33 1/3 Holiday Albums You Better Have…Or Else

Posted December 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features



Alexander O’Neal
My Gift to You
(Tabu, 1988)

Sitting at the peak of their production prowess and standing tall as the go-to producers in the r&b game, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis pulled off a magical epiphany of urban holiday delights aboard My Gift to You, the 1988 album by The Time’s dropout singer. “Sleigh Ride” echoes Janet’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately?,” while “Our First Christmas,” “Thank You for a Good Year” and the Sounds of Blackness teaser “Remember Why (It’s Christmas)” all show off Jam & Lewis’s songwriting prowess. Probably the finest contemporary r&b holiday album ever published.



Luther Vandross
This Is Christmas
(Epic/Legacy, 1995)

The r&b crooner has always had a strong disdain in dipping on the religious turf, but when he belts out the Peabo Bryson-esque AC ballad of “With a Christmas Heart,” he dispels those fears. On the opener track of This Is Christmas, he uses an useful commentary that raises the innocence of the holiday in the eyes of the kids. “What kind of world are we gonna leave them?/What we couldn’t learn from each other, we can learn from God,” he sings with his championed tenor. This was the singer’s only holiday album and it pretty much stays true to Vandross’s smooth urban r&b style, while delicately covering all the bases of holiday music. He exemplifies the best of “Here and Now” on the title track, cooks up his own Phil Spector holiday special with a sparkling duet with Darlene Love and cooks up smart originals (“Ever Year, Every Christmas,” “The Mistletoe Jam”). Despite the MIDI-programmed synths offered on the ballads, This Is Christmas, a cozy wintery adventure showcases Vandross as the quintessential Frank Sinatra of his genre. UPDATE:  In 2012, Epic/Legacy updated This is Christmas with The Classic Christmas Album by adding a few throwback tracks to the set, including the irreplaceable slow jam “At Christmastime” and a Quincy Jones-produced duet with Chaka Khan (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas).” The additions to the set help create a more complete package of Vandross’s holiday material.



Kirk Franklin & the Family
Gospel’s biggest hypeman, the James Cleveland of his generation, wastes no time in spilling the reason for the season. On the hip-hop-flavored “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season,” he tugs on the beats of P Diddy while draping it around some Timothy Wright funk. This is his anthem for the inner city saints, but Christmas is much more than a Jesus-freaked Christmas on Broadway. Inside, Franklin and hi now-defunct aggregation of singers best known as the Family usher in the Holy Spirit with “Now Behold the Lamb,” ushers in the spirit of Mahalia on “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” spills some Bob James unto “Thank You For Your Child” and whips out a set of R Kelly-esque slow jams (“They Need to Know,” “Night That Christ Was Born”).



Celine Dion
These Are Special Times
(Columbia, 1998)

Inspirational charms like the R. Kelly duet “I’m Your Angel” and the Andrea Bocelli duet “The Prayer” flood the playlist on Céline Dion’s first holiday disc. Surprisingly, those gems warrant spins all year round. But Dion’s versatility proves to be just as big as her pipes when she sips on cozy jazz (“Blue Christmas”), dips into Babyface-meets-Whitney balladry (“Don’t Save It All for Christmas”), plays with Phil Spector’s formulas (“Christmas Eve”) and takes one or two Nashville singer-songwriter voyages (“Another Year Has Gone”). Even “Ave Maria” sounds original after she turns it into a nighttime lullaby.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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