Despite complaints by grinches who claim Christmas music drives them up the wall, recording artists and record companies keep delivering new holiday music and reissues every year.
The 2014 holiday season releases include the first holiday album by Idina Menzel, the Tony-winning singer-actress and star of Disney’s animated hit “Frozen.” The Christmas music list also features new recordings by vocal groups Pentatonix, Committed, Ireland’s Celtic Thunder, the U.K.’s Mediaeval Baebes and veteran rhythm-and-blues group Earth, Wind, & Fire.
This year’s nostalgic reissues feature classic pop vocalists Rosemary Clooney, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Robert Goulet.
As always, many various-artists collections are available, including the first Motown Record holiday anthology in 46 years and two TV-inspired releases, “Christmas at Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men Christmas.”
The season also brings new recordings by New Orleans artists. For many, Benny Grunch and the Bunch’s annual updated Christmas collection will be the star atop that list.
Many of the new holiday season collections are listed below.
BAND OF MERRYMAKERS — Must Be Christmas
An all-star holiday single featuring members of Better Than Ezra, Lady Antebellum, 311, Fitz and the Tantrums and more.
CELTIC THUNDER — Holiday Symphony
The five male voices of Celtic Thunder perform holiday favorites, including traditional carols “Away in A Manger” and “Come All Ye Faithful” and a late 20th century holiday classic, “Fairytale of New York.” Recorded in Ireland with the 90-piece Orchestra of Ireland.
EARTH, WIND & FIRE — Holiday
Rhythm-and-blues vocal group Earth, Wind & Fire puts its soulful, funky, unmistakable touch on “Winter Wonderland,” “What Child is This?”, “Away in a Manger” “Jingle Bell Rock” and other favorites.
FELIX CAVALIERE — Christmas Joy
In the 1960s, New York City’s Rascals, featuring singer-songwriter Felix Cavaliere, released a string of soulful hits (“Groovin’,” “Good Lovin’,” “A Beautiful Morning” and more). Cavaliere hasn’t lost his touch, as his first Christmas album shows. He performs the newly composed “Christmas in New Orleans,” a faithful remake of Charles Brown’s Christmas blues classic, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run Rudolph” and seven more songs of the season.
COMMITTED — Home For Christmas
Vocal quintet Committed’s holiday EP features six holiday favorites.
THE HENNINGSENS — Our Family Christmas
Country-music trio the Henningsens’ 10-song digital-only collection offers old favorites and the originals “Christmas Kissin’ ” (featuring guest Jerrod Niemann) and “Happy Birthday, Merry Chistmas, Baby Jesus.”
JOHNNYSWIM — A Johnnyswim Christmas
The Nashville-based husband and wife duo of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano-Ramirez interpret five holiday classics for this digital-only EP.
DAVE KOZ AND FRIENDS — The 25th Of December
Saxophonist Dave Koz performs Christmas collaborations with an eclectic group of artists. New Orleans’ Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, India.Arie, Eric Benét, Gloria Estefan, Fantasia, Kenny G, Heather Headley, Richard Marx, Johnny Mathis, BeBe Winans and Stevie Wonder join the smooth-jazz star.
SETH MACFARLANE — Holiday For Swing
The multi-talented Seth MacFarlane celebrates Christmas with composer, arranger and producer Joel McNeely and a 52-piece orchestra. They recorded the album, featuring familiar and lesser-known selections, at Abbey Road Studios in London. MacFarlane duets with Norah Jones for “Little Jack Frost Get Lost” and Sara Bareilles for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
THE MEDIAEVAL BAEBES — Of Kings & Angels
Following the big success this collection had last year in the U.K., the all-female vocal quintet’s “Of Kings & Angels” carols album makes its American debut this year.
IDINA MENZEL — Holiday Wishes
The first Christmas album from Idina Menzel, the Tony-winning singer-actress and star of Disney’s animiated hit “Frozen,” features orchestra- and chorus-accompanied performances of holiday favorites; a duet with crooner Michael Bublé of “Baby. It’s Cold Outside”’ and Menzel’s take on a Disney classic “When You Wish Upon A Star.”
GUY PENROD — Christmas
Gospel singer Guy Penrod performs traditional holiday season standards plus “Tennessee Christmas” with guests Amy Grant and Vince Gill.
PENTATONIX — That’s Christmas To Me
The a cappella quintet’s fourth album presents standards such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and the heartfelt original title song, “That’s Christmas To Me.”
LEANN RIMES — One Christmas: Chapter One
Country singer LeAnn Rimes’ “One Christmas: Chapter One” EP includes “Blue Christmas” and novelty item “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas.”
DARIUS RUCKER — Home For The Holidays
Rock singer turned country artist Darius Rucker realizes a longtime dream with the release of his first Christmas album. He sings standards, a duet with Sheryl Crow of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and two original holiday-themed compositions, “Candy Cane Christmas” and “What God Wants For Christmas.”
HARRY SHEARER AND JUDITH OWEN — Christmas with the Devil
This two-song EP presents the New Orleans-residing couple Harry Shearer and Judith Owen in a rendition of Spinal Tap’s “Christmas with the Devil” and Owen’s original song, “The Dancing Tree.”
TOM WOPAT AND JOHN SCHNEIDER — Home For Christmas
The stars of “Dukes of Hazzard” — actor, country singer and Louisiana resident John Schneider and the Tony-nominated Tom Wopat — reunite for a Christmas album. In this 18-track album, listeners will find such orchestrated standards as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” customized novelty item “Johnny, It’s Cold Outside” and country song “On a Quiet Christmas Morn.”
