50 New Christmas Albums, Reviewed – Rolling Stone
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50 New Christmas Albums, Reviewed

More than 600 holiday songs came out in 2018: Here’s a guide to the good covers, the bad art and the utterly unlistenable

Update: Since publishing our list of 40 new Christmas albums the holiday music machine churned out a few more 2018 notables for a new total of 50 albums. (Honestly, how could we leave off a new version of “Back Door Santa”?) Enjoy these new, last-minute recommendations for your holiday playlist.


It’s that time of year again where we put aside our differences and agree that there are too many new Christmas albums. The yearly jingle bell-bottleneck is a modern pop music phenomenon. Whether artists are propelled by morality, money or Mariah Carey, we just want to know: is anything in the 2018 slush pile worthy of the Christmas canon? Rolling Stone enlisted comedian, actor and Secular Xmas enthusiast Connor Ratliff to find out. He furnished an exhaustive — yet merry! – holiday guide after listening to more than 50 new Christmas albums (that’s over 600 songs) taking into consideration album art, originality and deducting for title-track overuse. Let’s begin.

Editor’s Note: This list does not include one-off Christmas singles or spur-of-the-moment covers, apologies to Katy PerryQueens of the Stone Age and time-traveling Elton John.


John Legend A Legendary Christmas

John Legend: ‘A Legendary Christmas’

TITLE: Wordplay! Good! It has a unique meaning specific to this record. If anyone else used this title, it would be dumb.

COVER ART: Crisp and clean, iconic. It’s a picture of John’s face, he has a wry smile and is wearing a Santa hat. You really couldn’t ask for anything better than this.

LISTENING: Stevie Wonder plays harmonica on the opening track, and I am on board. Second track features horns and strings and backing singers. Legend played Jesus Christ on live TV last Easter and even though I am Team Secular XMAS all the way and have no use for Religious Christmas, what Legend is delivering is both sincere and fun.

VERDICT: Stream it! Add it to your holiday playlists, it’ll mix in nicely.

Martina McBride It’s The Holiday Season

Martina McBride: ‘It’s The Holiday Season’

TITLE: This feels aggressively to-the-point, as if it is answering the question, “why did you make this album?” with the implied subtitle “(and these things sell like hotcakes).”  I would like this title more if it had a period at the end of it and it was all depressing songs sung by Stephen Merritt: “It’s The Holiday Season.”

COVER ART: It’s fine!  It doesn’t quite look “vintage” but instead looks like someone very quickly going for a vintage vibe using a decent computer on a tight deadline.

LISTENING: She sounds good, and the music sounds good.  What do you want me to say?  It’s basic.  No risks taken, but if you like classic Christmas music, this can slot harmlessly into the mix.  However, if this album suddenly vanished from your collection, you would not spend time trying to find it.  I don’t mean this as an insult!  She’s good.  But there are a million Christmas albums and the is simply another one.  If all the others vanished, this would be a treasure to cherish, but we’re not there yet.

I scan down the track listing to see if there are any potential curveballs — there aren’t!  I am moving on.

VERDICT: If you hear this playing in a coffee shop or a shopping mall, it will feel nice but you also might not even notice it or ask anyone “who is this?”

Eric Clapton Happy XMAS

Eric Clapton: ‘Happy XMAS’

TITLE: I love it.  As someone who celebrates Secular Christmas instead of “Religious Christmas,” I am always on board for the four-letter-word that designates it as the holiday of Santa and Frosty and not the one with the horrible innkeeper and King Herod slaughtering all those children.

COVER ART: Fun!  A terrible drawing of Santa and the title is scrawled.  It is signed by “E.C.” which to me means “Elvis Costello.”  Yes, yes, Clapton predates Costello, whose real initials are “D.M.” anyway, but let’s not fight.  Eric also scratches down three X’s to indicate kisses, to us, the listeners, which is a good amount of kisses.  This is the least seriously anyone has ever taken the cover art to an album, and I think that’s kind of great.

