’tis the season… for Christmas music

Just read a post re: Christmas music over at Alise Write’s page, and it reminded me of a facebook note that I put together on my favorite Christmas albums a few years ago, before I was blogging.  The following post is a slightly updated version of that note….  

What is my favorite Christmas album?  To tell the truth, there’s no way I could name just one album — I love such a variety of music, my favorite at a particular moment will depend on what I’m in the mood for.

That said, here are my favorite Christmas albums by category… sort of.

The Best of the Best:
Michael W. Smith, Christmas:  the first Christmas album from Michael.  This album isn’t just a collection of songs, it is a woven piece of music that flows together from start to finish.  The best way to listen to this one is sitting by the fire, lights low, no distractions — i.e., really listening to the music, absorbing the lyrics… which becomes a very worshipful experience of the “light come into the world” (lux venit) as you’re reminded that “all is well” because “Emmanuel… our God is with us”.

Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi:  great not only for the nostalgia aspect, but really excellent jazz arrangements.

George Winston, December:  Solo piano….  who needs anything else?  He has some of the best arrangements of Christmas hymns, and the album makes “artsy fartsy” words like “colorful” and “rich textures” pop into my head.  They could drop the bonus track they added to the later release, but this is really a nice listen.

The first time I wrote this up, I forgot to include the Relient K Christmas album.  The album is a really good mix of humor (like their version of 12 days of Christmas)and intimate worship:   “the first time that you opened your eyes, did you realize that you would be my saviour? and the first breath that left your lips, did you know that it would change the world forever?’   And really, “Santa Claus is thumbing to town?” Who comes up with off the wall stuff like that?  (I love it.)

The Best of the Rest:
Amy Grant, A Christmas Album:  Amy’s first Christmas album is really well done, though a significant factor in my liking it stems from the nostalgic aspect — it’s the first Christmas album my wife Valerie and I picked up together, the year we got engaged over Christmas.  People say Nat’s version of the Christmas Song is the best, and I can’t argue… but Amy’s version on this album is really good…..

Ron Diller’s first Christmas album.  Our worship pastor introduced us to this one a few years ago.  Great guitar picking on a whole bunch of Christmas favorites from an Oregon local.

The Young Messiah:  this mid-80′s arrangement probably sounds dated now, but any good arrangement of Handel’s Messiah works in the Christmas season.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: I can only listen to it once a season, but I have to listen to it once a season….

Collectively, the “old guys”:  Frank, Bing, Nat, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin

The obscure: The Voices of Christmas, from Walter Schumann (1955).  I’ll be surprised if anyone outside of my  siblings and I recognize this one.  The favorite song that stuck in our memory was called “Christmas Tree” with the chorus that counted down cool things about Christmas  –”big surprise, presents nice…..oooohhhh what a happy Christmas Party, what a Merry Christmas tree!”  This was the signature Xmas album for us as kids, though it’s definitely dated today.

Merry Christmas, Stan Kenton:  This is the old high school band geek coming out here.  Stan Kenton had the classic jazz band with fantastic horn sections (that’s trumpets & trombones for you non-geeks) with great harmonies and counter melodies.  If you know old horn players, Bud Brisbois and Maynard Ferguson are two of many that got their start playing with Stan’s band.

As I look at my list, I realize there’s not much there that isn’t old…. what’s that say about me? Hmmm…

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So, what’s your favorite Christmas music?  Do you prefer listening to whole albums or individual songs?

And, has anybody out there actually listened to the Walter Schumann album or any old Stan Kenton Christmas music? (Not likely for Kenton… even less likely for Schumann!)

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