Sunday, December 9, 2018

Not Your Grandma's Reindeer

By Claire Booth

It's time to bust out the Christmas music.
This year, with my ears about to bleed from another version of "The Christmas Song" and its woefully out-of-date roasted chestnuts, I decided to search out fresher fare.

Some of these aren't necessarily new, but they are fresh in that they haven't been recorded by twenty different artists and played to the point where they've atrophied radio play lists and shopping mall sound systems. If they're new to you, too, I highly recommend you check them out.
Leona Lewis, "One More Sleep," from Christmas, With Love (2013). Upbeat holiday perfection that showcases Lewis' fantastic voice with great choral backup.

Aloe Blacc's Christmas Funk just came out last month. Don't even waste time sampling it. Just get the whole album right now. Here's the track I've found myself humming--"I Got Your Christmas Right Here." You'll sing along, too. Guaranteed.

Here's another one where I'm recommending the entire album. It's a Holiday Soul Party by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (2015). It has the excellent "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects,"as well as "8 Days of Hanukkah," several traditional carols and "Just Another Christmas Song."

Going in a different genre direction brings me to the pinnacle of holiday country music. There is nothing better than Kenny and Dolly's Once Upon a Christmas (1984). It has a staggering six original songs out of a ten-track album (most holiday albums will give you one, if you're lucky). Five of them were composed by Dolly Parton (and none by Kenny; just sayin'). All of them should be classics: "I Believe in Santa Claus," "Christmas to Remember," "Christmas Without You," "Once Upon a Christmas," and "With Bells On" below:

Another of my favorite Christmas country songs (1997) comes from the incomparable Dwight Yoakam and is that perfect country blend of upbeat music and depressing lyrics. A mom tells the kid that "Santa Can't Stay" and a car that looks like Dad's pulls away. I'll take that over Jingle Bells any day.

I'm also going to include two honorable mention categories: traditional songs with an original spin, and original songs that have become traditional classics. In the first category, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from the Barenaked Ladies (2004) and the what-the-hell pairing of Ceelo Green and Rod Stewart on "Merry Christmas, Baby" (2012). It makes me smile every time.

And no Christmas is complete without Wham! (I know you're rolling your eyes, but it's my list and I can do what I want) and their 1984 classic, "Last Christmas." And I'll leave you with a song many others have since recorded, but the first one is still the best--Stevie Wonder's 1967 peerless version.
It's "What Christmas Means to Me."

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