LISTENING: The album is bluesy, it sounds exactly like what I thought it would, at least to begin.  I skip ahead to the one Clapton original — it’s fine, but not for me.  I’m bored.  I skip to “Jingle Bells (In Memory Of Avicii”) and it is six minutes of EDM insanity that seems like it crash landed from some other record and barely even hints at being “Jingle Bells.”  I would add this track to a holiday party Spotify list for shits & giggles, assuming it was an insanely long playlist, too long for the party.  The rest of the album would be fine to play at a Barnes & Noble while its upper management runs that company into the ground for what could be its final holiday season.  I was gonna say this is for dads but times have changed and this is for grandfathers now.  Give this to the Baby Boomer guys in your life who like this kind of thing.

VERDICT: It’s not for me.  But I will add “Jingle Bells (In Memory Of Avicii)” to my personal Spotify holiday playlist because it is bonkers.

Jesse J This Christmas Day

Jesse J: ‘This Christmas Day’

TITLE: I’m not a big fan of title tracks, and that’s a common thing for these albums.  I feel like it’s lazy.  You made a record, give it a distinctive name!  Think up a title.  If this was called “Jingle Bingle Blammo!” that would be a terribly unsuitable title but at least it would feel like someone spent a few minutes cooking something up.

COVER ART:  Classy!  They gave her a giant red bow to hold over her head and her expression is dead serious, but in a way that says “I’m not serious, this is playful.”

LISTENING: Jazzy and professional.  I’m sure there are a great many differences between this and the McBride album but my mind is already blurring them together, I cannot help it.  The first track contains a part where she laughs and at the end she casually laughs again and says “Merry Christmas.”  I mean, it’s fine.  It’s not for me.  You’ll know almost instantly if this is for you or not.  I wouldn’t be unhappy if someone put this on in the background at a holiday party but also there is an aspect to a record like this that feels like it is exactly what people hate about Christmas music— the same 10 songs being modernized by 20 new artists every year, in more or less the same way.

VERDICT: Another one for the coffee shop or shopping mall.

Serena Ryder Christmas Kisses

Serena Ryder: ‘Christmas Kisses’

TITLE: Another title track!  I would like it so much more if they pulled the title from deeper within the lyrics.  Why couldn’t this be called “Kisses For Christmas” instead?  (This is a pet peeve, admittedly.)

COVER ART: Unlike Eric Clapton, Ryder gives us no X’s for kisses on the cover, so I’m immediately taking points off, since an album called “Christmas Kisses” should have at least a few of them.  To be fair, she had no idea that Clapton would set this new expectation of writing down kisses on the cover art, but if/when there is a deluxe reissue, I expect this to be remedied.

LISTENING: The opening track is pleasant and fine but track two is an original and I like it a lot.  She rhymes “rainbow dolphin” with “Mary Poppins” and I am SOLD.  The rest of the tracks are familiar and I only listened to a snippet of each one but it is understated and sounds sincere as heck.  I put this into the KEEPER pile, based on the original alone with added points for sounding like she really wanted to make this record.  I’m not questioning the sincerity of everyone else, but it’s not enough to mean it, you have to really SOUND like you mean it.

VERDICT: Stream it!  Add the title track to your Christmas playlist.

William Shatner Shatner Claus The Christmas Album

William Shatner: ‘Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album’

TITLE: They didn’t trust that you would get that it was a Christmas album from “Shatner Claus” alone.  This tells you all you need to know.

COVER ART: Who cares?  Bill Shatner dressed up in a Santa hat and this cover art is exactly what it needs to be.  Three fonts used.  Nothing matters.

LISTENING: It is 2018 and I think by now if you are still on board for the joke that William Shatner cannot sing but often does, then this album is for you.  I like Star Trek and that one SNL sketch of him talking to fans is terrific, but other than that I have no time for the Comedy Stylings of Bill Shatner.  This record has a big, impressive list of guest stars, but it’s all in service of the same joke, so listening to this is not fun for me.  It exists in a no man’s land equidistant from Comedy, Music and Christmas, a joyless place where not being good at something is enough reason to keep doing it.  Also –
[NOTE: I redacted the rest of what I wrote for this one, because even though I 100% meant it, it was too harsh and I don’t feel like getting trolled just because a novelty album put me in a bad mood.  Maybe you will like it. I will unseal my full review in 2040, when environmental calamity will make everything pointless anyway.]

