BY christina fuoco-karasinski and rohit lakshman
The COVID-19 pandemic has had us all wishing for merrier times. Musicians are no different. A swarm of performers, ranging from Macklemore duet partner Mary Lambert to Canadian pop stars Glass Tiger, have released holiday albums. Here’s a roundup of some of the best Christmas albums new to 2020.
Mary Lambert is feeling sad about the COVID-19 pandemic, but her quarantine-produced holiday EP, “Happy Holigays,” is cheering her up.
“I haven’t released something with levity in a hundred years,” she says with a boisterous laugh. “It was nice to not have to think about trauma for a few seconds.”
Lambert—who appears on Macklemore’s triple-platinum “Same Love”—offers classic favorites like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and originals such as “Seasonal Depression” on the record. The latter song is an anthem about taking meds, as Lambert suffers from bipolar disorder. She sings, “Take your meds / if you’re taking meds / get some rest / or eat a snack / it’ll all get better soon.”
On “Christmas Cookies,” she’s joined by her partner, a nonbinary professor or rhetorician named Wyatt.
“Wyatt and I play music all the time together, and I thought their voice would sound perfect in the song,” she says. “We were dying of laughter while recording, so I included some of that in the actual track.”
Lambert’s fondest Christmas memory is the annual scavenger hunt her mom hosted for Lambert and her siblings.
“It’s a rambunctious event,” she says. “I think we’ll carry on this tradition when we have kids. We are both all about surprises and prizes. Wyatt did a week-long scavenger hunt. I was all about it.”
“Songs for a Winter’s Night”
Canadian pop-rockers Glass Tiger tried to make the best of the lockdown and decided to do something constructive—record their first holiday album.
“We had talked about the Christmas stuff, but we were never able to get our heads wrapped around it,” says keyboardist/producer Sam Reid.
“This is going to be a Christmas like no other, so if there’s ever an opportunity when we should do a Christmas record, this is it.”
The album, “Songs for a Winter’s Night,” is a collection of nine original songs written by Glass Tiger, along with a cover of “A Song for a Winter’s Night,” the latter of which sees the band joined by Natalie MacMaster, Isabel Bayrakdarian of Santa Barbara, and the Steve Sidwell Orchestra.
Legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot makes an appearance to voice a poem written by lead singer Alan Frew, “Ode for a Winter’s Night.”
“It’s sad to see it wrap up, because it’s been keeping me mentally occupied for the whole time,” Reid says. “We had to create it over multiple time zones—we had string arrangements done in the U.K.; an opera singer from Santa Barbara, who sang in an empty concert hall in Fresno; and Alan in Italy. Then it was all stitched together.”
Frew was “marooned,” as Reid puts it, in Italy while visiting his daughter in a European school.
Christmas is “a big deal” for Reid, who always wanted to record Christmas music. He admits he has a hard time with covers.
“It’s just really difficult to do justice to some of the songs I love,” he says. “You cannot beat Bing Crosby or Dean Martin. I’m a very traditional kind of music guy at Christmastime. It’s kind of like covering the Beatles. You’re not going to knock them off their perch.”
August Burns Red
“All I Want for Christmas”
August Burns Red regularly records Christmas songs in time for the holidays.
Guitarist Brent Rambler says the cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” is special, as bassist Dustin Davidson penned the metal version of the pop tune.
“When he was going through the remaining songs that we haven’t covered, there were so few that translate to cool metal songs,” Rambler says.
“That was at the top of the list. What he wrote came out awesome. He’s a phenomenal guitar player.”
Rambler’s favorite Christmas tradition is the chicken pot pie his family makes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—but this isn’t the usual frozen version of comfort food.
“Every year my family gets together in Lancaster County and we make the Lancaster County version of chicken pot pie, which is noodles, chicken stock and herbs. That’s it. We’ve been doing that for 36 years—before my time. It’s a great family gathering.”
August Burns Red is hosting a Saturday, December 12, livestream for $15 to $40.
“The Birth of a King”
Producer Tommee Profitt’s 15-year dream was to record a holiday album. Thanks to the pandemic, the former Michigander who frequently works with rapper NF did that with “The Birth of a King.”
The genre-bending, high-concept Christmas album stands out because of his signature cinematic sensibilities and his epic take on traditional holiday music. Special guests include Avril Lavigne, Chris Tomlin and Stanaj.
“The funny thing is, I’ve actually dreamed of making this album since 2005, when I was in college,” Profitt says, calling from Nashville.
“One of my class assignments in one of my music classes was to reimagine a Christmas carol. I did one of them and I had so much fun just imagining doing more than one. I said, ‘One day, I want to do one big Christmas album.’ I had no idea it would be 15 years later.”
Profitt put a lot of pressure on himself during the six-month project, knowing he wanted to do it for so long.
“I do lots of projects,” says Profitt, who has worked with Josh Groban.
“That’s the one that was on my mind for 15 years. That was the big thing I wanted to do. Now I have to figure out what’s next.”
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful” was one of the more challenging songs on the set. He penned about nine ideas for the song, but none of them were right. He wanted a new and fresh take, but his mind went blank.
“Two weeks before I had to turn in the album, I made this completely new arrangement of the song,” Profitt says. “I used some of the lyrics for the verses. It just came to me. The other songs came quickly.”
Now that he’s a father—his children are 8, 6 and 3—he says it’s fun to remember the way he viewed Christmas.
“I’m trying to recreate fun memories for them and make traditions with them,” he says.
