As a special holiday treat, we asked our friend Kyle Long to make a list of eclectic music for Holiday Listening. Kyle hosts Cultural Manifesto on WFYI Wednesdays at 9pm, and again on Saturdays at 3pm on 90.1 HD2, DJs locally, and writes for NUVO magazine. You can listen to most of this list free on Spotify here. Although we have included links to purchase these CDs online, we highly recommend that you first check out your local CD/vinyl store. Supporting local businesses helps your community thrive.
Holiday Listening with Kyle Long
‘Tis the season when that razor thin songbook of commercial holiday standards comes blaring out of every shopping mall and department store speaker in sight. While I do enjoy hearing Ella Fitzgerald “ring ting tingling” her sleigh bells every December, I prefer to dig deeper into the vast catalog of holiday tunes for my own Yuletide musical fix. Fortunately, there’s a wide world of under appreciated holiday music out there just waiting to be discovered. So if you’re holiday wish list includes a request for some fresh seasonal sounds, I’ve assembled an assortment of recommended albums for you below.
A Mediterranean Christmas (Warner Classics, 2005)
A Medieval Christmas (Nonesuch Records, 1975)
A Baroque Christmas (Nonesuch Records, 1992)
A Renaissance Christmas (Vox Turnabout, 1974)
Under the direction of Joel Cohen, The Boston Camerata have recorded some of the greatest explorations of early Christmas music ever committed to disc. All the titles listed above are thoughtfully conceived, beautifully recorded and essential to any serious holiday music collection. Buy A Mediterranean Christmas here, A Medieval Christmas here, A Baroque Christmas here, and A Renaissance Christmas here.
Oy Chanukah! (Rounder Records, 1987)
Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band created a Hanukkah masterpiece when they recorded this disc in 1987. The record alternates between rollicking klezmer versions of Hanukkah classics and spoken word segments featuring elders from the Jewish community talking warmly about the meaning behind the holiday and its rituals. A rewarding and indispensable holiday classic. Buy it here.
Asalto Navideño Vol. 1 (Fania Records, 1971)
Asalto Navideño Vol. 2 (Fania Records, 1972)
I look forward to breaking out this incredible two volume set of of heavy salsa gloves every December. The term “asalto” refers to a Puerto Rican Christmas tradition similar to caroling. Colón drew heavily from his Puerto Rican heritage on these albums that explore the traditions of “jibaro” music. The album features unforgettable performances from vocalist Hector Lavoe, and the master of the four-stringed cuatro Yomo Toro. Buy it here.
Christmas Hymns (Voix De L’Orient, 1977)
The Lebanese diva Fairuz is an icon of the Middle East and simply one of the great living singers on Earth. This 1977 collection presents Fairuz’s warm voice taking on Western standards like “Silent Night” alongside a smattering of Lebanese originals. Buy it here.
A Bright Star has Risen (Arc Music, 2012)
During the 1980s a compilation of modern arrangements of Bulgarian folk music titled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares became an unlikely hit. If you were captivated by the spellbinding vocals from the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir on that record, then you need A Bright Star has Risen in your holiday music collection. The Perunika Trio are a London-based vocal group who specialize in the sort of enchanting Bulgarian vocal harmonies made famous with Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Buy it here.
Christmas Joy in Latvia (Albany Records, 2012)
Rich Baltic choral sounds abound on this collection, which represents the best moments from over twenty Christmas cantatas commissioned by the New York Latvian Choir over a twenty-five year period. Buy it here.
Christmas In The Congo (Philips, 1963)
Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin were a choir formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the Belgian Franciscan Friar Father Guido Haazen. The group attained worldwide attention for their 1958 recording Missa Luba, a unique Congolese setting of the Latin Mass. Christmas in The Congo is the group’s lesser know sequel to Missa Luba. The album begins with a lovely a cappella rendition of “O Holy Night”, before launching into more esoteric material that pairs the voices of the choir against a backdrop of traditional drummers. Buy it here.
American Indian Christmas (Sound of America Records, 2005)
If you’re looking for an album featuring a dramatically new take on familiar Christmas favorites, this may be the record for you. Jana Mashonee is a descendant of the Lumbee and Tuscarora people of North Carolina. On this LP Jana interprets ten classic holiday tunes in the tribal languages of ten different indigenous American communities. Buy it here.
Merry Christmas Psychedelic Sound (Universal South Korea, 1969)
Okay, this is probably the most eccentric pick on this list. But if you’re a fan of obscure ’60s garage rock, you will absolutely love this disc. South Korea’s HE 5 tear through tepid holiday staples like “Jingle Bells” with the intensity of the Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey Pop. Listen on Youtube here.
Jamaica’s Trojan Records gave Caribbean music fans a remarkable gift when they released this three disc box set. Trojan’s Christmas Box Set features some of the island’s biggest stars running through a wide range of holiday fare in styles ranging from ska, to reggae, to dancehall. Listen on Youtube here, and buy it here.
Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2, 1926 – 1958 (Document Records, 2009)
Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 3, 1927 – 1962 (Document Records, 2013)
Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 4, 1925 – 1962 (Document Records, 2015)
There are plenty of Christmas blues compilations crowding the holiday music bins, but Document Records’ four volume, eight disc collection is unparalleled in scope and quality. The range of styles and moods presented over the set’s four volumes is staggering. The content moves far beyond straight blues, dipping into everything from gospel to doo-wop and early rock and roll. There are so many highlights in this collection, like the powerful storytelling of Lucy Smith and The Jubilee Singers’ “There Was No Room at the Hotel”, or Melvin Jackson’s promise to quit his hard living ways on the confessional “New Year’s Solution”. Blues, Blues Christmas is a joy to experience, and a genuine holiday treat. Buy Vol. 1 here, Vol. 2 here, Vol. 3 here, and Vol. 4 here.