VERDICT: I have forgotten that this exists already.

RuPaul Christmas Party

RuPaul: ‘Christmas Party’

TITLE: “Christmas Party” is one of those titles that a lot of people call their Christmas albums.  And in this case, it’s also a title track, so I’m tempted to take double points off!  But looking at this record specifically, I have to admit that the title is not a bad fit, so I’m gonna forgive it on both counts.  But it’s still the most boring thing about this record.

COVER ART:  It’s fine!  Nothing spectacular, but it sort of reminds me of the way they made the cast look in the opening credits of the early seasons of SNL.  I like that RuPaul isn’t smiling, but is instead gritting her teeth.

LISTENING: More fun than Shatner by a mile, because there is actual joy involved.  One of my litmus tests for newly-written Christmas songs is, “is this song saying something that hasn’t already been covered in an already-established XMAS classic?”  These songs pass the test!

VERDICT: Stream it!

The Monkees Christmas Party

The Monkees: ‘Christmas Party’

TITLE: See what I mean?  It feels like you can just call your album “Christmas Party” and that is fine with everybody, no one says no.  I wish instead they would call those albums “It’s Christmas.” With the period.  Also, it’s ALSO a title track!

COVER ART: Cartoonist Mike Allred nails it. Nothing against photographers, but album covers drawn by cartoonists are almost always a good idea.

LISTENING: 21st Century Monkees should be a sad thing, but their last album was terrific and they seem to be doing this right, wisely seeking out made-to-order songs by the likes of Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo and digging up a couple of chestnuts from the vault so that even Davy can still be a part of it.  Who would have predicted that The Monkees would eventually record a song by a Beatle and that it would be “Wonderful Christmastime”?  I have heard people grumbling about this one online but by the time I get to “The House Of Broken Gingerbread” this record has passed all my personal tests for a new Christmas record.  I say YES to this and I quickly move on.

VERDICT: Buy it!  On vinyl!  Wait, it’s not out on vinyl?  Okay, well, stream it and make a note to buy it on vinyl if they ever put one out.

Ingrid Michaelson Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season

Ingrid Michaelson: ‘Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season’

TITLE: The cover art and this title screams that she meant it.  She wanted to make this album, she likes classic XMAS LPs and wanted to add one to the canon.

COVER: Looks vintage but not in a spoofy way.  It’s serious, like all the best spoofs.

LISTENING: “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter” — opening with a song I’d never heard before.  I like it.  I like the sound of it.  I look at the track listing and skip ahead to Michaelson’s one original, “Happy, Happy Christmas.”  OH, it is a curveball— it sounds sad, instantly.  Ingrid, you tricked me, and I love it.  A melancholy song called “Happy, Happy Christmas”?  Yes, please.

“There’s something about this time of the year/ It’s always so dark out and you’re never here.”  

This is the song I imagine Elvis Costello might write if he ever got around to making his Christmas album.

“They say time flies and baby it’s true/So happy, happy Christmas to you.”

It is devastating in all the right ways.  When a person nails a melancholy XMAS song, it cuts me to the core and I am DONE.  I don’t even need to listen to the rest of the songs yet, I am confident that she does them right.

VERDICT: I ordered this on vinyl before “Happy, Happy Christmas” was even done playing.  It is now in the rotation with Guaraldi & Sinatra & The Longines Symphonette, competing for time on the turntable all month long.

Lindsey Stirling Warmer in the Winter (Deluxe 2018 Edition)

Lindsey Stirling: ‘Warmer in the Winter (Deluxe 2018 Edition)’

TITLE: It’s a title track but from an original song, and every rule has its exceptions.  This is a good title.


