There were fewer Christmas and holiday CDs released this holiday season, but those that were all will probably appeal to at least a few families. Yes, it's Christmas Eve, but you can still download those albums in time, right? (And there's always 2013.)
Renee & Jeremy - Sunny Christmas
If I had to pick just one holiday album for this season, I think this EP from the Los Angeles duo would be it. Perhaps that's a function of one too many Christmases in a clime that sometimes lets you wear short sleeves while eating your figgy pudding. As always, the duo are in fine vocal form on the five standards ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is the standout) and one original, the title track.
The Laurie Berkner Band - A Laurie Berkner Christmas
Berkner offers up the most traditional-sounding album, with fine arrangements throughout. Having said that, given how you may hear many of these tracks multiple times any particular December day, the two best tracks here are the less-familiar "Children Go Where I Send Thee," a duet with Brady Rymer, and "Silent Night," which features Berkner and Elizabeth Mitchell, the two best female voices in kids music.
Mr. Richard & the Pound Hounds - Merry Christmas!
Florida-based Mr. Richard has much to be thankful for this holiday season -- his family's been battling some medical issues this year -- so not surprisingly, his new extended EP is a bouncy one. A mix of Christmas standards and originals, my favorites are the jangly original "Up In My Christmas Tree" and the album-closing instrumental "Cantique de Noel" (aka "O Holy Night").
The Jimmies - Mama Said Nog You Out
This album's a year old, but it's no longer a Barnes & Noble exclusive. So that means you can stop by your local, er, Amazon or iTunes and pick up a copy of Ashley's take on the season. (Hint: there's no rendition of "O Holy Night" on this album -- this album's for the folks who like the mad rush of December.) I liked the album last year, and I still like it this year.
Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - Sing Songs of Christmas Cheer
Speaking of 2011 albums, I realized shortly after I published those reviews last year that I'd inadvertently excluded the extended EP from one of my favorite kids' bands (I think the album came out fairly late in the cycle as well). In any case, the album is as goofy (and hard-rockin') as the rest of the duo's work -- "Angels We Have Heard On High" is epic in every sense of the word.
Dan Zanes - Christmas in Concord
I should also note that Dan Zanes' 2011 holiday EP has been expanded into an extended EP. He adds a couple songs -- an original ("I'm Counting the Days (Until Christmas)") and a traditional spiritual ("Rise Up Shepherd and Follow" with Suzan-Lori Parks). Though both are note, if you got the EP last year, neither track is a required addition. Having said that, it was my favorite holiday album of 2011 (probably tied with the Key Wilde disk, and edging out the Jimmies disk), so if you don't have it already, it's worth picking up.
Big Bang Boom - The Holidays Are Here
I had to ask the title to these 5 songs (hence my original title, "untitled Christmas album"), but it's pretty good nonetheless. As you would expect from the band and their cheeky attitude (see: "Santa Didn't Come Last Night"), there's no reverent rendition of centuries-old hymns, but it's generally tender and nostalgic.
SpongeBob Squarepants - It's A SpongeBob Christmas Album
Yes. SpongeBob Squarepants has a Christmas album. (Why not? Everybody else does.) Here's the thing -- it's actually pretty good. OK, the opening track sounds tacked on, but once you get past that, it's clear that more thought and care went into the album than was necessary. Folks with no TVs (or senses of humor) won't appreciate it much, but it's more entertaining than I, not any big SpongeBob fan, expected.