2016 Holiday Music Overview

Another December brings another batch of holiday albums from artists across a variety of genres.  Though there are fewer new releases this year, we’ve compiled a short list of the most interesting projects featuring new arrangements of classics as well as original songs composed for the season.

Title: A Kenny Lattimore Christmas

Artist: Kenny Lattimore

Label: Motown Gospel

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2016


Kenny Lattimore seamlessly merges contemporary R&B with contemporary Christian music on A Kenny Lattimore Christmas. Original songs such as “Real Love This Christmas” and “Everybody Love Somebody” are full of energy and hip hop beats, with lyrics about the importance of community and faith. Lattimore includes many classic Christmas songs on the album, such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” and a grand, symphonic arrangement of “O Holy Night.” He also adds worship songs such as “I Cry Holy” and the gospel-chorus backed “We Want to See You.” Overall, it is a marvelous holiday album for any gospel music fan looking for something that combines tradition and innovation.


Title: Merry Christmas from Andra Day

Artist: Andra Day

Label: Warner Bros.

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 18, 2016


On the five track EP Merry Christmas from Andra Day, the jazz/R&B chanteuse breathes new life into holiday classics with her highly distinctive, instantly recognizable voice. Opening with the Stevie Wonder duet “Someday at Christmas,” the two singers present an upbeat, optimistic song that immediately captures the season’s spirit with themes of peace and harmony:

Day then segues into a swinging arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” followed by a sumptuous rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” Guitarist Chris Payton contributes to “Carol of the Bells,” providing an acoustic accompaniment to Day’s supremely soulful arrangement that renders this chestnut nearly unrecognizable, in the best possible way. Closing with “The First Noel,” Day takes a more straight forward approach, using a simple arrangement with keyboard, but adding enough modulations and embellishments to keep things interesting.


Title: Simply Christmas

Artist: Leslie Odom, Jr.

Label: S-Curve Records

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: November 11, 2016


While Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. has quickly risen to fame this year as the rapping Aaron Burr, his classically trained Broadway voice stays steady and velvety smooth on his first holiday album Simply Christmas. Odom does not stray from the typical Christmas repertoire, except for adding a version of Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song.” Otherwise, with tracks ranging from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “The First Noel,” this is a traditional Christmas album full of easy listening holiday cheer.


Title: The Gift of Christmas

Artist: Bob Baldwin

Label: Red River Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 28, 2016


Great for any contemporary jazz enthusiast on your Christmas list, pianist and composer Bob Baldwin’s The Gift of Christmas adds his spin to holiday classics such as “This Christmas” and “Greensleeves/What Child Is This?” Baldwin combines tradition with modern styles on tracks such as “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful / Celebrate the Son Remix,” which mixes electronic beats, vocals from gospel artist Corvina Nielsen, and a soulful keyboard solo. Nielsen also guest stars on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “We Three Kings / Yonder Star Remix,” with her soaring, soulful vocals adding a unique dimension to the album. Ending on the beautifully calm and melancholy track “December 25th,” Baldwin returns to a more traditional smooth jazz sound. On The Gift of Christmas, Baldwin constantly challenges our expectations of what Christmas songs should sound like through surprising arrangements and delightful collaborations.


Title: 12 Nights of Christmas

Artist: R. Kelly

Label: RCA

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2016


If you like non-traditional Christmas songs, R. Kelly’s 12 Nights of Christmas is perfect for you. Kelly combines his signature R&B vocals and sensual lyrics with lush orchestral arrangements on holiday themed songs such as “Snowman,” “Flyin’ On My Sleigh,” and “Mrs. Santa Claus.” Though some of these tracks may be borderline “not safe for work,” there are also more innocuous songs such as “My Wish for Christmas” and “Home for Christmas”—his modern day twist on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”:

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Title: A Very Big Freedia Christmazzz

