• July 22, 2014

Season's best holiday music

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Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 4:30 am

This season’s biggest-selling Christmas albums are both reality-TV-connected. One comes from the original “American Idol” winner, and another, more improbably, is a spinoff from a cable series about a family of bearded duck hunters.

Both collections are represented in the playlist of recommended holiday music that follows, which gathers tunes traditional and nontraditional, sung by marquee names like Mary J. Blige and cult heroes such as Joe King Carrasco.

All the music that follows has either been initially released or reissued in 2013. So let the Christmas party begin:

1. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” by Nick Lowe. A chugging R&B cover of a 1973 tune written by Roy Wood of prog-rock band Wizzard. One of several standouts from veteran Brit pub-rocker Lowe’s lively and varied “Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family,” easily the single-artist Christmas album of the year.

2. “Underneath the Tree” by Kelly Clarkson. The original “AI” winner (way back in 2002) puts powerful pipes to work in lead single from “Wrapped in Red,” this year’s biggest-selling new holiday collection.

3. “Christmas Party” by Dr. Dog. Scott McMicken-sung good cheer from this Philadelphia indie band invites “sugar plum dancers and eggnog enhancers” to join in the holiday spirit. From the “Oh My Christmas Tree” EP.

4. “Tamale Christmas” Joe King Carrasco y El Molino. Polka-flavored romp from this Tex-Mex standardbearer, who prefers Mexican food to mince pie.

5. “Good King Wenceslas” by the Lilys. Psych-rock version of 19th-century carol by former Philadelphian Kurt Heasley, from the charming indie “Festivus 2” compilation, on Highline Records.

6. “That Christmasy Feeling” by Tommy and Johnny Cash. “For every little thing that’s goin’ wrong, Christmas makes it right.” A 1972 sibling duet on the new Johnny Cash reissue of “The Classic Christmas Album.”

7. “They Shined Up Rudolph’s Nose” by the David Mayfield Parade. Honky-tonk cover of Johnny Horton. On the “Paste Holiday Sampler 2013,” which can be downloaded free at noise trade.com/pastemagazine/paste-holiday-sampler-2013.

8. “Duck the Halls” by the Robertson Family. Duck calls instead of fa-la-las. I don’t know much about the A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty,” but I know a quality Christmas novelty when I hear it.

9. “Frosty Bounce” by Diplo, featuring Angger Dimas and Nicky Da B. Formerly local beatmaking wiz Diplo gets Christmas booties shaking with this short and sweet banger from “A Very Decent Christmas.”

10. “Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus” by George Jones & Tammy Wynette. The onetime first couple of country music put the kids to bed and get cozy. From the newly reissued “The Classic Christmas Album.”

11. “Winter Wonderland” by Emeli Sande. British vocalist turns in an elegantly understated version of a seasonal standard, from “The Best Man Holiday” soundtrack.

12. “Blue Christmas” by Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst sings the Elvis classic straight, from the excellent “A Christmas Album,” a 2012 fan club release only now available to regular punters.

13. “Christmas at the Food Bank” by Dodgy. Acoustic mood piece from this reinvigorated 1990s Brit power-pop band, also on “Paste Holiday Sampler.”

14. “The Christmas Boogie” by the Sweetback Sisters. This Brooklyn honky-tonk band unearths a 1954 hit by (unrelated) Davis Sisters Skeeter and Betty Jack. From “The Sweetback Sisters Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular.”

15. “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Johnny Mathis with Susan Boyle. Two easy-listening titans are better than one, though in a pinch, I’d still go for the Robert Goulet version. From the 78-year-old Mathis’ “Sending You a little Christmas.” He also appears on Boyle’s album “Home for Christmas.”

16. “Never Gonna Be Alone On Christmas” by Work Drugs. A soft-rock gem from Philadelphia smooth-groovers. Available at workdrugs.bandcamp.com.

17. “What Child” by Abi Reimold. Haunting electric guitar solo version of William Chatterton Dix’s 19th-century carol by Philadelphia singer. Available on the Z-Tapes label’s “The Christmas Collection” at ztapes.bandcamp.com.

18. “That Old Christmas Moon” by Leon Redbone. Oldtime swinger from “Putumayo Presents: Acoustic Christmas.”

19. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Bad Religion. Veteran California punks start off a cappella, then rev it into overdrive on lead cut for their CD “Christmas Songs.”

20. “Silent Night” by Brother Joe May. Commanding version by the late St. Louis gospel singer, who was known as the Thunderbolt of the Middle West. From the Tompkins Square label’s “I Heard the Angels Singing” boxed set.

21. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” by Joshua Bell & Alison Krauss. Lovely rendition of the trad English carol, from the violinist’s “Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell and Friends.”

22. “Hinel Ma Tov” by Abayudaya Congregation. African-Jewish sacred music sung by an Ethiopian youth choir. From Putumayo’s “A Jewish Celebration.”

23. “Petit Papa No‘l” by Mary J. Blige. Delicately rendered French Christmas song delivered by hip-hop soul queen, a standout on frequently overblown “A Mary Christmas.”

24. “White Christmas” by Bright Eyes. Gentle take on the Crosby standard, also on “A Christmas Album,” but sung nearly a cappella by Maria Taylor.

25. “Everything’s Changed at Christmas But You” by Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. Quietly moving love song from East Nashville singer. Available on iTunes and the “Paste Holiday Sampler.”

26. “Christmas Melody: Oh, Tannenbaum / Angels We Have Heard On High / Jingle Bells” by John Fahey. Tour de force picking from the genius guitarist (died 2001), included on the reissued beauty “Christmas Soli.”

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