2016 Holiday Album Roundup
HiFi puts the spotlight on the holiday album releases of 2016
It’s the holiday season, with the whoop-de-do and hickory dock, don’t forget to…check out this year’s guide to the holiday albums released in 2016. There’s plenty to go around. Some are Ho-ho-GO‘s and others are Ho-ho-NO‘s. We have the rundown.
And be sure to check back here in the next few days. More listings are in the pipeline.
INSIDE 2016 HOLIDAY ALBUM ROUNDUP:
Andra Day — Merry Christmas From Andra Day
She & Him — Christmas Party
Kasey Musgraves — A Very Kacey Christmas
R Kelly — 12 Nights of Christmas
A five-song EP with very little to show. The carols are muted down to a cozy crawl, with the “Rise Up” singer using her jazz-inflected melisma and Amy Winehouse flower-power throughout the journey. Her duet with idol Stevie Wonder on “Someday at Christmas” is the greatest reward here. Fans of Day will find this a good souvenir addition, but there’s nothing seriously organic and original here. Just a bunch of stripped-down holiday caroling on some of the most recycled hymns of Christmas time (“The First Noel,” “Carol of the Bells”).
She & Him
This isn’t the first time producer-singer pair She & Him have touched the tinsel and garland. Their first holiday affair, 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas, swayed like a Elvis-meets-cozy Playboy jazz affair. On this volume, they reminisce on that nostalgic formula. Not everything works: Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas” feels like a last-minute shopping shuffle marred with uninspired acoustic gift wrapping; the lackluster lead and supporting vocals on the mariachi-spiced “Must Be Santa” isn’t any better. But what satisfies the ear are the warm Nashvilian voyages heard on “Let It Snow,” the harmonious “Winter Wonderland” and the lullaby-like “Happy Holiday.” Even the Chuck Berry classic “Run Run Rudolph” sounds like a throwback 45 rescued by jukebox purists. Tossing in a few holiday oddities (“A Marshmellow World,” the Hawaiian favorite “Mele Kalikimaka”) doesn’t hurt the overall package. It’s not as prestige as A Very She & Him Christmas, but serves as a decent follow-up.
A Very Kacey Christmas
Attention-grabbing traditional country starlet Kacey Musgraves envisions a holiday full of Grand Old Opry soul, evidenced on her first foray into holiday music. The first half is all midtempo, never missing one beat. Amazingly it doesn’t seem to feel formulaic. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” appears to be the perfect opener, swaying with lots of lap steel guitar and Musgraves’ calming, youthful vocals. The grooves continue with her country-meets-polka take on “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” “Rudolph, the Red-Noised Reindeer” and the true-to-form “Feliz Navidad.” Her duet with legend Willie Nelson on the cute original “A Willie Nice Christmas” is also worth noting. Using the Quebe Sisters to put a little Andrews Sisters funk on “Let It Snow.” She finds a perfect spot to duet with Leon Bridges on the swag-heavy “Present Without a Bow,” an terrific original that traces the fingerprints of Memphis’ Stax sound. When Musgraves finally winds things down, she starts to sound like a pop star on the brink. “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” another amazing original, is loaded with her cozy pipes and evergreen nostalgia (“It’s the ones we miss, no one to kiss under the mistletoe/Another year gone by, just one more that I, I couldn’t make it home”).
Even with all the happy and jolly songs aboard, Musgraves knows it’s not a real country Christmas album without some blues. Possibly the best holiday album released this year, A Very Kacey Christmas is one of those discs that’s bound to be a modern-day holiday tradition for years to come.
R Kelly has proven to be a douche bag in his personal life of many sorts over the years, and sometimes it comes off in his music, particularly with the ego-intoxicated The Buffet (2015) and smut-smitten Black Panties (2013). But for the holidays, the self-proclaimed Pied Piper of R&B he rolls all that back and acts like he’s being nice rather than naughty for Santa. After a mild piano solo and a quiet prayer of peace on the album opener “My Wish for Christmas,” he sways into the Stevie Wonder-esque original “Snowman.” He places himself in Frosty’s shoes and comes up with cute lines to remember: “I’m just a snow man looking for a snowgirl, someone to share my snow world.” Kelly keeps the original egg nog and cognac pouring on “Home for Christmas” and the Quiet Storm-entranced “Mrs. Santa Claus.”
Actually, of all the twelve tracks aboard the disc, not one of them is a familiar carol or hymn. Kelz still isn’t immune to producing laughable moments, evidenced on the Disney-heavy fairy tale-ish “Once Upon a Time.” But when he finds what works, he gleams like a winter wonderland. The R&B midtempo grooves of “The Greatest Gift,” the sophisticated contemporary R&B title track and the bluesy “Christmas Lovin’,” a song that sounds like a clone of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” are the proudest of the bunch.