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Monday, December 4, 2006

Favorite Christmas CDs.

Christmas CarolsI've loved "Yule B' Swingin' Too" — loved it as much as "Jingle Bell Jam," in fact —†and so I thought its predecessor "Yule B' Swingin'" would be even better. Whoa, Dasher! Two stars. I should have picked up Verve's "Very Best of Christmas Jazz." [Later: Yeah, the Verve CD is much better.]

As for classical Christmas albums, here are my two favorites (in addition to Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah, of course): the extremely satisfying a cappella "Traditional & Modern Carols" featuring the Pro Arte Singers (with "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" and a marvelous Shaker hymn, "Give Good Gifts," that ought to be revived for congregational singing) and its rival for my all-time favorite Christmas CD, "Christmas Carols" with the Choir of Westminster Abbey (featuring a thrilling modern setting of the 16th-century "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day").

Mrs Philocrites just picked up the Blind Boys of Alabama's "Go Tell It On the Mountain," on which Tom Waits helps sing the title track and "Away in a Manger" is transformed (appropriately) into a blues song. I wish a few of the guest singers had stayed home, though. (The Blind Boys' version of Waits's "Jesus Gonna Be Here," on "Spirit of the Century," is awesome, however. That's a must-have disc.)

What are your favorite holiday albums?

(Originally published December 5, 2004. Purchases through Amazon help support this site.)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 4 December 2006 at 8:06 AM

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December 5, 2004 09:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Mrs Philocrites wishes to point out that her all-time favorite Christmas album ó the album that sounds like Christmas itself ó is Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song." We put up our Christmas tree last night while listening to it.


December 6, 2004 12:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

Oooh! "Dancing Day" is a particular favorite -- thanks for the rec.

I don't consider myself sufficiently versed in holiday albums to have favorites, but ones I've enjoyed include the Baltimore Consort's Bright Day Star and the Klezmonauts' Oy to the World. Other tracks that stand out: Paul Zim and a group of children singing "Mi Y'malel"; John Denver and Scooter singing "The Peace of Christmas Day"; the Roches' a capella rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus; Ben Heppner and the Toronto Children's Chorus singing "The Kings" (an arrangement combining "Three Kings from Persian lands afar" with the chorale many people know as "How brightly shines the morning star").. .

Oh! and if you'll forgive a bit of shameless quasi-self-promotion, Jason's CD (on which I sing) just went to press, and it's got a killer rendition of "Behold That Star," so that's going to become a favorite as soon as I get my copy. :-)


December 6, 2004 09:28 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Roches: "We Three Kings." My brother dubbed this onto tape for me years ago; I've never listened to another Roches album. Took me a while to get used to, but, eh, what else is time for?

"Season's Greetings" by Perry Como. Deep, deep childhood Christmastime assocations. Was delighted to find it out on CD a few years and immediately scarfed up copies for all my siblings.

Purists may sneer, I don't know (not many purists in my circle, Deo gratias), but I'm also inordinately fond of George Winston's "December." Especially his take on Pachelbel's Canon -- love the way it starts out so stately, then successively halves the... the rhythm? is that the word? (IANAM.)

Bob Smietana:

December 6, 2004 01:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

Christmas by Bruce Cockburn, though it doesn't have "Cry of a tiny baby," from "Nothing But a Burning Light."


December 6, 2004 01:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

I heard on the radio a magical thing (if you happen to be a recovering Heavy Metallurgist). It was "Silver Bells" as rendered by a group calling themselves the "Trans-Siberian Railroad." Rumor has it that they are members of the influential metal group, "Savatage." What a relief to fans of their work (I highly reccomend "Hall of the Mountain King" for its sheer earth-shaking volume and its D&D motif). No, seriously, it rocked...


December 6, 2004 02:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Terribly prosaic, I know, but it isn't Christmas without Messiah. Now that I'm no longer a performer I plan to take in one of the sing-a-longs in the area.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

December 6, 2004 07:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

I love Christmas music and I listen to it during many times of the year besides Christmas--whenever I'm in need of a lift, in fact.

Jane Siberry's 2cd set, Child, is a favorite: live performance in an intimate club setting, contemporary exporations of old carols, fun sing-alongs, and even some klezmer!

I like the Revels Christmas recordings and long to see a live Revel someday.

And no first snowfall in December should occur without me screeching along with Kate Bush's December Will be Magic.

Hey, maybe someone can help me find a Christmas Song! I think it was called "Cradle Song for the Christ Child" by Peter Skullthorpe (?) and it has haunted me for years.

Paul Sawyer:

December 7, 2004 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

I will add my seconds to Bruce Cockburn, and to The Roches, We Three Kings, and their "Hallelujah Chorus" which is actually on their album Keep On Doing.

And I will add Noel by Joan Baez, including my favorite, her version of "Cantiqe de Noel" (O Holy Night) en Francais;

and three albums that are great for background party music: Chant Noel by the Benedictine Monks who make those albums, A Thistle & Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh, and the ultimate background album, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Plus Philocrites folk might enjoy : "Christmas in the Ashram" by Chris Rosser, which you can check out on itunes, and probably other places as well.


December 7, 2004 03:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

My very favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special, and I also love Ella Fitzgerald's A Very Swinging Christmas. For classical, I enjoy Britton's Ceremony of Carols.


