Every year as the weather turns colder, the music biz unloads scads of fresh holiday releases intended to steal ears away from the traditional seasonal classics.
I admit it's terribly difficult to stop playing Mariah Carey, Nat King Cole or Vince Guaraldi in favor of something new. But I still like to lend my ears to all the new attempts each year. In case you, too, are looking for something new to accompany your warm-fuzzy December moments or some gift-giving ideas, keep reading to find 25 of this year's holiday music entries.
Teeming with tradition
Kenny Rogers' voice is as classic as the material he's offering up on his latest holiday collection, Once Again It's Christmas. He sings with Jennifer Nettles ("Baby, It's Cold Outside") and Alison Krauss ("Some Children See Him") on the record (but just FYI, no Dolly Parton on this one). Another new release that will warm you up better than a cup of cocoa is Sarah McLachlan's The Classic Christmas Album, on which she lends her honeyed voice to gems such as "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and Joni Mitchell's "River." For similarly comforting arrangements featuring a grittier voice, try the stripped down album Magnolias & Mistletoe, which finds Louisiana soul singer Marc Broussard trying "The Christmas Song" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." Speaking of soul, you won't find a take on "Merry Christmas Baby" more charged up than the one on India.Arie's Christmas with Friends, which she made with the late jazz man Joe Sample. And if brand new recordings aren't your thing, you could explore novelty holiday singles from the Pointer Sisters, New Kids on the Block and more on The Classic Christmas '80s Album.
Outside the gift box
If you enjoy more unique approaches to holiday music, there are plenty of choices in 2015, including a re-issue of the 1980 album Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album, available on Amazon exclusively. It's narrated by Anthony Daniels as C-3P0. Too out there? OK, how about A Creole Christmas, courtesy of jazz artist Etienne Charles? It frames holiday classics and originals in a variety of world music rhythms that could freshen up the soundtrack for any gathering. For some carols delivered in the classic Stax-era style, you should look for It's a Holiday Soul Party from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, which opens up with "8 Days of Hannukah" and also includes "Please Come Home for Christmas." Feel free to giggle at the comedic yuletide treats on Christmas Without Tears, an EP put out by married couple Judith Owen and Harry Shearer. Their actor friends Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara contribute tracks. The holiday albums that take the cake for individuality this year, however, are both associated with the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race. Former contestants cover their favorites on the compilation Christmas Queens, while RuPaul's Slay Belles features such dance-friendly originals as "Merry Christmas, Mary."
Ring in more new sounds
Merry & Bright offers up plenty of new big-band holiday songs by the Nashville vocal trio the Ellas -- the Santa-themed "Naughty List" is quite nice. The Braxtons, of R&B and reality-show fame, blend their voices in soothing ways on Braxton Family Christmas and cram plenty of impressive runs into an a cappella rendition of "O Holy Night." For time-tested carols sung in Spanish and arranged in Latin styles, give Gaby Moreno's album Posada a spin. At least listen to "Mi Burrito Sabanero," which translates to "my little donkey." Or perfect your holiday party dance moves to the upbeat tunes on Kylie Christmas, the just-released collection from Aussie diva Kylie Minogue. She duets with Iggy Pop, of all people, on "Christmas Wrapping." If a Whitman's sampler of new holiday music sounds more appealing to you than a single-artist collection, check out Amazon's Indie for the Holidays, free to Prime members and featuring Fruit Bats, Family of the Year and Dallas' Lisa Loeb (doing a New Year's-themed tune).
Children will listen
The holiday break gives school-age kids lots of free time, so handing them some new seasonal music might be one way to keep them out of your hair while you run your million errands. If you have any My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanatics in your house, they'll certainly be bugging you for It's a Pony Kind of Christmas, which hit stores in November. You can also find new holiday tunes from the cast of Nickelodeon's XO-IQ in a new EP called All the Love. For the parents who want to share a piece of their childhoods with their little ones, the Home Alone Original Motion Picture Soundtrack just received a 25-year-anniversary reissue. Christmas classics from the movie mingle with heartwarming John Williams score selections. And we'll feel for you if your son or daughter begs you for the Kidz Bop Christmas collection. All those high-pitch choruses ... shudder.
From the Texas family
Can't forget about new Yuletide selections from our home-state heroes. After topping the holiday charts last year with That's Christmas to Me, the a cappella group Pentatonix is back with an expanded edition of the hit LP, featuring five new tracks including a rhythmic take on "Joy to the World." The popular Texas Christian rock group MercyMe just released MercyMe It's Christmas, which contains a mix of beloved carols and original songs. Their fellow nonsecular hitmaker Chris Tomlin is receiving acclaim for his new live recording, Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship. LeAnn Rimes' Today Is Christmas kicks off with a holiday theme song she recorded for NBC's Today show. And Mickey Guyton, a country singer who looked up to Rimes as a child, has put out her rendition of the Frozen song "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" just in time for the holidays.