Last year saw a veritable sleigh-load of Christmas and holiday albums for families. This year's list of CDs is smaller, but there are a few disks that came out this fall and winter that your family may enjoy...
My favorite was A Slugs and Bugs Christmas from Slugs and Bugs, AKA Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson, who were behind Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies. If you are interested in Christmas just from a secular perspective, you can skip the rest of the review, as this disk is definitely geared toward the crowd who attends church on more than just Christmas and Easter. The first song, "Happy Birthday Jesus," makes that clear, as do a number of other songs. (That song also features one of the niftier arrangements I've heard in some time, blending a modern bluegrass song with a kids' chorus taking on "The First Noel.") As you might expect from songwriters who've had some songs featured on VeggieTales videos, it's not entirely serious -- on what other Christmas album are you going to hear a song about roasting mice for eating ("Pass the Ketchup" -- it's not macabre, really)? While the shifting between secular and explicitly Christian feels a little uneven at times, at its best (like on "I Spy" or the amazing "The Camel Song"), the disk deftly mixes popular Christmas culture with its spiritual underpinnings with humor and grace.
Ben Rudnick and Friends throw their (Santa) hat into the Christmas music ring with It's Santa Claus!. Rudnick and his band lend their folk/jam-band-tinged touch to seven secular Christmastime-related classics plus the original title track. Fans of Rudnick's music will certainly appreciate their energetic renditions, which I think is shown off to best effect on traditionally slower songs such as "Auld Lang Syne" and "Greensleeves." (You can listen to samples here.)
North Carolina's Sandbox is a little bit like Rudnick's Southern-fried, Americana-based cousins. Their take on 8 holiday classics and 2 originals sound a little bit country and, on "Little Drummer Boy," a little bit rock and roll. I really liked their sweet and loping original tune, "Two More Days 'Til Christmas" and the Rawhide-meets-religious "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen." And I didn't expect their version of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" to be as fun as it is. (Listen to three tracks from the album here.)
Finally, for obvious reasons, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere has a whole different feel. Australia's Phil Cooke has a sunny, surfing vibe. (Yeah, that cover pretty much nails it.) Some of the songs have the barest relationship to Christmas ("The Christmas Bop" could easily be called the "The Arbor Day Bop" just by changing every mention of "Christmas" to "Arbor Day"), but others such as "No Worries Mate" and "Come Gather 'Round Me" are definitely more in the spirit of the season; my favorite is probably "We're Here (A Letter to Santa)." (You can hear samples at Cooke's website.)