December 8, 2004 10:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

Chanticleer's Christmas album, Sing We Christmas, is also quite wonderful, including a spine tingling piece by John Tavener (who's an English convert to Orthodoxy, and so his music has lots of nice Greek and Russian elements, within an English choral rubric).

A Progressive Christian:

December 8, 2004 11:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good News by Kathy Mattea. I am not a country music fan, which seems to be her genre outside of this album, but this album is extremely moving and spiritual.


December 4, 2006 09:23 AM | Permalink for this comment

OK, this isn't a Christmas album, but given your taste for reworked Christmas songs, I think you might like this.



December 4, 2006 09:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

I was recently browsing in the local record shop and noticed Sufjan Stevens has released an album of Christmas songs. Anybody know if it is any good?

Kevin M:

December 4, 2006 09:41 AM | Permalink for this comment

My all time favorite is "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-D.M.C., although Weird Al's charming yuletide apocalyptic fantasy "Christmas at Ground Zero" always gets a spin this time of year, and Fishbone's "It's A Wonderful Life" Christmas EP (inexplicably awarded a meager two stars by the scrooges at the All Music Guide) deserves special mention for "Slick Nick, You Devil You:"

Cussin' and coppin' and playin' punk rock
And every once in a while you'd just scratch your jock
Hey Slick Nick, where are my toys?
You went drinking with the boys
You put Mad Dog in my sock
I wanted candy
I wanted candy

But I'm most excited by Sufjan Stevens' new Christmas album, which I haven't heard yet. In indie rock circles, earnest sentimentality is the new cool, and nobody does it like Sufjan. I can taste the egg nog just thinking about it.


December 4, 2006 10:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have two recordings of the Messiah: one by the Boston Baroque under Martin Pearlman and one by the Atlanta Symphony under Famous UU Robert Shaw. They're both great. Shaw uses a full-orchestra score with large choir, while Pearlman tries to re-create one of the earliest performances with a smaller, chamber score.

I have two Renaissance Christmas albums by the Waverly Consort that I enjoy very much.

One of my very favorites in my collection is an old LP of German carols sung by the Bielefelder Kinderchor. (Chip Davis and the Mannheim Steamroller used the Bielefelder Kinderchor on a recent Christmas CD, and I do have that and a few other Mannheim Steamroller CDs, but I think they are over-produced.) I just Googled, and it looks as though they may have reissued it on CD.

I have a sublime 2 CD collection of carols sung by the Kings College Chapel Choir under David Willcocks.

I'm still waiting for the perfect recording of my favorite medieval carol, "Gabriel, fram Heven-King". So far, the best is on "On Yoolis Night" by the Anonymous 4.

Something by the Boston Pops is a must. I have their "Sleighride" CD.

I'll seconf FlJerseyBoy's recommendation of George Winston.

Mrs. Fausto and Mrs. Philo sound like birds of a feather. Mrs. F would play Johnny Mathis' Christmas album nonstop for a month if she could. She's also got Bing Crosby's and Nat King Cole's and Andy Williams's. For those of us in the early-to-mid baby boom age cohort, at least, these are the staples of our childhood Christmas memories.

And then, of course, there are always the Whiffenpoofs. Gotta mention the Whiffenpoofs.


December 4, 2006 11:37 AM | Permalink for this comment

There's a great carol in the Quaker hymnal entitled "Christmas Morning", which is so UU in nature that I always have my congregations sing it on Christmas Eve.

The chorus goes: He's man and he's woman, he's old and he's young, he's Buddhist and Christian and Jew. She's wealthy, she's poor and she's black and she's white, and oh, yes, the Christ Child is you.

I know, I know, it's not an album and it's entirely possible it's never been recorded anywhere but it's my favorite carol.


December 4, 2006 12:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Here Sufjan Stevens' "Songs for Christmas", which I'm sure Mrs Philocrites will be wanting as soon as she hears of it.

Thanks for reminding me about "On Yoolis Night", Fausto! That's another one Mrs P loves. I must remember to load it into iTunes.


December 4, 2006 02:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

PeaceBang has a great story about her favorite Christmas album -- and invites readers to tell stories about the best or worst Christmas gifts ever.

Charlie Talbert:

December 4, 2006 04:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Waverly Consort performs an especially reverent version of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, how a rose e'er blooming). Thereís this calming and simple lead-in with some kind of medieval-sounding instrument of bells. A pause. Then come those beautifully harmonized a cappella voices that can give you goose bumps.

The Academy of Ancient Music with Christopher Hogwood recorded a version of Handelís Messiah thatís performed with the instruments and small choir that the composer reportedly intended for it. Modest and majestic.


December 4, 2006 09:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

We decorated our Christmas tree to the tunes of Bob Rivers' Twisted Christmas Carols...

We also love Trans Siberian Orchestra "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" and "The Christmas Attic" and "The Lost Christmas Eve".

Douglas LeBlanc:

December 5, 2006 12:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I join Bob and Paul in praising Cockburn's Christmas [iTunes links], which always places me in the right mood. From the rollicking opener, "Early on One Christmas Morn," to his one original song for the album, "Shepherds," Cockburn delivers it all with passion.

A few favorite singles: "Joy to the World," early Beatles-style, by The Butties; "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by U2; and "Blue Christmas" by Elvis.

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