Whether you are spending the winter holidays with your chosen family or your biological one, you can always look forward to surrounding yourself with the great music of the season to get through these potentially stressful times.
In case you missed it the first time around—in 1994!—Wonderful Christmas Time (UMe) is a 2018 expanded reissue of Diana Ross’ only solo Christmas album. Ross brackets the album with songs by her ’60s-era music contemporaries Paul McCartney (the title track) and John Lennon (“Happy Xmas War Is Over”). In between, she mixes gospel (“His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”) with traditional (“The First Noel,” “Ave Maria,” “Amazing Grace”) and popular songs of the season (“The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”) all wrapped up in sumptuous arrangements. Ross even includes a couple of unexpected treats, such as her covers of Bacharach and David’s “What the World Needs Now” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.”
Ross isn’t the only ’60s superstar act to put out a holiday album in 2018. Following Good Times, a well-received 2016 comeback record put out by the surviving members of The Monkees (Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork), the trio returns with its very first holiday album, Christmas Party (Rhino). Working again with producer Adam Schlesinger (from the groups Fountains of Wayne and Ivy), as well as some of the top songwriters who contributed tracks to Good Times (including Schlesinger, Rivers Cuomo, and Andy Partridge), The Monkees deliver on the album’s party theme with new songs such as “What Would Santa Do,” “Unwrap You at Christmas,” and the title cut (co-written by Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey). The late Davy Jones can be heard on “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Silver Bells.” Interestingly, the best track is The Monkees’ rendition of former Beatle Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”
In keeping with the 1960s theme, 82-year-old British crooner Engelbert Humperdinck, who is celebrating more than 50 years as a recording artist, has released Warmest Christmas Wishes (OK! Good), his first holiday album since 1977. Humperdinck serves up a warm platter of interpretations of seasonal standards (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “O Tannenbaum,” and a “Snowy Christmas” medley) with new material (“Driving Home for Christmas,” “Still Still Still,” “Silently Falls the Snow”), including one he co-wrote (“A Christmas for the Family”).
Making its debut on limited-edition 180-gram vinyl in 2018 is Joel Paterson’s 2017 instrumental disc Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar (Ventrella/Bloodshot). Paterson (known for his work with the insurgent country act Devil in a Woodpile) applies his considerable guitar/steel guitar skills to 14 Christmas favorites, including “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Pretty Paper,” “Blue Christmas,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” to mention a few.
We probably wouldn’t have insurgent country music without progressive/neo-traditionalist country artists such as Rodney Crowell, who paved the way (along with Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, and Dwight Yoakam) for many of the incredible Americana tunes we are listening to today. Like the aforementioned Monkees, Crowell releases his first Christmas album in 2018 with Christmas Everywhere (New West). Even more fun (if a bit darker) than the Christmas party thrown by the Monkees, the 12 original Crowell tunes cut through the holiday hokum with a musical knife sharp enough to slice a Christmas ham. If you need a break from the forced joy, you can take comfort in songs such as “Merry Christmas from an Empty Bed,” “Christmas Makes Me Sad,” “Christmas Everywhere,” “Christmas in Vidor” (featuring occasional collaborator Mary Karr), and “Let’s Skip Christmas This Year.” Crowell also wraps up a few more traditional Christmas numbers “Very Merry Christmas,” “Come Christmas,” and “Christmas” to put under the tree.
Michael Longoria, the out musical-theater performer whose credits include Jersey Boys, Hairspray, and The View Upstairs, goes for the garland and tinsel with Merry Christmas Darling (Broadway). Longoria’s big gay heart glows as bright as the lights on a Christmas tree with his renditions of holiday tunes by divas including Mariah Carey (“All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Miss You Most [at Christmas Time]”), Ariana Grande (“Santa Tell Me”), Kelly Clarkson (“Wrapped in Red”), Leona Lewis (“One More Sleep”), Britney Spears (“My Only Wish”), and George Michael (“Last Christmas”). He even includes an original tune, “Merry Me This Christmas,” to close out the album.
This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.