Favorite Christmas Albums (2011 edition)

I figured I better share this list before the season ends and it becomes irrelevant for another 11 months! (As a side note, this is also kind of a test-flight of reminding myself how to blog on wordpress, as one of my new year’s resolutions has to do with my writing and blogging efforts.) So, without further ado…these five seven (!) Christmas albums have been on heavy rotation in the past month. If you’re on the hunt for great Christmas music, here are some recommendations to bring on the holiday cheer…and occasional hints of poignancy and melancholy (because we need that, too, sometimes, even during the holidays).

  1. Mike Crawford & His Secret Siblings, Songs from Jacob’s Well, volume III: Songs for the Advent Conspiracy – I’ve been a huge fan of Mike’s work for a couple of years now, ever since I caught wind of  the artist lineup for David Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference and decided it would be the one ministry conference that I would attend in 2010 (amazing, by the way).  He was one of two acts listed that were unfamiliar to me (the other was these guys – also now a huge favorite), so I sought out his music and discovered Vols. I and II of the aforementioned album, which continue to rock my planet.  The music of Mike & the Secret Sibs is hard to describe – it’s very much a “collective”/collaborative approach that reminds me of something that might happen if Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene got religion and teamed up with Michael Gungor to produce them. The Advent/Christmas album is spectacular, and (like all the best Christmas music) is really worthy listening year-round: 
  2. David Crowder*Band, Oh For Joy – speaking of David Crowder, the archbishop of hipster church music, he finally went and did a Christmas album. The 8-song EP is a gift, not to mention the cover art of the band members rendered as nutcrackers. 
  3. She & Him, A Very She & Him Christmas – the collaboration between ingenue Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward feels to me (now, in retrospect, of course) that it was forged solely for the purpose of bringing to birth a Christmas album. If you don’t fall in love with this delightful album, you are a heartless freak. 
  4. Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas, vols. I-V – leave it to the guy who said his goal was to make an album themed around each of the 50 states in the union (nevermind that he only completed two, Michigan and Illinois – albeit both brilliant) to release not one Christmas EP but 5 of them (42 tracks; 2+ hours of music), including traditional Christmas songs and carols, original songs, and wonderful instrumentals – and, amazingly, not a single moment of it is skip-worthy. Sure, it’s self-indulgent, but I’m so glad he indulged. (Bonus: contains perhaps my favorite recorded version of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing.”) 
  5. Low, Christmas – I’ll never forget the first time I heard Low’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” on WRVU (Vanderbilt University’s radio station) and being totally enthralled – who in the world is this? I’ve gotta track this down! I’d never heard of the Duluth, MN husband- (Alan Sparhawk) wife (Mimi Parker) + 1 (then, Zak Sally) band, but this began my fanaticism not only for Low, but for lo-fi / minimalist post-grunge forms of “alternative”/”indie”-rock music (whatevertheheck any of that means), and for boy-girl / husband-wife musical partnerships (cf. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Mates of State, the Swell Season, and 57% of the artists on this list).
  6. Jenny & Tyler, Love Came Down: A Christmas EP – my college-aged cousin Olivia introduced me to this (yet another!) husband-wife band after seeing them at a house show. Their 8 song-EP would be worth downloading just for their arrangement of Handel’s “For Unto Us a Child is Born” (anyone who attempts to adapt Handel’s Messiah is musically very brave), but happily, the whole EP is lovely. They are a cute, creative couple that make me want to gag occasionally but mostly inspire me to get to work recording music with my own boy-girl duo
  7. Over the Rhine, The Darkest Night of the Year – we can’t get enough of Karen and Linford’s music, and this album continues to be one of my favorites from their incredibly rich catalog, whatever the season. There’s just something about a bowed upright bass that – mmm – hits ya right *there* (to say nothing of Karen’s voice). 

Well, there you have it. I was going to only list 5, but couldn’t bear to leave any two of these off. And I could have easily rounded it off to 10 by listing the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, Reliant K’s Let it Snow Baby…Let it Reindeer, and Rosie Thomas’s A Very Rosie Christmas. But hey – it is what it is. I hope you enjoy these, and peace to you all this Christmas season.

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