SCOTT MILLER - CHRISTMAS GIFT (full review here)
I just love this record. It transports me to another time and another place and does it so well that the place and time it transports me to is as real to me as my own. This is pure Americana, but Scott Miller explores every musical corner of the genre, from the roots rock of "Yes, Virginia" to the Dueling Banjos arrangement of "Joyful Joyful". Is the album Christmasy? Yes, it is, but it might not be the big city Christmas many are used to. This is a more rural, working man's experience of the holidays, but Miller captures it perfectly on "Christmas Gift".
Completely unfair. This should really get elevated to the top spot by default as its my only selection in the top three that's actually a full album (the other two being EPs). This really is an incredible album in every respect. Matt Andersen is noted mostly for his roots blues music, but, here, he covers the waterfront of roots music, from bluegrass to blues to rock to gospel to country. And he does so in absolutely spectacular fashion. Four Matt Andersen penned originals sit alongside traditional carols, classic Christmas tunes, and some uncommon covers (like Chris Whiteley's "The Lonely Shepherd"). Simultaneously personal and universal, simultaneously powerful and intimate, "Spirit Of Christmas" is, hands down, the full-length Christmas album of the year.
If you were to ask me what record I listened to more than any other this holiday season, Jessie Kol's "Little Emmanuel" would be the answer. My personal Christmas listening taste leans toward Jazz, to begin with. And, in a year where Americana Christmas music was king, Jessie Kol found a way to blend Jazz and Americana seamlessly and beautifully. "Little Emmanuel" may only be four tracks long, but it's no less a heavyweight contender for that. Every song on here is perfect. And I highly recommend you get the hard copy (available only from Jessie Kol's web site) as this is something you're likely to want to pull out with the holiday decorations every year.
CARBON LEAF - CHRISTMAS CHILD (full review here)
Every time I looked at this list, Carbon Leaf moved up a notch or two. "Christmas Child" is musically different than your standard "traditional" holiday fare. And yet it is so evocative of the season. Whenever I hear a track from this album, I instantly find myself in a virtual reality Christmas--experiencing not only the sights and sounds of the winter and holiday seasons, but all of their emotional sensations as well. This record is truly a remarkable achievement and an album that deserves to be recognized today as the classic its certain to become in time.
Sarah Siskind has the distinction of having the final track that was cut from our "Stubbys House" collection to get us in under 80 minutes. As much as anything else, "All Come Together Now" demonstrates that Sarah can write songs with the best of them. The six songs here are not just original in that they were newly written, but in that they looked at the Christmas season with fresh eyes and from angles that haven't been written and sung to death. The EP as a whole reflects a combination of joy and melancholy completely interwoven and inseparable, and completely identifiable, in a way only "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" has managed so perfectly before. And, yes, I'm including "White Christmas" in that consideration.
Greta Matassa & Clipper Anderson totally surprised me with their album "And To All A Good Night". And I mean that in a good way. Both performers get ample opportunity to shine on an album that fits in comfortably with the classics of the season from the Bing Crosbys and Ella Fitzgeralds. "And To All A Good Night" collects up some of the greatest Christmas compositions that (so far) have failed to become seasonal standards and gives them the respect they've long deserved. From the perfect choral arrangement on "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle" to the revelatory performance of Henry Mancini's "Every Christmas Eve", this album will give you that old fashioned trimming the tree and sitting by the fireside Christmas feeling and do so with songs that haven't been played to death.
This album always leaves me wondering how to describe it's indescribable beauty. It's truly breathtaking. Anna Gilbert's vision of "Christmas" is a highly spiritual and uplifting one without being at all preachy. Her angelic voice, fresh arrangements and meticulous production result in the kind of album most artists in this folk pop vein only wish they could record. Not a bad track from start to finish, this is one that will stand up to repeated play on those snowy winter days and nights. And if Anna Gilbert is this scary talented at just 26, one can only wonder what's yet to come.
Nobody out-swings Eddie Nichols. Nobody. Not for Christmas. Not ever. Even with only one original Christmas song out there before this full length album, "Hey Santa" by Royal Crown Revue was still THE neo-swing Christmas record to have. And, while Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy's out of print Christmas EP is certainly a classic, their full length effort shined a little less brightly (IMO). The original swing punks of RCR sound as fresh and wonderful on "Don't Be A Grinch This Year" as they did when they first burst onto the scene 20 years ago. From the opening "Christmas Greetings" to the closing re-recording of "Hey Santa" (with newest member Jennifer Keith joining Eddie on vocals), Royal Crown Revue bring all the energy, irreverence, joy, humor and holiday spirit you'd want and/or expect from an RCR Christmas album.
True to it's title, this collection of wholly original Christmas songs (written by Casia) is not your ordinary Christmas album. "A Not Ordinary Christmas" represents a fairly original concept executed very well--an Internet collaboration between songwriter, composers, musicians, and every one else on all original Christmas music in diverse musical genres by artists from around the globe. It's so crazy, it just might work. And it does work. The result may not be an album you'll toss on following a Bing Crosby movie, but it is an album likely to give you new energy after a long day of holiday shopping. It's one you can play with a house full of people who claim to hate Christmas music, and one I could easily see myself listening to in the middle of July (which, to me, is a huge plus). And I have to add that you really need to see the hard copy CD to truly appreciate how beautiful the cover art is. I listened to this one a lot, this season, and enjoyed every minute of it.