New from New Orleans
DEBBIE DAVIS AND MATT PERRINE — Oh Crap, It’s Christmas!
New Orleans musicians Debbie Davis, a singer and ukulele player, and Matt Perrine, bassist and sousaphone player, recruited a sleigh full of guest stars to make their album, “Oh Crap, It’s Christmas!” In this often charming, 17-song holiday variety show, the Christmas novelties are less compelling than the album’s lovely quieter performances. The latter include “Mary’s Boychild” (a classic calypso number recorded by Harry Belafonte and Mahalia Jackson); “A Cradle in Bethlehem,” featuring cellist Helen Gillet; and Davis and Susan Cowsill singing the famous Bing Crosby-David Bowie duet, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”
BENNY GRUNCH AND THE BUNCH — The 12 Yats of Christmas
The “twenty-fift’ annivoisary” of comedy vocal group Benny Grunch and the Bunch’s “The 12 Yats of Christmas” features 26 songs on two CDs. Naturally, the set opens with “The 12 Yats of Christmas.” The performances, stuffed with local references and accents, include the nostalgic “Ain’t Dere No More – Part 2,” “Norris the Nocturnal Nutria,” “Metairie O Metairie,” “Christmas in Chalmette” and, a Christmas tale of paranoia, “Santa’s Got Your Personal Information.” You betta watch out.
IRVIN MAYFIELD AND THE JAZZ PLAYHOUSE REVUE — A New Orleans Creole Christmas
In this album recorded at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in New Orleans, trumpeter Mayfield leads eight renditions of standards and carols. “O Tannebaum” is heard in a joyful traditional New Orleans jazz rendition. “The Christmas Song” glows warmly but “Silent Night” is transformed into something so bluesy that it’s unrecognizable. Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” features Michael Watson’s rhythm-and-blues-flavored vocals. And the keyboard style of Allen Toussaint may have been the inspiration for the prominent piano in “Winter Wonderful.”
LENA PRIMA WITH LAWRENCE SIEBERTH — Christmas Is Here
Lena Prima, the singing daughter of New Orleans music great Louis Prima, joins Lawrence Sieberth for a 10-song voice and piano collection of holiday standards.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — Best of Street: New Orleans X-Mas
This compilation features 10 recordings by New Orleans street musicians. Some selections in this batch of novelties aren’t necessarily Christmas music. They can be a bit naughty, too. The Smoking Time Jazz Club opens the set with the traditional blues of “Christmas Morning Blues.” Shine Delphi and Blind Boy Paxton perform TV special perennial “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.” Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen sings of a blue Christmas with “I’m Trimming My Christmas Tree with Teardrops.” The Original Pinettes deliver a vibrant brass band take on “O Holy Night.”
ROSEMARY CLOONEY — Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
This expanded edition of the classic Rosemary Clooney album adds a previously unreleased duet of “Silver Bells” with Bing Crosby and six more Clooney radio performances.
ROBERT GOULET — The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings
Classic pop vocalist Robert Goulet recorded two Christmas albums for Columbia Records. All 29 of those songs are collected in this 79-minute release plus five bonus tracks.
AMY GRANT — ICON: Amy Grant Christmas
Long identified with Christmas music and tours, Grammy-winning Christian and pop singer Amy Grant’s “Icon” series album contains 11 songs, including “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” “Grown-Up Christmas List” and “Tennessee Christmas.”
ANDY WILLIAMS AND THE WILLIAMS BROTHERS — The Williams Brothers Christmas Album
Previously available only briefly following its 1970 release, “The Williams Brothers Christmas Album” stars singer and TV variety show host Andy Williams and his siblings Bob, Dick and Don. The brothers harmonize for “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” a 17-minute Christmas medley and more.
Various artists collections
VARIOUS ARTISTS — All is Calm, All is Bright
Featuring Christian music artists Sandi Patty, Jaci Velasquez, Cindy Morgan, Ginny Owens, Nic Gonzales, Seth & Nirva, Andrew Greer and Montell Jordan.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — An Americana Christmas
John Prine, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Old 97’s, The Band and Emmylou Harris, all artists who were doing what they do decades before the invention of the Americana label, are included in this 16-song collection.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — Christmas At Downton Abbey
A festive two-CD set inspired by the hit public television series “Downton Abbey.” Cast members Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora) and Julian Ovenden (Charles Blake) sing and Jim Carter (Mr. Carson) reads a Christmas story. Other performers include Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Choir Of Kings College Cambridge.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — The Classic Christmas Albums Legacy series
Sony Music’s Legacy imprint released eight Christmas collections this year, including albums by classic vocalists Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand. Legacy’s 2014 slate also features collections by vocal group Il Divo and multi-artist albums of pop, country and hard rock.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — Mad Men Christmas: Music From & Inspired By
This holiday soundtrack for the hit AMC show “Mad Men” features RDJ2’s “A Beautiful Mine (Theme from Mad Men),” Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Nellie McKay’s “Christmas Waltz” and eight more selections.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — Motown Christmas
India.Arie, Ne-Yo, Gregory Porter, Tasha Cobbs, Smokie Norful, Tye Tribbett and others appear on the first collection of new Christmas recordings from Motown in 46 years.