“One Wish for Christmas”
The lead singer of the ’80s English act Kajagoogoo (“Too Shy”), Limahl released a new take on 2012’s “London for Christmas” called “One Wish for Christmas,” which reflects the COVID-19 effects.
“I was very happy with the song and as usual was planning to re-release it as is,” Limahl says. “However, this year during COVID, I was thinking about the lyrics and how they’ll have more value/poignancy because they talk about the many things we’re all unable to do, such as travel/tourism, romantic hotel/city break, cocktail bar, theater, etc. With all the extra time in lockdown to be creative and as it’s been eight years since we first wrote it, we decided to revisit the production.”
Limahl admits he enjoys the new version just as much as the first rendition.
“I was so focused on London when we wrote it seven years ago,” Limahl adds about the differences. “I was a bit obsessed. Right now, it feels like a good balance because you still got London as the backdrop as the story for the couple’s trip.
“We all need something a little cheery during this time.”
Limahl loves Christmas and recalls opening presents with his working-class family, who lived in government housing.
“My happiest moment is unwrapping those presents and playing games with my two brothers and sister,” he says. “My family was poor. We didn’t have a lot of money. So, everything had value—even like a game.”
Country star Ty Herndon didn’t quite know how to promote a Christmas record when he was in between labels years ago. Now, he’s giving holiday music another chance.
“Regifted” features songs previously recorded by Herndon with some “modern EQs on it,” he says. “It was a pretty good record before, but nobody bought that record. I didn’t know anything about promoting a record. I did it and put it on a website. It’s brand new again, and I love that.”
The centerpiece of “Regifted” is the Kristin Chenoweth duet “Orphans of God,” previously recorded by Avalon.
“I’ve known her for a long time,” he says of Chenoweth. “She’s one of the best vocalists on the planet. We’ve been trying to do something for a long time. It’s a message we both believe in.
“I was a big Avalon fan. Michael Passons is one of my best friends, and Melissa Greene is my pastor. It turned out to be a miracle.”
He’s hoping fans will enjoy this album the way he loved music on the holidays.
“My family’s musical,” he says. “We had people on the back porch picking guitars and singing. It’s always magical. Now that my grandparents are off to heaven and we have new families, we have new traditions. It’s super fun, except when they all come to one show. If they’re teenagers, I make them buy their own tickets.”
Other holiday releases
• Gina Naomi Baez, “Christmas Candlelight”
• The Barefoot Movement, “I Just Wish It Would Snow”
• Gabby Barrett, “The First Noel”
• The Bird and the Bee, “Put Up the Lights”
• Black Violin, “Give Thanks”
• Andrea Bocelli, “Believe”
• Danielle Bradbery, “O Holy Night”
• Lauren Calve, “Christmas is Where the Heart Is”
• Charleene Closshey, “An Evergreen Christmas”
• Command Sisters, “Steal Your Heart”
• Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, “Good News”
• Kat Cunning, “O’ Holy Night”
• Earcandy, “An Earcandy Christmas”
• Florida Georgia Line, “Lit This Year”
• For King & Country, “A Drummer Boy Christmas”
• David Garfield, “Holidays Outside the Box”
• Goo Goo Dolls, “It’s Christmas All Over”
• Hootie and the Blowfish featuring Abigail Hodges, “Won’t Be Home for Christmas”
• The Imaginaries, “Hometown Christmas”
• Ryland James, “A Little Christmas” EP
• Carly Rae Jepsen, “It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries”
• Jonas Brothers, “I Need You Christmas”
• Jujubee, “Eight Days of You”
• Beverley Knight, “A Christmas Wish, The Theme to the Loss Adjuster”
• Kiana Lede, “The Christmas Song”
• John Lindahl, “A John Lindahl Holiday Album”
• Carrington MacDuffie, “Run Rudolph Run”
• Michelle Malone and The Hot Toddies, “Toddie Time”
• Isabela Merced, “Caliente Navidad”
• Ronnie Milsap, “Merry, Merry Christmas Baby”
• Miz Cracker, “Get Me the (expletive) Out of Here”
• Anne Murray, “The Ultimate Christmas Collection”
• The Myrrhderers, “The Myrrhderers Sleigh Some More”
• Matt Nathanson, “Farewell December”
• Tami Neilson, “Pretty Paper”
• Sara Noelle, “Christmas at Sea”
• Leslie Odom Jr., “The Christmas Album”
• Office Romance, “Holidays of Love”
• Dolly Parton, “A Holly Dolly Christmas”
• Liam Payne featuring Dixie D’Amelio, “Naughty List”
• Pentatonix, “We Need a Little Christmas”
• RaeLynn, “Merry Christmas”
• Van Scott, “Thank God It’s Christmas”
• Aneesa Sheikh, “Happy Little Holiday”
• Slowey and the Boats, “Merry Christmas from Slowey and the Boats”
• Straight No Chaser, “Social Christmasing”
• Sweet Lizzy Project, “And So This is Christmas”
• Dani Taylor, “Does It Snow in Nashville?”
• Meghan Trainor, “A Very Trainor Christmas”
• Carrie Underwood, “My Gift”
• Consuelo Vanderbilt and Malan Breton, “I’ll Be Home for Xmas”
• Various artists, “Christmas Rocks”
• Various artists, “Christmas Together (Wherever We Are)”
• Various artists, “Happiest Season”
• Various artists, “Now That’s What I Call Music! R&B Christmas”
• Various artists, “Why? Because It’s Christmas”
• Lil Nas X, “Holiday”
• Ye Banished Privateers, “Drawn and Quartered”