Now that Thanksgiving is over and we are well into December, I have dropped my Grinchy attitude and have full-on embraced the Christmas spirit. Well, at least I’ve been jamming the Christmas tunes. In my last Scroogy post, I confessed my weirdo-ness and love for Christmas music. And in the spirit of Christmas I thought I’d share my top 10 favorite albums (in no particular order) that you’ve maybe never heard of. I cherish the Charlie Brown Christmas, and love Harry Connick Jr., Frank Sinatra and all the other common songs you’re familiar with, but they won’t be on this list. There are tons of weird and ridiculous albums out there, but these are a few unique ones that I genuinely enjoy and are part of our family holiday soundtrack.
1. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Album
This group is a high energy funky soul band with a vintage sound. Sharon’s passionate vocals combined with the Dap Kings band is pure holiday fun. It’s a great mix of originals and sweet arrangements of familiar tunes too. Also, they have the coolest Holiday Sweater that I almost buy every year. One of these years, maybe I’ll actually do it.
2. Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails: Part One
This is from a four part series (which of course I have all four), but part one is the best. Having a holiday party? This is the perfect holiday soundtrack. Who wouldn’t want to sip a martini by the the Christmas tree while listening to Lou Rawls croon Christmas Is or the cheesy soothing sounds of the Hollyridge Strings version Jingle Bells.
3. Jimmy Smith – Christmas Cookin’
This is a great jazz album. And not one of those typical piano jazz with a smooth elevator saxophone. Jimmy Smith rocks the organ and has some really unique arrangements of your classic holiday songs. My favorite on this album is his arrangement of We Three Kings.
4. Shawn Lee and the Ping Pong Orchestra – A Very Ping Pong Christmas: Funky Treats from Santa’s Bag
This gem has a bunch of fun jams on it. Every song is a winner here. I like the unique arrangements and different take on the songs we’ve heard time and time again. This is usually my holiday baking soundtrack. So fire up the oven and make some sugar cookies while blasting this bad boy.
5. Al Di Meola – Winter Nights
Need a break from that stereotypical Christmasy sound? As the title implies, this is just a good winter soundtrack. Al Di Meola guitar work is amazing and mesmerizing. This is perfect to brighten a cold dreary winter night. I don’t have a favorite track on this, but this version of Greensleeves is just gorgeous.
6. The Klezmonauts – Oy to the World
These are your classic Christmas carols played like klezmer music. What a unique blend of styles. It’s original, strange, funny, and quite pretty. My favorite track is the Little Drummer Boy which has a Wipeout inspired drum solo in the middle. Who can go wrong with that?
7. Bela Fleck and the Fleck Tones – Jingle All the Way
This one is another original album. If you’re not familiar with Bela Fleck, he’s a jazz banjo player. So right there, this isn’t typical stuff. This album is full of unique instruments, changing keys signatures and time signatures. The album opens with Mongolian throat singers doing Jingle Bells. What? As weird as it sounds, it’s hauntingly beautiful. This is by far one of my favorite versions of Jingle Bells. There is so much going on in the album, it definitely requires a focused listen. Christmas music or not, it’s jut cool music no matter how you look at it.
8. Bootsy Collins – Christmas is 4 Ever
Bootsy Collins is associated with such acts as James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. And this album is totally funky. With songs like Happy Holidaze and Winterfunkyland, and a guest appearance from Snoop Dog, you can tell why this is super awesome.
9. Crash Test Dummies – Jingle all the Way
You know the MMM MMM MMM guys from the 90s? Well, they have a Christmas album and it’s strangely wonderful. I think their version of Jingle Bells speaks for itself. It’s super haunting sounding. So haunting that when my family and I made a family zombie Christmas movie for my dad (yes, you read that right, and we are total weirdos) this was the song we used for the soundtrack.
10. Count Scary – We Wish You a Scary Christmas
Count Scary was a TV personality in Detroit that hosted horror movies and did funny skits on-air in the 1980s. Count Scary was kind of a buffoon of a vampire. He wore a pair of black Converse sneakers, had funny make-up, and had a bunch of catchphrases. “OOOOhhhh That’s Scaaaarrrryyyy!” He put out a 45 record with two Christmas skits on it. My dad brought it home one day and I was obsessed. And every year I still listen to it. It’s like a time machine to my golden years of childhood at Christmas time.
What are some of the things you and your family listen to during the holiday season?