Chicago — While 2021 is no 2020, it hasn’t been much easier. With the holidays in full swing, there seems to be more pressure than ever to be holly and jolly 24/7. We seem to forget that the merriest season of all should be full of mellow moments too, and it is important to find the time for them.
Whether you’re studying for final exams, need a break from the constant shopping or just need to step away from everything, there is holiday music to keep your spirits both bright and calm.
Pull up a blanket and a cup of cocoa for these 11 holiday albums that ring in the merry-and the mellow.
If indie pop is more for you, you’ll find a Christmas treat with the duo “She & Him.” “New Girl” star and ukulele aficionado Zooey Deschanel duets with musician M. Ward for this stripped-down compilation of classic Christmas covers. On an even cheerier note, the proceeds from the album (and every album sold under Merge Records) are donated to the nonprofit 826 National.
The timeless music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet was re-recorded by conductor Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmoniker. The entire score is full of iconic moments (who can forget the Nutcracker March or Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?), but the lesser-listened tracks are performed with peak precision for a calming and enthralling journey into the land of sweets.
From John Lee Hooker and Eartha Kitt to Norah Jones and Fareed Haque, this album spotlights some of the most soulful stylings of singers and songwriters of the blues. The tracks vary from jazzy instrumental like guitarist Charlie Hunter’s take on 'Christmas Time is Here’ to snappy, snazzy singles like Amos Milburn’s ‘Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby’
For a mix of folk, violin and sharp whistling from the heart, singer-songwriter Andrew Bird helms this combination of classic covers like “Auld Lang Syne” and “Skating,” coupled with his own creations like “Night’s Falling” and “Christmas in April.” It’s best listened to on a snowy day with pine-scented candles lit around the room.
Superstar songstress Lena Horne found time between acting, dancing and civil rights activism to record a Christmas album, and it is arguably one of her best works. Each track is layered with spirited jazz and Horne’s silky smooth voice, which practically melts in your ears with each listen. For a fresh take on an old favorite, start with “Jingle All the Way”.
Swedish-American singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson splits her cover album up: half of it contains special guests like Leslie Odom Jr., Grace VanderWaal, and her longtime partner Will Chase for renditions of holiday staples. The rest is vintage-style solo serenades from Ingrid herself.
Dutch conductor and violinist André Rieu has dazzled audiences from around the world for decades with his breathtaking classical style and touring orchestra. His 2018 album veers from strictly strings to angelic chorales, all focused on bringing classical cheer to your ear. PBS often features reruns of André Rieu concerts, which can give you a chance to see his work performed live.
You may not expect electric violin to calm your holiday qualms, but Lindsey Stirling can make magic with just her bow and rapid-fire rhythms. “Warmer In The Winter” features original tracks, sultry synthetic covers of “All I Want For Christmas” and “Somewhere in My Memory,” and duets with All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth, Trombone Shorty and Sabrina Carpenter.
Similar to Blues Christmas Songs, Oklahoma guitarist JD McPherson riffs with rockabilly style and holiday humor in his first full-length holiday compilation, released in 2018. Derived from the R&B style of the 1950s, each song pokes fun at yuletide traditions and puts some twang in the tinsel. You can even buy socks that are based off the songs and art from the album.
Following the success of her first Christmas collection “Wintersong,” Sarah McLachlan continues to takes soulful spins on definitive Christmas carols: her drum-guitar-bell combo of “Winter Wonderland” is a delightful take on a frequently covered favorite, and her rendition of “Angels We Have Heard On High” sounds like it belongs with the angels themselves.
Pianist David Ian collaborates with Tai and Acacia Wulfing and Andre Miguel Mayo for the quintessential Christmas jazz album. While David Ian has released many versions of “Vintage Christmas” Volumes, this one was the first to feature the alluring vocals of Acacia Wulfing, particularly on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Christmas Time With You.” With 16 sweet and simple songs, it’s perfect for background music or mellowing out while in the holiday mood.