Yuletide Music Roundup for 2019


Sadiki Pierre (left) and Elasea Douglas of the duo Acute Inflections have a new holiday album titled In December.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

Los Lobos
Llegó Navidad

Roots-rock icons Los Lobos, founded in the early 1970s, had never released a holiday album until this year. After selecting a dozen songs from the 150 under consideration, David Hidalgo and the guys from East L.A. end the drought with Llegó Navidad. The band is totally engaged with messages of peace, hope and compassion as they marvelously update favorites like “La Rama,” performed in the son jarocho style, and legendary Mexican singer Javier Solís’ classic “Regalo De Reyes.” The studio tamale-making party continues with “It’s Christmas Time In Texas” a merry Tex-Mex tune. The one original, “Christmas And You,” concerns the yearning side of romance at holiday time.

McCrary Sisters
Very McCrary Christmas

It’s only fitting that the McCrary Sisters, an acclaimed gospel vocal group active in Nashville since 2010, would record an album in celebration of the season. On A Very McCrary Christmas, these four daughters of a preacher mainly stick to carols. Though classics like “Silent Night” are among the most overworked in the genre, the McCrarys sing with a religious exhilaration that elevates the tunes far beyond staleness. Gospel legend Shirley Caesar helps the siblings uplift “Joyful Joyful,” and blues star Keb’ Mo’ graces “Away In A Manger.” The instrumentalists on board include ace Nashville studio musicians, including Dobro wizard Jerry Douglas.

Keb’ Mo’
Mistletoe & You

It took Keb’ Mo’ 25 years to get around to making a holiday album, but he finally goes all in with Moonlight, Mistletoe & You. His voice, in warm everyman tones, gracefully navigates the lyrics of old standbys “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” in his accessible, comforting pop style (with guest vocalist Melissa Manchester contributing to the latter track). Shifting the mood of the program, Keb’ Mo’ and guitarist Akil Thompson light real blues fires on “Santa Claus, Santa Claus” and Koko Taylor’s “Merry, Merry Christmas” (a tune found on a 1992 various-artists compilation, The Alligator Records Christmas Collection). Keb’ Mo’ deserves an extra slice of gingerbread cake for daring to poke Mr. Claus in the belly with the witty, anti-consumerism anthem “Christmas Is Annoying.”

Yale Strom’s Broken Consort

Despite its pervasiveness, Christmas doesn’t have a monopoly on high-quality holiday music in December. Assessing Hanukkah as a celebration of the freedom of faith and thought, Yale Strom’s Broken Consort conveys strength of purpose with its creative mixtures of folk, classical, jazz, blues, rock and traditional Jewish music styles on Shimmering Lights. First-rate violinist-composer-arranger Strom and his colleagues tap into the humanity of Sephardic and Yiddish folk songs. The bandleader’s gifted collaborators include Sara Caswell (who topped the category Rising Star–Violin in the 2017 DownBeat Critics Poll) and Elizabeth Schwartz, who skillfully sings in Yiddish, Hebrew, Ladino and English, immersing herself in the music while eschewing egotism.

Dave Stryker
Track Christmas

Dave Stryker has lent his considerable musical intelligence, imagination and prowess the past few years to a series of three Eight Track-titled albums recorded with organist Jared Gold, drummer McClenty Hunter and either Stefon Harris or Steve Nelson on vibes. Crafting soul-jazz grooves, the quartet reanimates tunes Stryker enjoyed listening to as a teenager in the 1960s and ’70s. Eight Track Christmas continues the series with the guitarist’s fresh-as-newly-fallen-snow ballad and uptempo arrangements of his favorite Yuletide tunes, mostly familiar carols. The shiny star atop Stryker’s Christmas tree is “Soulful Frosty,” a mash-up that pairs “Frosty The Snowman” with a version of Young-Holt Unlimited’s smash hit from 1968, “Soulful Strut.”

Abundance of Merriment

There were many more holiday albums released this year, including Gerald Albright, Not So Silent Night (Bright Music Records); the Bah-Hum-Bop Trio’s self-titled, self-released album; Blackhawk, The Spirit Of Christmas (BFD); Jonathan Butler, Christmas Together (Artistry); Chicago, Chicago Christmas (Rhino); Natalie Cole, Holly & Ivy (reissued on vinyl by Craft); Martina DaSilva, Dan Chmielinski & Friends, A Very Chimytina Christmas (Outside in Music); Ana Gasteyer, Sugar & Booze (Henry’s Girl, Inc.); Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, A Jazzy Little Christmas (Gaither); Chris Kamara, Here’s To Christmas (So What); and Dave Koz, Gifts Of The Season (Just Koz Entertainment).

Other holiday releases include Idina Menzel, Christmas: A Season Of Love (Decca); Lea Michele, Christmas In The City (Sony Masterworks); Ne-Yo, Another Kind Of Christmas (Capitol); Puss N Boots (Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper), Dear Santa… (Blue Note); Joe Stilgoe, Christmas Album (Storyville); Rick Wakeman, Christmas Portraits (Sony Masterworks); and Dionne Warwick, Dionne Warwick & The Voices Of Christmas (S-Curve). DB

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