Clear the table of Thanksgiving leftovers, and start stringing the Christmas tree with lights — Yuletide is bearing down upon us all once more.
As is the case this time each year, the music industry has kicked into overdrive, depositing a handful of albums geared toward Christmas into the marketplace, ensuring your festive gatherings will have the appropriate soundtracks. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog, adjust your ugly Christmas sweater and prepare to make a list — checking it twice, of course — of this year’s must-hear seasonal collections.
Kacey Musgraves, ‘A Very Kacey Christmas’
Brimming with wit and a lovely throwback sensibility, East Texas native Kacey Musgraves delivers one of the most winning Yuletide collections in recent memory. Mixing originals with classic covers — her Western swing-tinged renditions of Let It Snow and Mele Kalikimaka are given further lift, thanks to gorgeous contributions from Burleson’s Quebe Sisters — Musgraves deftly mines the boundary between merriment and melancholy. Fort Worth’s Leon Bridges makes a soulful cameo on Present Without a Bow, while Musgraves’ patron saint, Willie Nelson, turns up for the endearingly goofy A Willie Nice Christmas.
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Pentatonix, ‘A Pentatonix Christmas’
The Arlington-formed, Grammy-winning a cappella group is back with its third Christmas album, following 2014’s That’s Christmas to Me. Featuring the quintet’s usual blend of percolating vocals and inventive arrangements — O Come, All Ye Faithful has rarely shown such life as it does here, practically popping out of the speakers — A Pentatonix Christmas is a sharp showcase for the act’s kinetic style, although the singers also make room for contemplation: Their cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, regrettably timely owing to Cohen’s recent death, takes on a particularly poignant dimension.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, ‘Christmas Together’
A blink-and-miss-it collaboration between two country superstars — Christmas Together barely grazes the 28-minute mark — there’s a hasty feeling to even the most pensive songs here. What is surprising (and welcome) is how much Brooks and Yearwood lean into Western swing and jazz impulses, forgoing arena-ready bombast for nuance and feeling. Yearwood’s seductive purr on Santa Baby contrasts with Brooks’ rowdier renditions of Feliz Navidad and Ugly Christmas Sweater, and James Taylor drops by for a cameo on the un-Christmas-y What I’m Thankful For (The Thanksgiving Song).
Sarah McLachlan, ‘Wonderland’
Although it may seem as if Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan has released a slew of seasonally themed albums, Wonderland is only her second such effort in a decade (following 2006’s Wintersong). Her peerless soprano remains ideally suited for such fare — Angels We Have Heard on High, its peculiar electronic burbling notwithstanding, is a frosty beauty to behold — and the 11 tracks here skew traditional, eschewing originals for modern glosses on familiar favorites.
She & Him, ‘Christmas Party’
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward — together known as She & Him — return to Christmas for inspiration, five years after their debut holiday effort. As on 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas, the default mode is tasteful celebration: Deschanel’s stab at All I Want for Christmas Is You won’t give Mariah Carey any reason to sweat her grip on that modern classic. She & Him fare better when dealing with more subdued songs, such as their lovely take on the breezy folk of A Marshmallow World.
Loretta Lynn, ‘White Christmas Blue’
Quite a few Christmases have elapsed since Loretta Lynn last released a holiday album: White Christmas Blue is Lynn’s first such collection in 50 years. A largely traditional track list includes three originals — the title track, which first turned up on 1966’s Country Christmas, as well as To Heck With Ole Santa Claus — and provides a welcome burst of classic country.
R. Kelly, ‘12 Nights of Christmas’
Improbably, 12 Nights of Christmas is R. Kelly’s first holiday offering, but unsurprisingly, he makes sure to keep this record consistent with his output to date (thanks, Christmas Lovin’!). Three years in the making, R. Kelly’s approach is to mix originals with covers, and for the most part, 12 Nights of Christmas is a smooth, polished addition to the Yuletide rotation (if your family isn’t put off by the myriad allegations of bad behavior leveled against Kelly over the years).
Jimmy Buffett, ‘ ’Tis the SeaSon’
Because when you think Christmas, you think ... Parrotheads? For his first Christmas album in two decades, singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett takes a broad view of the season, reaching far and wide — Jingle Bell Rock and All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and White Christmas — while also displaying some questionable chutzpah giving Paul McCartney’s oft-loathed Wonderful Christmastime an island makeover. Hey, what is the holiday season without a few poor choices?