Every year brings a handful of Christmas and holiday-themed albums from the kindie world, and 2015 is no exception. (Here's my review of 2014 holiday kids music, in case you want to reminisce around the fire about last year's efforts.) This year, I'll be splitting my holiday posts into at least two -- this post will focus on reviews of full albums and EPs, while a follow-up will take a look at holiday singles and videos.
Without further ado, then, let's get into it.
Andrew and Polly - Other Days
This is the shortest holiday album I'll be reviewing, but it's also my favorite. It's non-religious but ecumenical -- Hanukkah and Christmas happily coexist (especially in the leadoff track "Thank You for the Box") -- and in less than 12 minutes the four indie-pop tracks celebrate the season with a decidedly sunny attitude (there's a song called "L.A. Christmas" featuring Mista Cookie Jar, after all). But the closing track "A Mapmaker's Song" is a kindie successor to "I'll Be Home for Christmas." (Listen to the album on Bandcamp and Spotify.)
Rocknoceros - Happy Holidays
Ranking a close second on my holiday list this year is this collection from the Washington, D.C.-area trio. They ease into the holiday with a Halloween song ("Halloween Masquerade") and "This Thanksgiving" before turning their attention to the December holidays with songs original and traditional. (Or, in the case of "Oh Christmas Brie," silly puns.) One of the things I look for in holiday albums is something that distinguishes the music from the tens of thousands of other such albums, and besides the power-holiday-pop, I guess for me it's their mashup of "Auld Lang Syne (Enjoy Yourself)" -- not quite a Christmas song, but a great song with which to head into 2016.
Greg Page - Here Comes Christmas
Best known in the United States probably for being the original Yellow Wiggle for the massively successful Australian preschool rockers, Page hasn't been totally silent in the meanwhile -- he's done a TV show, Butterscotch's Playground. But this is his first newly-recorded album in a long time. The best tracks here are the originals that lead off the album, particularly "Here Comes Christmas" and "Christmas Bells." They're appealing pop songs that should entertain kids and families who have no memory of the Wiggles. The rest of the tracks feature a wide variety of secular and religious Christmas songs. Page's strong voice is sometimes undercut by electronic accompaniment -- if releasing a kajillion different holiday albums with a big band works for Brian Setzer, I think it could work for Page, who has a clear affinity for traditional arrangements.
Rain For Roots - Waiting Songs
Rain For Roots consists of four vocalists (including Coal Train Railroad's Katy Bowser) who make Christian kids music that's devotional without being tacky. This new album, specifically designed for the waiting season of Advent, sees them continuing that approach. The album features original songs from the quartet (with some kids singing along in places), along with traditional songs "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" bookending the new songs. The explicitly Christian approach will limit the audience for this album perhaps, but if you are celebrating the Christmas season from a Christian perspective, this is an excellent addition to your holiday music rotation. (Stream the album on Bandcamp.)
The Little Rockers Band - Yule Be Cool
Yule Be Cool is, as you might guess from the album cover, fairly ecumenical in its approach to the holiday season, with a number of Jewish Hanukkah songs to go along with the Christmas songs (or, sometimes, both in one, as in the reworking of "Feliz Navidad"). The 47-minute album is a mix of old and new, and most interesting when it emphasizes the band's pop sound, like on the '60s sound of "It's Christmas Time Again." Finally, after hearing their take on Madonna's "Holiday," I can't believe that we haven't heard that particular song on more holiday albums.
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Maestro Classics) - The Nutcracker
Finally, it's another take on what must be a top-10 Christmas album subject, Peter Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." What differentiates this version from most (if not all) of the hundreds (thousands?) of other recordings is twofold -- first, the recording features narration to go along with the music. Lots of kids have probably seen some form of the ballet either live or on TV, so it's not like the narration is necessary, but it might actually help those kids who've seen it to remember more of the story, particularly in the first act. Second, the recording pares down the 90-minute ballet to just shy of an hour. I doubt any but the most obsessed listeners will notice the difference. I wouldn't recommend this version as a family's primary copy of "The Nutcracker" -- it's much-beloved for good reason -- but as an alternative, it'll do just nicely.
Note: I received copies of all albums in physical or digital format for possible review.