Holiday music. I love it, and I find that unlike any other time of the year, the Christmas/Holiday period provides a varied and rich soundtrack. Realizing the busy schedules of Epics this time of year, I have taken to publishing a list of some of my favorite albums of the season. That said, please pour a glass of my favorite store-bought egg nog...
1. Pentatonix: That's Christmas to Me.
I don't think that I have ever before bought an album of music while watching a parade. Until Thanksgiving 2014 when I was fooling around in the kitchen, drinking some wine and making some side-dish or other. The Macy's parade was on the television as usual when I cook on Thanksgiving, and I heard perfect a capella harmony singing the best version of Santa Clause Is Comin' to Town I have ever heard. On a float was the group Pentatonix. I had never heard of them before. Through the miracle of modern electronics I owned this album about twenty seconds later and I have been playing it over and over since then. These young people have serious musical chops and their arrangements of the classics are just stunning. There is no possible way [egg nog or no] that you can be in a low mood after you listen to this album. This group is like a gin and tonic with double tonic. My favorite of the season.
2. Will Downing: Christmas, Love and You.
Man, do I love Will Downing's albums. I don't recall how I first became acquainted with this man's music but he is just superb. Think Lou Rawls with a snifter really good Cognac on the side. Mr. Downing has a great voice just made for sitting before the fireplace with that special someone. The title track added to other well produced versions of classic tunes such as The Christmas Song and The Little Drummer Boy all provide a fresh and soulful take on the season. If this one doesn't get you in the mood to give and to receive I don't know what will...
3. Gunnar Idenstam. Folkjul.
Sooner or later, I know, I have to play the Scandinavian card. It is my heritage after all. This is a rather amazing collection of songs, some of which you will have heard before [probably not in Swedish] and some of which will be new to you. The titles alone [like "Varldeus Fralsare"] should lure you in but if you love peaceful, inspiring Holiday music that is unlike anything you will hear at someone else's house, you will love this album.
4. Christmas at Downton Abbey.
It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of the PBS series Downton Abbey. Call me an Edwardian at heart, I can take it. In any event, this marvelous album has everything you could want on it for your classic and classical Holiday sound track. Not only do they work a couple of tracks of the television show's lovely theme song into the forty-five tracks on this album, but you get cracking versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Come Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" [two of my all time favorites], but to hear Jim Carter read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" is worth the entire price of this absurdly cheap album. This is the sort of album you want to just put on a loop and play and play and play. So break out a good bottle of Port, a slab of Stilton cheese and your smoking jacket and settle in...
5. James Taylor: at Christmas.
Ten years after his only other Christmas effort, the fabulous "A Christmas Album", James Taylor brings us another musical keepsake, this time with more collaborators such as Chris Botti, Natalie Cole and Yo Yo Ma to spice up the fun. How there are people that do not like Taylor's voice is beyond me, but I have always loved his work. Everything on this album is great, but tops are the aching "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Auld Lang Syne" along with "The Christmas Song" in which Toots Thielemans comes along for the ride as well. Taylor at his absolute Holiday best. What more do you need?
6. The Four Freshmen: Snowfall.
I may have mentioned this great album of perfect harmonies in the past but I've had four egg nogs by now and I don't remember!! In any event, this is a swingin' album that makes you want to put on your best red cardigan [the one with the shawl collar--you know you want to break that out again this year] and swizzle a Blue Blazer cocktail [no, on the other hand better not...too much fire involved] or a Hot Buttered Rum [MUCH more like it] while you watch the flakes tumble down slowly outside the windows. The title track is wonderful but my favorite is probably "Let It Snow".
I know you will enjoy these albums as much as I do. For your holiday cocktail party I would recommend The Four Freshmen and Pentatonix, then for dinner Downton Abbey and Folkjul. For after dinner drinks and chit-chat James Taylor and then.....finally....when its late at night, cold outside, and its just the two of you, the fire logs crackling in the grate, Will Downing. Thank me later.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all Epics everywhere!