This year's bundle of holiday sounds
Sufjan Stevens is this year's undisputed Christmas music champion. The indie polymath is represented in the annotated playlist below with "Christmas in the Room," one of 58 seasonal songs on his five-CD box set, Silver & Gold, out on his Asthmatic Kitty label.
Sufjan Stevens is this year's undisputed Christmas music champion.
The indie polymath is represented in the annotated playlist below with "Christmas in the Room," one of 58 seasonal songs on his five-CD box set, Silver & Gold, out on his Asthmatic Kitty label.
The baroque-folk songwriter's hand is also evident on the following CD-length playlist with a song from Chopped and Scrooged, a hip-hop mixtape Stevens assembled. And the Christmas-obsessed auteur is also responsible for "Sister Winter," a song on Tracey Thorn's excellent holiday album Tinsel and Lights.
Along with Michael Bublé's Christmas, which came out in 2011, there are three new Christmas albums currently in the Billboard Top Ten. Those - by Rod Stewart, Blake Shelton, and Lady Antebellum - are all represented on this year's list, which includes tunes either released or reissued in 2012.
Also in the spirit: the surprise hitmakers of the season, the Missouri nuns Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. They make the most beautiful music on this list, a version of which is available for streaming on my blog, www.philly.com/inthemix.
1. "The Season's Upon Us," Dropkick Murphys. Boston Celtic punk band unabashed about dysfunction, à la Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From the Family." "Some families are messed up, while others are fine / If you think yours is crazy, well you should see mine." Amen.
2. "Red-Suited Super Man," Rod Stewart, featuring Trombone Shorty. Always-affable aging Brit soul man gets back to his Sam Cooke roots on this plea for Santa to "bring some peace to us all." From the hot-selling and otherwise conventional Merry Christmas, Baby.
3. "Please Come Home for Christmas," CeeLo Green. The Voice coach keeps it old-school on this plush remake of Charles Brown's 1960 classic, from Cee Lo's Magic Moment.
4. "Just Because It's Christmas," Skiffle and the Piffles. In handclapping charmer from Highline Records' Festivus! compilation, British singer Amy Ashworth expects she can't make it to New Year's without dumping her loser boyfriend.
5. "Every Day's a Holiday," Piney Gir. Perky cheer from the Kansas-reared, London-based electronic Americana artist Angela Penhaligon, also from Festivus!
6. "Christmas Dan," The Rosebuds. Not sure what I find so captivating about this holly-jolly tune about a tinsel-haired bon vivant, from fetching Raleigh, N.C., duo. From Christmas Tree Island, available at therosebuds.bandcamp.com/.
7. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Norah Jones. Gorgeous version of the 19th century carol, from Now That's What I Call Today's Christmas!
8. "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," Lady Antebellum. Snappy Nashville swing from the usually blander-than-this country-pop trio's On This Winter's Night.
9. "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas," Irma Thomas and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. A lovely sentiment via two New Orleans institutions, from the uneven but worth cherry-picking Holidays Rule compilation.
10. "Hanukkah Dance," Woody Guthrie. Folk ditty from the two-disc treasure trove 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, available at idelsohnsociety.com.
11. "Holiday I.D.," Lou Reed. Uncle Lou's best wishes: "Whatever it is you do / Happiness, through the years, to you." Also from 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah.
12. "Hanukah Tree," The Klezmatics. High-speed klezmer workout, also from 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah.
13. "Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling," Busdriver. Los Angeles rapper with deejay Son Lux on remix of a Stevens song, with lyrics about Santa losing his job at the mall. On the Chopped and Scrooged mixtape. Free download at www.mediafire.com /?alfku3l67l0tf9b
14. "Christmas Morning Blues," Sonny Boy Williamson. Great blues man Rice Miller, from terrific new blues and gospel collection of songs and sermons Death Might Be Your Santa Claus.
15. "Death Might Be Your Santa Claus," The Rev. J.M. Gates. Georgia Baptist preacher's 1926 sermon is scarier than Marley's ghost.
16. "O Come O Come Emmanuel," Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Singing nuns with beautifully becalmed otherworldly sounds. From the chart-topping Advent of Ephesus.
17. "Silent Night," the Polyphonic Spree. Evocative instrumental from Holidaydream by Tim DeLaughter's flowing-robed band, which plays the Trocadero on Friday.
18. "Christmas in the Room," Sufjan Stevens. Plaintive prayer about getting past the mistletoe and holly and finding the light within.
19. "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Rufus Wainwright with Sharon Van Etten. Well-matched, big-voiced duet partners flirt and coo, from Holidays Rule.
20. "Time for Me to Come Home," Blake Shelton with Dorothy Shackleford. How good of a good ol' boy is Blake Shelton? So good he sings with mom on this honky tonker from Cheers, It's Christmas.
21. "Ho Ho Hoedown," Sandy and SpongeBob Squarepants. Ace songwriter Andy Paley is the ringer on this country swinger. On the not-just-for-kids It's a SpongeBob Christmas!
22. "Pretty Paper," Willie Nelson. Typically brilliant understated 1979 vocal performance from The Classic Christmas Album, part of a series that includes repackaged sets by Elvis Presley and Luther Vandross.
23. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and Kenny G. Danny and Sandy from Grease reunite for This Christmas, a holiday set that didn't have to be. It's for charity, and Travolta has fun with his aping Elvis on the fail-safe Brenda Lee hit.
24. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Christina Perri. Bensalem-raised "Jar of Hearts" singer does a solid job with melancholy classic, on her A Very Merry Perri Christmas EP.
25. "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," Paul McCartney. Macca in pleasing jazz-combo lounge lizard mode.
26. "Tinsel and Lights," Tracey Thorn. Self-penned title-cut gem on bittersweet album featuring covers of Randy Newman, Stephin Merritt, and Jack White.
27. "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," Edie Adams. One of 15 sweetly-sung tunes from the late Broadway star, all drawn from the 1950s Kovacs Unlimited television show and gathered on The Edie Adams Christmas Album, with Ernie Kovacs.