Contributing Writer Perhaps it’s because music acts were forced off of the touring circuit, leaving unplanned time to work on albums or other projects, but 2020 has been a bountiful year for holiday music.
This column covers many of the new full-length holiday albums, although I left out the EPs and singles for fear the column would reach “War & Peace” length. Here’s hoping these holiday albums help you end this strange and challenging year on a high note.
Carrie Underwood: “My Gift” – The current queen of country music takes her first holiday album in a decidedly spiritual/worship direction, approaching the material with suitable reverence. Familiar hymns make up much of the album, but the biggest highlights come with the original songs – none more than “Hallelujah,” a song co-written by John Legend. He joins Underwood on this standout ballad in which their impressive vocals send the song soaring to the heavens. This season’s most likely blockbuster holiday release, “My Gift” is a beautifully executed album that pays tribute to the true reason for Christmas.
Meghan Trainor: “A Very Trainor Christmas” – Trainor (a Nauset High grad) brings her buoyant charm to this 16-track album, especially putting her stamp on the season with a half-dozen original songs. A major highlight is her collaboration with Earth, Wind & Fire on the song “Holidays,” which quite literally illustrates the connecting threads between ’70s R&B/pop and current-day pop. Trainor also adds a few original touches to some of the holiday standards on the album, but the frothy instrumentation on these songs is pretty standard stuff for today’s version of pop music. Still, “A Very Trainor Christmas” is fun and more original than many holiday albums.
Dolly Parton: “A Holly Dolly Christmas” – Parton makes this a bit of an event. For one thing, Parton wrote five of the songs and co-wrote a sixth for this 12-song album. While all of the original tunes are good, “Circle Of Love,” a particularly pretty, spiritually themed ballad, is a high point. Several big-name guests (including Michael Buble and Willie Nelson) also help “A Holly Dolly Christmas” feel like something more momentous than just another holiday album.
Leslie Odom Jr.: “The Christmas Album” – The star of “Hamilton” steps well outside the usual-Christmas-album box on his second holiday album. On “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” he slows things down and gives the song a bit of a jazzy treatment. “Little Drummer Boy,” with additional vocals from the Mzansi Youth Choir, puts a South African accent on this classic. Like Bing Crosby, Odom’s supple and smooth vocals have a comforting quality, and it wouldn’t be surprising if “The Christmas Album” (as well as his first holiday album, “Simply Christmas”) become perennial favorites that get played in households every Christmas for many years to come.
Goo Goo Dolls: “It’s Christmas All Over” – The veteran pop group’s first Christmas album is a satisfying effort that often strays from the group’s guitar pop signature. A cover of Tom Petty’s hooky “Christmas All Over Again” gets a bit of a Motown feel. One of the best out-of-character songs is “You Ain’t Gettin’ Nothin,’” a humorous original that sounds like a mix of the song ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and the retro swing of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, while the jazzy medley “The Christmas Party” is another festive surprise.
Tori Kelly: “A Tori Kelly Christmas” – For her first holiday album, the country/Christian music star teamed up with executive producer and R&B icon Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who brings an appropriate amount of groove to this album. […]