LISTENING: One look at the track listing and I can tell this is going to be a winner.  This is a record that has been put together with enthusiasm & imagination.  Opening with Tchaikovsky & transitioning immediately to Dr. Seuss?  Followed by one of three original Christmas songs co-written by Stirling?  I know this is technically a 2017 release but this 2018 “deluxe edition” includes a medley (“We Three Gentlemen,” a blend of “We Three Kings…” + “God Rest Ye Merry…” + “I Saw 3 Ships”) a cover of the main title from Home Alone and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which manages to make that song feel Christmas-y.  Those three bonus tracks alone make this an essential holiday title.

VERDICT:  Ordered it on vinyl and seriously considered getting one of the deluxe packages but I will settle for the 2-LP set.  (The fleece blanket was sold out, and that’s the thing I wanted most, anyway.)

David Archuleta Winter in the Air

David Archuleta: ‘Winter in the Air’

TITLE: Ugh, another title track.  But I love Winter and hate Summer and I am the founder of the #TeamEndlessWinter hashtag on Twitter. I wish someone would smarten up and name their Christmas album Winter Is Coming.  Come to think of it, I want a whole album of Game Of Thrones-themed holiday songs. “White Walkers,” “Red Christmas” and “Dragons For The New Year” are the first three titles that come to mind. Quick, someone do this.  It’s a good idea.

COVER: Sitting in darkness, some snow flurries to his right, wearing a red sweater and holding his wrist as if his arm has gone numb.  Is he having a heart attack?

LISTENING: I am a Secular Christmas guy, and although I like some of the gentler aspects of “Religious Christmas” this album leans a little too far in that direction for this cheerful agnostic. Still, sincerity counts for a lot, so this could be right up your alley if you want a pretty-sounding male vocalist and if your Christmas is more Jesus-based than Santa-centric.

VERDICT: Sorry, not for me! There are things on this that I like just fine, but nothing that I can’t get elsewhere.

Gwen Stefani You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Gwen Stefani: ‘You Make It Feel Like Christmas’

TITLE: I wish someone would name a Christmas album “Title Track.”

COVER:  This is a deluxe reissue from last year.  The 2017 version featured mistletoe draped across Gwen Stefani’s face, but this year it is gone, replaced by a big red bow on her forehead while she touches her face and smiles.  Both covers are good, but I would argue the new one is an improvement since mistletoe is a problematic holiday tradition, implying consent just by standing under a plant that you might not even know is there.  Or maybe you do know, but are unaware that it’s mistletoe!  Not everyone is a botanist!

LISTENING: Blaring horns open the album and I am sold.  I already like Stefani’s music, and I trust her taste – I know before I scan through this that I am gonna like these choices & arrangements, and a quick listen confirms it.  Plus, it is basically 50/50 originals & standards, (and two of the five bonus tracks) so this is no quick cash grab nostalgia thing.

VERDICT: “My Gift Is You” should be better-known and “Cheer For The Elves” is a pro-labor anthem that is long-overdue in an age when automation is a threat to workers in every sector.

Engelbert Humperdinck Warmest Christmas Wishes

Engelbert Humperdinck: ‘Warmest Christmas Wishes’

TITLE: Nothing spectacular, but at least it’s not a title track.

COVER ART: There is something slightly sinister about it that I can’t put my finger on.  This is unfair, I know: the cover is well-intentioned, but I get a Leland Palmer-in-a-tux vibe.

LISTENING: I’ll admit going into this, the main things I know about Engelbert Humperdinck is that when I was a kid I thought this was a make-believe person like John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt then later I found out he was real and that he had prevented “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” from being a #1 single, really damaging that Beatles compilation of #1 songs.  I tried not to hold that against him when listening to this, and you know what?  I kind of like it.  “Driving Home For Christmas” feels like Springsteen meets Neil Diamond.  I’m embarrassed to admit I am unfamilar with this song by Chris Rea.  Englebert is not exactly reinventing the wheel, but I like his vibe.

