LOS ANGELES (AP) — What is a holiday season without festive music? The classics are great, but the classics performed by some of the best performers across pop, R&B, rock, opera, soul and beyond? That’s a real reason to celebrate.
In honor of the most wonderful time of the year, The Associated Press’ Music Writer Maria Sherman has compiled some of the best new holiday releases for your listening pleasure. Because sometimes the best thing that can happen to an old classic is revitalizing it with a new performance.
Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas”
Don’t bore us, get to the chorus — or in the case of this collectible vinyl release of “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas,” give us the hits! Ella Fitzgerald ‘s 1960 holiday record is largely considered by critics to be one of the greatest of all time — so why not celebrate the best of the best on a new piece of wax? It’s not a bad gift idea, either.
Somehow, “Christmas” is Cher’s first holiday album — not that she hasn’t been asked to do one in the past. “I just didn’t want to do one,” she told the AP. “I didn’t know how I was going to make it a ‘Cher Christmas album.’” The secret, it turns out, was to get a bunch of A-list collaborators on her album, something she’s never done before. There’s Cyndi Lauper on “Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart,” Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me,” Darlene Love on “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” Michael Bublé on “Home,” and even the rapper Tyga on “Drop Top Sleigh Ride.” There’s something for everyone, and then some.
Brandy, “Christmas with Brandy”
For those looking for a seductive holiday album: the search is over. R&B great Brandy has released “Christmas with Brandy,” a collection of sultry — and in other moments, soulful — imaginations of Christmas classics and originals. Like on “Christmas Gift,” which features her daughter Sy’Rai, and “Feels Different.”
Elsewhere, Brandy offers a PG-13 holiday special. “Help me undress, oh, yes / I’ll be your present / Just give me your presence / That’s all that I’m askin’ of you,” she sings on chorus of the lead single, “Christmas Party for Two.” “Take my body / Boy, you know you got it / Just look what you started / It’s a Christmas party for two.”
Chicago, “Chicago Greatest Christmas Hits”
Lifelong fans of the rock band with horns are familiar with Chicago’s extensive holiday discography: starting with 1998’s “Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album,” (reissued in 2003 as “Chicago Christmas: What’s It Gonna Be Santa” with six additional tracks), 2011’s “Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three,” and 2019’s “Chicago XXXVII: Chicago Christmas.” But the only way to complete the collection — or begin your own, and with just the singles — is to check out “Chicago Greatest Christmas Hits,” which pulls from all those releases and is sold in festive red and green vinyl.
Andrea, Matteo and Virginia Bocelli, “A Family Christmas”
Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli got the whole family together for a new, deluxe edition of their first album together, “A Family Christmas.” Andrea, his 26-year-old son Matteo and his 11-year-old daughter Virginia teamed up for the release, adding four new recordings to the collection: “Let It Snow,” “Silver Bells,” “E’ Natale!” and “Winter Wonderland.” If you can listen to the famed tenor harmonize with his children and not shed a tear, you’re a stronger person than most.
Wheatus, “Just A Dirtbag Christmas”
Far too often, holiday albums carry an air of seriousness. But the most wonderful time of the year requires moments of levity — as well as deep existential thought about the nature of love and family and what really matters on this Earth. Enter Wheatus, the ‘90s radio rock band best known for their ubiquitous hit, “Teenage Dirtbag.” “Just a Dirtbag Christmas” plays into the single’s popularity, featuring a string quartet version of “Teenage Dirtbag,” as well as a rewritten, holiday-appropriate version of the song. Humor abounds, like in the pop-rocking comedic additions of “You Made Me Believe in Christmas,” “Feels Like Christmas,” “Mean Christmas.” Break out the bucket hat and the Yule log for this one.
David Foster and Katharine McPhee, “Christmas Songs”
No strangers to holiday albums, the dynamic duo of David Foster and Katharine McPhee released their completed “Christmas Songs” collection earlier this year. This is one for the traditionalists among us: jazz-y, theatrical interpretations of Christmas classics that deliver a nostalgic satisfaction, amplified by their combined, immense talent. Well, theirs, and the skills of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, whose reimagined “Amazing Grace,” arranged by Foster, is a song to behold.
Luther Vandross, “Luther Vandross Classic Christmas”
Released nearly two decades after the R&B and soul giant’s death, “Luther Vandross Classic Christmas,” is a short but memorable modern day Christmas classic: a three-track EP built off the never before released “At Christmas Time,” “May Christmas Bring You Happiness,” and a special bonus a cappella mix of “At Christmas Time.” There’s no better time of the year to hear the velvet voice do what he does best.
Ally Brooke, “Under the Tree”
All is fair in love and war and girl groups. Emmy Award winner Ally Brooke, formerly of Fifth Harmony, is back with a brand-spanking-new Christmas EP titled “Under the Tree.” Anchored by the shimmery retro-pop title track, “Under the Tree” is a Brooke original that has her repeating “You can find me under the tree (Under the tree) / I’ll be waitin’ on Christmas Eve (Christmas Eve) / Baby, unwrap me,” in its cheeky chorus. It is light-hearted, amorous fun. And it quickly does a 180, rounding out the tracklist with “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and of course, the classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
More suggestions for holiday gifts are available in AP’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guides, with selections for music, movies, coffee-table books, gardening and serendipity, a grab-bag.
Looking for other new music. Check out AP’s music reviews at https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews