Warm socks, a roaring fire, and good music can make all the difference in the wintry month of December. But what happens when our favorite socks get worn down and our classic music turns stale? Right about this time, the traditional holiday playlist starts to turn us into Scrooge rather than Santa, unless you are Stephanie Brehm. My wife can listen to holiday tunes ALL YEAR LONG. Fortunately for all of you, you needn't persist in a perpetual groundhog day. The following ten songs (and some comfy argyles) are just the ticket to put you in the spirit of the holidays and welcome Jacob Marley with open arms.
10.) White Winter Hymnal – Pentatonix
The Platinum selling, Grammy winning, a capella group from Arlington, Texas stormed onto the music scene in 2011 and released That's Christmas to Me in 2014. To date, it is the best charting group holiday album since 1962. The surprise smash single from the album was written by Robin Pecknold from the band Fleet Foxes in 2008, and now many consider White Winter Hymnal a modern holiday classic.
9.) Baby It's Cold Outside (featuring Meghan Trainor) – Brett Eldredge
Country singer Brett Eldredge's GLOW album might turn a few heads this holiday season. For starters, it is not a country album. The good news? Eldredge holds his own in territory more familiar to Dean Martin than George Strait. Recorded in New York City, Glow showcases a new side of the singer with arrangements jam packed with horns and strings. Baby It's Cold Outside is the album's only duet, featuring Meghan Trainor, and it happened purely by coincidence. Each year People magazine holds a 'People to Watch' party, and after meeting, the two Nashville hipsters quickly became friends. Brett communicated his intentions for a jazzy Christmas album and was overjoyed when Meghan agreed to participate. Her distinct vocal approach gives the tune a modern yet retro feel. Let's hope Brett's country fan base gives the album a glowing reception as well.
*There are plenty of modern takes on this tune, so you might also appreciate Idina Menzel and Michael Buble's version, or She and Him's version, and of course who can forget the Lady Gaga and The Muppets holiday spectacular pairing Lady Gaga with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Speaking of The Muppets...
8.) All I Need is Love (featuring The Muppets) – Ceelo Green
All I Need is Love is an original song from Ceelo Green's fourth studio album entitled Ceelo's Magic Moment Christmas album. Green and his new pals, the Muppets, supported the song with several live performances on Good Morning America, Christmas in Rockefeller Center, and The Voice. Just in case you didn't know, there's a new muppet in town.
7.) You're Here – Francesca Battistelli
Battistelli's gem of an album, simply titled Christmas, features several traditional Christmas tunes arranged in her own inimitable style and choosing one over the other is nearly impossible. You're Here is one of the few original songs on the album, written by Battistelli and songwriting partner Ben Glover. Like Amy Grant's classic "Breath of Heaven," Battistelli sings this beautiful worship anthem from young Mary's perspective. The lyrics are winsome, poignant, and thoroughly engaging. Battistelli recorded the bulk of Christmas with simple acoustic guitar, piano, and just a hint of drums. And she did it while 8 months pregnant.
6.) Present Without a Bow (featuring Leon Bridges) – Kacey Musgraves
This whimsical throwback tune features a 50's doo-whop vibe, clean, electric rhythm guitars, and a charming opening riff played on an accordion. The intro sets the table for Musgraves clever and musical lyrics. Her co-writer and vocal partner (fellow Texan, Leon Bridges), lends a bluesy and soulful touch to Present Without a Bow. The song is all the better for it. If you like surprises during the holiday season (and I do), this unexpected pairing is most welcome. Both Bridges and Musgraves have well-documented songwriting skills and vocal stylings, but their collaboration here helps the song stand apart from other country artist Christmas songs. During the recent promotional tour for her A Very Kacey Christmas album, Musgraves appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Her ensuing performance turned out to be a bright and shiny present to us all...speaking of Jimmy Fallon...
5.) All I Want For Christmas is You (w/ Classroom Instruments) – Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey & The Roots
Are you ready for a big fat dose of Christmas kitsch? Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots (Jimmy's world class Tonight Show band) reinvented Mariah's (relatively) modern Christmas classic All I Want For Christmas Is You using only instruments found in your basic elementary school classroom. This viral video has it all, starting with Mariah's Diva-esque entrance, Jimmy's surprising sense of rhythm, and Questlove's one-of-a-kind pick for instrumentation.
4.) I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day – Echosmith
Recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, the quartet of siblings that are Echosmith whipped this Christmas classic into shape. If your holiday playlist has been missing a bit of contemporary rock, look no further. Echosmith unapologetically turns it up to eleven and ultimately makes us all cool kids for listening.
3.) Christmas Wish – She & Him
The proudly old-fashioned duo She & Him write appealingly homemade indie-rock that feature Zoey Deschanel's smoky vocals and M. Ward's crafty guitar playing. The hipster duo covered several Christmas classics on their new "Christmas Party" album, but their rendition of Winter Wonderland really went to the dogs...literally. Check out the video! Their original tune Christmas Wish makes a better case for yuletide longevity and constructive Christmas Memories.
2.) Carol of The Bells - The Bird and The Bee
The Bird (Inara George) and The Bee (Greg Kurstin) are a Los Angeles-based songwriting duo who each have an affinity for jazz-influenced electropop. Their eclectic approach creates its own unique sound, even when they are covering classics. They may not be a household name just yet, but The Bird and The Bee are not exactly new to the music scene. If you passed through a Starbucks during the holidays in 2008 there is a good chance you have already heard their version of Carol of the Bells. It was on heavy rotation that year and should be on heavy rotation every year if you ask me. Check out their tribute album to Hall & Oates for more musical treats from this dynamic duo.
1.) Noel (featuring Lauren Daigle) – Chris Tomlin
Noel (featuring Lauren Daigle) is one of the more powerful tunes from Chris Tomlin's Christmas Songs of Worship (Live) album, and that is saying a lot. Every song on the album is nearly perfect, but something extra special happened on Noel. Chris' band appropriately got out of Lauren Daigle's way as she delivered a tour-de-force vocal clinic. At the same time, the keys were beautifully delicate, the string arrangement smooth and compact, and the sound engineers made the acoustics in the room vibrate in all the right ways.
Our honorable mentions start with the Texas duo Shane and Shane who brought new life to the timeless classic O Holy Night. Next, comes The Shins take on Paul McCartney's classic Wonderful Christmastime, and finally Lindsey Sterling's rendition of Hallelujah.
By the way, if you're still thinking about the warm socks, Pinterest has got you covered here.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
David Lee Brehm