It’s the end of a busy season. We’ll be back again next year, and wish you the warmest and happiest times until then. But before we go, here’s our annual best-of-the-new article that was lost in the hustle and bustle earlier in the year, when we scurried to cook Christmas dinner instead of tapping away at our keyboards. Missing, because we reviewed it earlier and felt others deserved to share the room, is Sia’s Everyday is Christmas, which definitely would have slotted in somewhere. Here are ten other albums worth listening to alongside it – the top 10 Christmas albums of 2017.
10. The Barefoot Movement – The Barefoot Movement Christmas Album
As you’ll no doubt notice, it’s been a bumper year for folk-inflected Christmas albums this year, but not all of them are gritty, lo-fi-inspired neo-folk. The Barefoot Movement is quite the opposite – slick, Nashville-produced bluegrass, eschewing the traditional carols for a barrage of Tin Pan Alley and oldies classics (Spotify). It does get excessively saccharine at times, but innovative arrangements, clever allusions and a deeply atmospheric sense of warm Christmas keeps the cauldrons boiling along nicely.
9. Weston Skaggs – Stories for Christmas
Of all the genres you’d associate with Christian music, acoustic indie rock with touches of crackly lo-fi wouldn’t normally be among them. But then this album (Spotify) by impeccably bearded guitarist Weston Skaggs is hardly your average Christian album, nor strictly what you’d expect from a Christmas record. Where else do you get a song speculating about how dilated Mary was on Christmas night? Or puns about “Dirty Herod”? More than anything, this album of eight well-crafted Christmas songs is a natural succession to the hippie Jesus Freaks of the 1970s, and that’s not a bad thing.
8. Taeyeon – This Christmas: Winter is Coming
Go on, guess, what’s the most commercially successful Christmas album this year? Sia’s? Lindsey Stirling’s? Gwen Stefani’s? All I can say is that you may need to cast your glance wider, because South Korean K-pop megastar Kim Tae-yeon very likely has them all beat with this ultra-slick mini-album (Spotify), which stormed to #2 on the charts in one of the world’s healthiest music markets. The former Girl’s Generation singer is riding high on her stardom, and it shows – this is excellent, musically very adept commercial music that brazenly steals from pop history and spits out little three minute hum-along Christmas miracles.
7. Chanté Moore – Christmas Back to You
R&B singer Chanté Moore’s Christmas Album (Spotify) unabashedly references the 1990s music that contained her biggest hits, but deftly mixes in enough contemporary flavour to make the production sound unusually young and vibrant for someone born 50 years ago. With a generous helping of excellent originals, a couple of fun, electronically charged takes on Charles Brown blues numbers, and a grand gospel “Silent Night” to finish, this is a great return to form for the “Chanté’s Got a Man” singer.
6. Tom Chaplin – Twelve Tales Of Christmas
If nothing else, Tom Chaplin should be commended for just how much complex emotion he’s able to draw out of “Walking in the Air”. (There, a sentence I thought I’d never write.) The dreamy classic from The Snowman becomes yearning, triumphant, melancholic desert rock on the former Keane singer’s sombre Christmas album (Spotify), and it is joined by originals that range from one-key tragic to little epics of wistfulness and triumph. With a mature production, minimal with touches of electronic brightness, it’s likely the best record he’s ever made.
5. Bloodshot Records’ 13 Days of Xmas
It’s quite common for Indie labels to issue Christmas records these days, but most of them put little effort into it, having disdainful artists record disinterested, often sarcastic versions of the most clichéd songs they can find. That’s emphatically not the case here. Bloodshoot Records has been the leading purveyor of roots music, Americana, indie and rock in Chicago for several decades now, and their Christmas Album (Spotify) does everything to maintain that reputation, with engaging, acerbic originals that burrow deeper into seasonal possibilities than just covering “Blue Christmas” again.
4. Sofia Talvik – When Winter Comes: A Christmas Album
The Swedish singer-songwriter Sofia Talvik has released a free Christmas single every year for over a decade, practically all of them bite-sized wonders of Yuletide emotion, beautiful, healing, compassionate longing. It could have easily stayed there, but instead she’s decided to re-imagine and re-record her substantial seasonal catalogue and make them into one, concrete album (Spotify). Talvik is an unusual gifted songwriter, whose ear for melody should be creating new classics – even if the original single versions, rawer and simpler, were often a better presentation of the material.
3. O’Hooley & Tidow – Winterfolk, Volume 1
In an era where trickery is so common, hearing the depth of feeling in Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow’s Christmas folk music is startling. It’s plainly obvious that their two musical careers and their marriage have had winter and Christmas as constant touchstones, and this album (Spotify) is very much a culmination of it. Collecting, collating and re-recording seasonal material from their own careers and with remarkable covers of a select few winter songs (“Fire and Wine”!) and medieval carols, this is all the pain and all the warmth the season has to offer in one, with aching harmonies dealing with the season in a complex, mature and agonisingly beautiful way.
2. Cheap Trick – Christmas Christmas
It simply shouldn’t be possible for a band whose key members are all in their mid to late sixties to sound this fun and raucous. Irreverently ploughing through an alternative blues and rock history of Christmas music – from Charles Brown via Wizzard to the Ramones – and adding filthy power chords and a set of strong originals in the same mould, this album (Spotify) is pure rock’n’roll fun. There’s even room to squeeze in perhaps the definitive recording of “I Wish It Was Christmas Today”, giving that SNL sketch all the wild seriousness it probably never deserved. Welcome to the new canon!
1. Rebecca Spencer – Still, Still, Still
Surely, surely, this can’t be a new Christmas album, created by a pair of flamboyant, middle-aged Liberace aficionados in Las Vegas? This is clearly the great lost Christmas record, dug up from the vault somewhere. It’s Barbra Streisand’s secret demo album of carols from 1965, recorded in Robert Mercer’s basement and shelved because it was too long. It’s Julie Andrews and Ian Fraser in 1976, recording a looser, more pared-down version of The Secret of Christmas, who couldn’t resist even more ambitious arrangements, and losing their way far into grand fantasia. Surely. If it’s not, Rebecca Spencer and Philip Fortenberry have achieved something remarkable –timeless, otherworldly and possibly the Christmas album of the decade (Spotify).
Bonus: Sleeping at Last – Christmas Collection, volume 1
This album (Spotify), if we can call it that, is issued every few years by the increasingly ambitious Illinois one-man-band, adding new seasonal singles as time goes by. Most of it, then, is a reissue, and it’s not really fair to compare it to anything else. As far as Christmas albums goes, it’s inevitably a bit haphazardly thrown together, but the best of the material – bleak, sparing, with Ryan O’Neal’s gentle countertenor supported by a stellar string section – is simply amazing. Most of the best stuff on here is recent, too, which is promising if he ever decides to make a more concentrated volume two.