VERDICT: Stream it!  Gonna also go back and listen to his previous Christmas album from 40 years ago.

Rodney Crowell Christmas Everywhere

Rodney Crowell: ‘Christmas Everywhere’

TITLE: I guess no one likes coming up with titles.

COVER ART: A fun pic of Rodney walking away from a weird painting of Santa on a doorway to some kind of locked barn or shed.  Santa is wearing dark sunglasses and shrugging.  What is in that shed???

LISTENING:  These are gently comedic Christmas songs that sound like the kind of thing you might hear on A Prairie Home Companion.  Wait, come back!  It’s not bad.  It reminds me a little bit of Nick Lowe’s Christmas record, which is high praise coming from me.  One of the songs is about Christmas in the same town where part of the Errol Morris documentary The Thin Blue Line takes place.  Have you ever seen that?  It is a great film about how the American justice system is rotten to its core.  Anyway, “Christmas In Vidor” also brings to mind Randy Newman’s horrifying “Christmas In Cape Town.”

VERDICT: Stream it!  This is close to being an anti-Christmas album and be warned that it will throw a monkey wrench in any holiday playlist meant to be purely festive, but it is a refreshing change of pace.

Mitch 'Devil With a Blue Dress Ryder Christmas (Take a Ride)

Mitch ‘Devil With a Blue Dress’ Ryder: ‘Christmas (Take a Ride)’

TITLE: Not a title track!  Award him one million points.

COVER ART: Retro, but in a funny way.  Dana Delaney/Lorelei Gilmore-looking woman sits on the floor by the Christmas tree with a pile of records.  They are out of their sleeves.  It’s awkward.

LISTENING: The opening track starts out and it reminds me of the theme music for David Simon’s Treme.  You ever watch that show?  It is actually pretty great, and it has a David Morse plotline that is like a mini-Season 6 of The Wire.  Anyway, this is a rare Christmas album where the “rock & roll” elements don’t sound dumb.  The song “Santa Claus” actually fucking ROCKS.

VERDICT: This is actually damn good.  I would own this on vinyl.  Maybe next year – I have already bought too many Christmas records this year. The Sufjan Stevens vinyl box made me exceed my limit.

Samantha Jade The Magic of Christmas

Samantha Jade: ‘The Magic of Christmas’

TITLE: There is a song on the album called “The Magic Of Christmas Time” and Samantha Jade has removed the word “time” to make this title.  Y’know what?  It’s not a huge difference, but it’s something.  At some point, surely someone suggested calling it “The Magic Of Christmas Time” and someone else insisted that it was better without that last word.  (Or maybe it was a typo.)

COVER ART: It’s not especially magical or Christmas-y, but it is a nice shot of Jade in a stylish dress sitting on a fancy couch in an empty room with a white wall behind her.  I have no idea what she’s supposed to be thinking, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she is thinking about the magic of Christmas.

LISTENING: OK, this starts out sounding like a million other Christmas albums and I’m beginning to lose my mind, so I’m jumping right to the three new songs.  The title-ish track, “The Magic Of Christmas Time” is fine but doesn’t seem to be saying anything new.  Is that too much to ask?  Ugh, it’s fine.  Next original is “Home” and it’s written by Jade.  It’s about wanting to go home, and it’s pretty and slow and sad but it doesn’t hold my attention and I never make it to the part where it makes any reference to Christmas (I’m assuming it does, eventually).  Finally, the intriguingly-titled “This Candle Time Of Year” comes closest to grabbing me, but it slips away.  I don’t have a lot of associations with Christmas and candles, and this song doesn’t convince me, though it makes a valiant effort.

VERDICT: I will neither stream it nor purchase. I don’t want to be mean, but this just isn’t for me.  I’m sure it will be great for a lot of people who want another soft and pretty album of Christmas songs that sound more or less exactly like this one.  I’ve just hit my limit with this kind of record, I can’t take another one, though we are not even halfway done yet, so I have a bad feeling about this.

