartfelt “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” And the same to all of you.

  

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