So this is Christmas. Another year of the same old Christmas records will be playing at your holiday party — unless you indulge in one of the many new holiday releases.
This winter, your favorite artists have put out new records and re-released Christmas classics. We combed through this Christmas' dozens of releases to give you a new album for each of the 12 days of Christmas.
Mannheim Steamroller, “Christmas Symphony II”
Chip Davis' synth-fueled orchestrations didn't end with the platinum-selling “Christmas in the Aire.” Davis is back at it with new takes on 13 holiday tunes. Mannheim Steamroller has tackled some of these before, but songs such as “Good King Wenceslas” — featuring performances from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra — have a more orchestral feel than past versions that were full of synthesized melodies.
Listen to “Carol of the Bells” A sweeping version of the song that we love.
Bright Eyes, “A Christmas Album”
Conor Oberst's holiday album has a “sitting around the fire and singing with friends” kind of feel. More than 10 years after its release, Saddle Creek Records reissued the album this year. “Silver Bells” features a chorus of Omaha-based musicians, and “White Christmas” is as serene as the untouched blanket of white after a snowfall (you know, just like the ones you used to know). It's perfect for any indie rock fan.
Listen to “Blue Christmas” Oberst's is the best version of the tune since Elvis.
Kelly Clarkson, “Wrapped in Red”
Ms. Clarkson brings out some Christmas favorites such as “Run Run Rudolph” and “White Christmas” on this release. One original is the title track, which tells a tale of love at Christmastime, sort of like a sung version of “Love Actually.” Clarkson also goes a little bit country on this release, and a highlight is a version of “Silent Night” that features Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood.
Listen to “Baby, It's Cold Outside” Clarkson's version is a duet with Ronnie Dunn that's pretty faithful to the pop classic.
Susan Boyle, “Home For Christmas”
Boyle lends her always powerful voice to these well-known Christmas songs. A duet with Elvis Presley on “O Come All Ye Faithful” was poorly edited together to become the album's single, but the album still shines with sweet songs such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I'll Be Home For Christmas.”
Listen to “When a Child is Born” Johnny Mathis, who has his own new Christmas album, guest stars on this tune.
Bad Religion, “Christmas Songs”
Further proving that just about everyone puts out a Christmas album sooner or later, this long-running punk band dropped a collection of fast-moving, hard-hitting holiday tunes. There's even a new remix of the band's 1993 song “American Jesus.”
Listen to “Angels We Have Heard on High” This song is always best when sung with lots of energy, and Bad Religion nails it.
Mary J. Blige, “A Mary Christmas”
We could listen to Blige's rousing version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” over and over and over again. It's a jazzy big band tune. If you're in the mood for a R&B-style Christmas, this album — and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” in particular — might be for you.
Listen to “This Christmas” Blige's version of the Danny Hathaway classic has all of its R&B spirit in an updated, swinging style. (And it's much better than the one Chris Brown put out.)
“The Classic Christmas Album” series
Once again, Sony Legacy has re-released classic Christmas music from artists including Neil Diamond, Gladys Knight & The Pips, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Barbra Streisand, Alabama, Johnny Cash, Martina McBride and Andy Williams.
Listen to Neil Diamond's “Joy to the World” Nothing makes us smile quite like Diamond's soaring baritone. It brings joy to the world all on its own.
Duck Dynasty's “Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas”
Considering that the Robertsons are neither singers nor musicians, we're not sure how the clan famous for appearing on reality show “Duck Dynasty” has put out a Christmas album, but they have. That said, we have to be honest: This album is way better than it has any right to be. We're not sure who provided all the instrumentation, but the Robertsons' singing voices are pretty solid.
Listen to “Rajin Cajun Redneck Christmas” A pretty fun track for anyone who's a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. (That should also cover anyone who's a fan of “Duck Dynasty.”)
Gretchen Wilson, “Christmas in My Heart”
The country singer wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. Or at least that's what she sings on “Hippopotamus for Christmas,” an old-time song we're happy to see come back 60 years after its debut. She does that with most of the album, but we also love her originals, including “If You See Rudolph.”
Listen to “Santa I've Been Naughty:” Wilson knows that the best way to make it back onto Santa's nice list is to ply him with milk and cookies.
Trace Adkins, “The King's Gift”
When we heard the burly country singer was making a Christmas album, we expected the normal country Christmas stuff. But Adkins called on his Irish heritage to make versions of “The Wexford Carol” and “Carol of the Drum” (known to you as “The Little Drummer Boy”) that are positively full of pipes and drums. It's the most original Christmas album out this year.
Listen to “I Saw Three Ships:” The Chieftains and Alyth MacCormack join Adkins for this tune, which sees MacCormack singing some verses in Gaelic.
Kool & the Gang, “Kool For the Holidays”
We know you wanted a funky Christmas. Kool & the Gang knew it, too. We particularly love their version of “Winter Wonderland,” which has a gloriously funky retro disco feel to it.
Listen to “Christmas Tyme (The Perfect Time for Love)” You didn't know you needed a Christmas R&B love song in your life until you heard this one.
Jewel, “Let It Snow”
Jewel captures us with her version of “I'll Be Home For Christmas.” Kicked off with an a capella verse, the song shows exactly how good she is at this whole singing thing. She captures the song's sense of longing perfectly. We also dig her country version of “Silver Bells.”
Listen to “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” Jewel's band somehow combines big band swing with country guitar, and we love the result. It gives new life to this old tune.