"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


when Santa crosses over the border...

'Tis the season for 24-hour holiday music marathons on all three country stations and endless iterations of "Sleigh Ride" at the mall. Luckily, there's much better stuff out there that will have you rocking out like Santa's elves in no time. Some Christmas albums I like, in no particular order:

  • Amy Grant, A Christmas Album - There's no excuse for this. But the lead track is "Tennessee Christmas," and I always listen to it first every year. "Well they say in L.A. it's a warm holiday / it's the only place to be. / But a tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me." (And no, the Keith Whitley version is not the one to listen to. Amy Grant's breathless 80's teen Christian pop is the only appropriate way to enjoy something this cheesy.)
  • Various, Elf soundtrack - Not only is the film hilarious, the soundtrack rocks. It's a crazy mix of everything from Ella Fitzgerald's cut of "Sleigh Ride" to Jim Reeves (yes, the "Four Walls" Jim Reeves) singing "Jingle Bells." Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel's duet on "Baby It's Cold Outside" is one of the best versions of the song out there.
  • Various, To Kate: A Benefit For Kate's Sake - I keep talking about this because it's good and because it benefits a great cause. That's it. No more posts involving the CD or its tracks.
  • Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, Happy Holidays - Lots of fun from Austin's cutest music couple. Highlights include Kelly's solo on "In the Bleak Midwinter" and the duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," especially towards the end there where they keep trying not to laugh.
  • Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas - The perfect Christmas party CD. I always put this on first for holiday gatherings and it never fails to get things going. Jamie the Law Clerk would also point out that this is a "taint of ivy prep" kind of album. No apologies. Ella's "Sleigh Ride" is the version to have.
  • John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together - The soundtrack from the 1979 television special (not to be confused with the Rocky Mountain Holiday special from 1982). What's not to love? The Muppets sing "Silent Night" in German and it turns out to be beautiful rather than heretical. Their "Twelve Days of Christmas" is hands-down the best ever recorded, especially the Bunsen/Beaker part. My daddy knew John Denver in college, he and I always went to see the Muppet movies in the theater together when I was little, and I've loved the Muppet Show my whole life. It just wouldn't be Christmas without this album.
  • Willie Nelson, Pretty Paper - Of course. My favorite tracks are "Blue Christmas," "Silent Night," and the instrumental "Christmas Blues."
  • Chris Rice, The Living Room Sessions: Christmas - Rice is a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter who writes a lot of cheesy music that gets recorded by people like Michael W. Smith. But. A few years ago he sat down at the piano in his living room in Franklin and recorded two instrumental albums, one of hymns and this one of Christmas carols. It's imperfect and rough and absolutely wonderful. "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Welcome to Our World" are particularly beautiful.
  • The Cambridge Singers and Orchestra, Christmas Star - The perfect album when you need some beautiful, high-church music. Directed by composer John Rutter, whose Requiem is one of the most lovely pieces of music I've ever heard.

Finally, a few tracks to download from iTunes to make your holiday mixes complete with sad country songs and Irish rock stars:

*U2, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

*Adam Sandler, "The Chanukah Song"

*Alabama, "Christmas in Dixie"

*Dolly Parton, "Hard Candy Christmas"

*Merle Haggard, "If We Make It Through December"

*Elvis Presley, "Blue Christmas"

*Loretta Lynn, "To Heck with Ole Santa Claus"

*Robert Earl Keen, Jr., "Merry Christmas From the Family"

*George Strait, "There's a New Kid in Town"


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