Tis the season of holiday music, and while you may grow tired of the playlists at the malls, these 12 holiday albums are sure to delight even Ebenezer Scrooge. MyNorth Media’s entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau shares his favorite artists to listen to during the Northern Michigan holidays.

Sarah McLachlan

The Classic Christmas Album – Sarah McLachlan

’Tis the season for regifting, or in the recording industry, repackaging. This disc includes all 12 tracks from McLachlan’s 2006 release Wintersong; “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings”, a Barenaked Ladies track featuring McLachlan from that band’s 2004 release Barenaked For The Holidays; and four previously unreleased songs. Not to say it’s not quality: McLachlan’s voice is sweet and pure, while the styles range from bluegrass to classical to pure, sweet pop.

Christmas in Tahoe – Train

No winter wonderland here: As the title suggests, Train’s take on the holidays is skewed toward a season where palm trees replace Frasier firs. There’s only one traditional song in sight (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” lands somewhere between syrupy and alt-rock); the rest hail from the ’50s (the Hawaiian holiday tune “Mele Kalikimaka,” a novelty popularized by Bing Crosby and “Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”) to today, such as Tracey Thorne’s “Tinsel and Lights.” There are also a couple originals.

Braxton Family Christmas – The Braxtons

The five Braxton sisters took time out from their reality TV show to record this short disc, which comes in around 25 minutes. That includes two versions of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” Though brief, it’s still enjoyable, as the sisters harmonize well together, especially on “Every Day Is Christmas.” Brother Michael takes center stage on his “Under My Christmas Tree,” possibly the best track here.

The Quality Holiday Revue (Live) – Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets

Chances are you’ve never heard “Linus and Lucy” like this: All twang and no piano. Lowe, the onetime face of pub rock and early punk, hits the musical funny bone on tracks like “A Dollar Short of Happy.” Sample lyric: “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, turn a darker gray than any Russian playwright would allow.” “The North Pole Express” harkens back to the Rockpile days, and when it’s “Christmas at the Airport” all the planes are grounded. There’s also a handful of other tracks from Lowe’s career, including “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and “(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass.”

Brian Setzer Orchestra

Rockin’ Rudolph – The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Onetime rockabilly bad boy Setzer has been swinging since the 1994 release of his first big band CD. Here he twists “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” into “Rockabilly Rudolph,” a jump-swing track that comes dangerously close to the Hollywood film classics of the 60s, complete with background quotes from the James Bond theme. Other happenin’ tunes include “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and an inventive arrangement of “Carol of the Bells.” On the softer side is a poignant version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Bonus points for “Yabba Dabba Yuletide,” a takeoff on the theme to – well, you can figure it out.

Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship (Live) – Chris Tomlin

This is, as the title says, an album of worship songs. So it’s not necessarily the recording to sing along to or put on for background music at a holiday party. True, this live recording showcases classic Christmas fare such as “Silent Night” and “What Child Is This,” but it’s more an album to sit and listen to deeply. The originals are probably the best part, offering Tomlin’s take on the true meaning of the holiday season.

It’s A Holiday Soul Party – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

If you’re looking for something a little different, take a sleigh ride this direction. “Silent Night” as a slow blues? Check. An uptempo “White Christmas” with call-and-response vocals? Check. A funky “Little Drummer Boy?” Yes, even in the title. Johnny Mathis or Julie Andrews this ain’t. But it is fun, engaging and certainly soulful.

Once Again It’s Christmas – Kenny Rogers

The country icon’s sixth holiday release features Alison Krauss, Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles, vocal group Home Free, pianist Jim Brickman, and country-pop duo Winfield’s Locket. The title track is a lush arrangement featuring strings, piano and backing vocals, with a plaintive harmonica that provides a clue to the proceedings. This is a traditional, down-home disc, perfect for relaxing in front of the Christmas tree.

Today Is Christmas – LeAnn Rimes

Rimes previewed the holiday season with a performance of the title song on The Today Show, for which she penned the rootsy country tune. She also contributes the original “I Still Believe in Santa Claus,” both co-written by Darrell Brown. “Christmas Time Is Here” is as poignant as the original from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “Celebrate Me Home” by Kenny Loggins is updated as a duet with Gavin DeGraw, while the “Joy” medley incorporates “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Count Basie Orchestra

A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas! – The Count Basie Orchestra

They don’t make them like this anymore, you might think, looking at the disc, which obviously hails from the 50s or 60s. But wait a minute – even though the packaging makes you think this is just a reissue, it’s a brand-new recording. Yes, the Count is gone, but his music remains, as does the band, led by trumpeter and arranger Scotty Barhart. Hey, even arranger Sammy Nestico is back. The music is as inventive and swinging as ever, keeping the melodies intact even when the soloists improvise (no mean feat). Johnny Mathis guests on “It’s the Holiday Season,” while Ledisi lights up “The Christmas Song.” Highly recommended.

MercyMe, It’s Christmas! – MercyMe

The Christian band scores with its second holiday disc, one heavily indebted to country. The 11 tracks are split between new tunes written by the group and traditional fare, such as a singalong “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” The group gets down with “Holly Jolly Christmas,” while “Do You Hear What I Hear” features a string section that complements the vocals. The following “Our Lullaby,” is surprisingly upbeat for a song by that name.

A Sunshine Christmas – KC & The Sunshine Band

A mix of originals and classic holiday tunes, the disc hits some engaging highs as well as some lows. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is surprisingly well done, with an inventive arrangement for the horn section. “The After Christmas Song” “Jingle Bell Boogie” and “Let’s Go Dancing with Santa” are fun and festive. George Michael and Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is bouncy and uptempo, foregoing the touch of melancholy that pervades the original. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is done as a blues. On the down side, “Carol of the Bells” is just clumsy, as is “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

More Northern Michigan Music

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