Artist: Big Freedia

Label: Queen Diva Music

Formats: MP3

Release date: December 9, 2016


If you’re looking for something naughty but nice for your holiday party, look no further than this 5 track EP from the bounce queen of New Orleans. A Very Big Freedia Christmazzz offers some very unique takes on holiday classics such as “Rudy the Big Booty Reindeer” who knows how to twerk, and “Jingle Bell Rock” which will get you on your feet to “shake the night away.” Freedia’s “Twas the Night” is a hip hop version of the classic Christmas story with a NOLA twist:

Twas the night before Friday and all through the club,
They were drinking and smoking and tearing it up,
It was a cold night but the place was lit,
It was packed wall to wall no room to sit . . .
Chorus: All I want for Christmas is the beat, beat
All I want for Christmas is the beat, beat

Original tracks include the highly infectious “So Frosty” that’s sure to heat up the dance floor, and “Santa is a Gay Man” sung to the tune of “Mr. Sandman” (definitely not safe for work).

Reviewed by Anna Polovick and Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Contemporary Gospel/Traditional Christmas Albums

Title: The Clark Sisters’ Family Christmas

Artist:  The Clark Sisters

Format: CD; MP3

Label: Karew Records

Release date: October 6, 2009

Heading up our list of contemporary gospel holiday CDs is this new release by the Clark Sisters, their first Christmas CD in nearly 20 years.  By bringing in younger members of their extended family, the Clark Sisters have produced an album that will have cross-generational appeal.  Cousin Bill Moss, Jr. and the Nashville String Machine perform the ballad “We are the Reason,”  J Moss  weighs in with his take on Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas, ” and Kierra Sheard lends her R&B styled vocals to “Beautiful Christmas.”  Not to be outdone, The Clark Sisters contribute a number of holiday classics, including a fun version of the “Chipmunk Song” for the youngsters.

Title: Love, Peace & Joy at Christmas

Artist: Trin-i-tee 5:7

Format:  Dual disc (CD + DVD); MP3

Label: Music World

Release Date: October 26, 2009

Acclaimed female gospel group Trin-i-tee 5:7 has released a limited edition two disc (CD/DVD) set which includes videos from their recent Christmas television special filmed at Union Station.  Along with classic Christmas songs such as “Joy To The World,” “Silent Night” and some contemporary Christian favorites, the trio rachets the CD up a notch with jazzy versions of “‘White Christmas,”  “Winter Wonderland,” and a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Give Love on Christmas Day.” Overall, a pleasant mix which will appeal to fans of the group.

Title:  I’m Coming Home for Christmas

Artist: Impressions

Format:  CD; MP3

Label: ReBirth Music

Release date: October 13, 2009

I’m Coming Home for Christmas is billed as the first Christmas album ever released by the Impressions, and signals the return of lead singer Reggie Torian after a 25-year absence (the current group also includes original member Sam Gooden and  Fred Cash, who joined the group in 1960).  The majority of the album consists of traditional holiday fare–“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” etc. – though the newly composed title track offers up something original.  A reworking of their hit song “Amen” (originally sung by Curtis Mayfield) is also included, as well as the Gamble & Huff penned  “Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas.” Fans of the Impressions,  and of vocal harmony groups in general, will no doubt rejoice over this new release.

Title: Gotta Have Gospel! Christmas

Artists:   Various

Format:  CD

Label: Integrity

Release date: October 20, 2009

Gotta Have Gospel! Christmas is a compilation of both classic and contemporary gospel Christmas favorites.  All of the material has been previously released, but if you’re looking for a wide variety of songs and styles performed by gospel’s top artists, this will certainly suit.  Featured are selections by Israel Houghton and Cece Winans (“We Wish You a Timeless Christmas”), Kirk Franklin & The Family (“Now Behold the Lamb”), Donnie McClurkin (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”), Mary Mary (“Oh Come All Ye Faithful”), Yolanda Adams (“Little Drummer Boy”),Fred Hammond (“Go Tell It on the Mountain”), and American Idol favorite Mandisa (“O Holy Night”), among others.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss