Hip for the holidays: our playlist for the season

December 23, 2014

We polled our contributors and readers about what music puts them in the holiday spirit and leaves the cheese on the buffet table where it belongs.


 
 
 

VINCE GUARALDI

A Charlie Brown Christmas

The gold standard of holiday piano music, both for listening and playing. My songbook lives on the piano all season, and the ubiquity of “Linus and Lucy” aside, I never get tired of exploring the harmonic motion in originals like “Christmas is Coming,” “Christmastime is Here,” and his reinventions of classics like “Chestnuts” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” Besides, go listen to “Your Gold Teeth II” by Steely Dan and then try to tell me they didn’t seriously check out Vince Guaraldi. Brilliance defined. | vinceguaraldi.com | Stephen Fortner


 

MATISYAHU

“Happy Hanukkah” (single)

Acclaimed Hasidic reggae musician and rapper Matisyahu released this infectious Hanukkah track in 2012 to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. Two years later it still delivers deep grooves. | matisyahuworld.com | Jon Regen



VARIOUS ARTISTS

Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails

Now comprising three volumes, this compilation of pops, swing, and jazz artists performing holiday standards will do even more for your retro cred than stirring your martini with a traditional portion of vermouth. Jimmy McGriff kicks a swingin’ B-3 medley of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “White Christmas.” Another high point: Kay Starr singing “Man with the Bag.” Great for parties. | Nora Charles



KENNY ELLIS

Hanukkah Swings

Los Angeles based cantor Kenny Ellis channels the swing and swagger of Holiday albums past with this 2005 release in both English and Hebrew, featuring great piano work by Stu Goldberg. Key track: “Swingin’ Dreidel.” | kennyellis.com | Jon Regen



RICK WAKEMAN

Christmas Variations

This, and also Jon Anderson’s Three Ships—obviously a vocal album but with lots of keyboards and a mix of traditional carols and originals. I also used to have Christmas albums from Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck that were great. | rwcc.com | Daniel Heslop, via Facebook



THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Featuring collaborations between the legendary gospel singers and such artists as Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Michael Franti, Mavis Staples, and George Clinton, this record won the Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Soul Album in 2004. High quality indeed! | blindboys.com | Robert Graham, via Facebook



TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA

The Christmas Trilogy

Any of the Christmas albums by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are wonderful—the song “Wizards in Winter” in particular. | trans-siberian.com | Jim Eshleman, via Facebook



GODS OF FIRE
Hanukkah Gone Metal

Who says the holidays have to put you to sleep? This 2009 release tells Hanukkah history against a sonic backdrop of raging metal guitars and soaring prog keyboards. Key track: “The Quest for the Latke Oil.” | godsoffire.bandcamp.com | Jon Regen

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