Nils Christmas Everyday

Nils: ‘Christmas Everyday’

TITLE: Sigh. Tigh. Tull. Track.

COVER ART: This looks like it should be for sale exclusively at gas stations.

LISTENING: At first, this is a hard no.  Saxophone solos, synthesizers and a general 1980s aesthetic in the worst way.  Then, nostalgia for the shopping malls of my childhood kicks in and part of me thinks, “I am glad someone is still making music that sounds like this in 2018.” This is such a period piece throwback, it might as well be a fiddle band performing “Turkey In The Straw” and releasing it on 78rpm shellac.

VERDICT: Buy this on Compact Disc.  Listen to it ironically until you eventually find, to your horror, that you have developed affection for it despite your otherwise very good taste in music.

Pentatonix Christmas Is Here!

Pentatonix: ‘Christmas Is Here!’

TITLE: OK! Not a title track! And it has an exclamation mark! I am not going to nitpick. It is a statement of fact, Christmas is here, and they are excited about it.

COVER ART: I don’t know Pentatonix, so I assume this is all of them, posed in an array of holiday shapes, dressed in colorful, stylish/fun clothes.  So far, they have my attention, before I’ve heard a single second of the music itself.

LISTENING: They are an a cappella group! I do a tiny bit of research and learn that this is their third Christmas release since 2016. And they do a cover of “Making Christmas” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, so this gets a thumbs from me automatically.

VERDICT: It’s very chipper and cheery, so avoid this if that’s not your thing. I will be returning to it (and their other releases, to carefully curate the ones I want on my Holiday Spotify playlist, avoiding the ones that are not my speed.)

Jess And Gabriel I’ll Be Home

Jess And Gabriel: ‘I’ll Be Home’

TITLE: A partial title track.  I’m gonna go ahead and count that as not a title track, since it required them to take a moment to decide to chop off the “For Christmas” and have it be a thing that we complete in our head.  I actually like that it forces us to discover that it is a Christmas EP, rather than stating it.

COVER ART: Very tastefully cute.  Mostly white space, and a tiny drawing of a XMAS tree in the middle, some elegant/sparse font choices were made.

LISTENING:  Looking for information, I immediately discover that Jess and Gabriel are “married vloggers” and despite that horrifying label, I find nothing to dislike about this modest EP of acoustic duets.  They sound nice.  Nothing that blew me away, but it’s almost aggressively pleasant.  My guess is that they are nice people who do nice things and are kind?  I do not have time to seek out their vlog, but I hope I am correct about this.  Nobody tell me otherwise, I don’t wanna know.

VERDICT: Stream it!  If you really dig it, go see if their vlog is charming!

Various Artists NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas

Various Artists: ‘NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas’

TITLE: Even though obviously there was no actual effort put into “thinking of a title” because this is long-running series of compilations just slots in words into whatever they are “calling” now, it’s still better than a title track.  (Although I do kind of wish someone had written a song called “NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas,” especially if they put the emphasis strongly on the word NOW.)

COVER ART: They make it look like it’s a wrapped XMAS present. Choice of purple and gold is unexpected. It’s fine.

LISTENING: It starts out with Bieber and moves quickly to Ariana Grande. Lotsa big names and big hits here. There are also lots of classics by Bruce Springsteen, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, etc. so this 2018 release has some unfair advantages but also brings less “new” stuff to the table.

VERDICT: I mean, if you don’t have ANY holiday music, this is a fine starter set with some new and some old. I’ll probably just ignore it and move on, I don’t have time to be messing with repeats on my playlists. Maybe later I’ll go back and see if there are any gems I missed, but my gut tells me that I need to move on to the next thing!

August Burns Red Winter Wilderness

August Burns Red: ‘Winter Wilderness’

TITLE: Hooray, another title track! And when it’s an EP, it means that they are pulling from an even smaller pool of titles, not that I’m sure that makes any difference.  Maybe I am the weird one: Does no one care about this but me?

COVER ART: A pic of some snow-covered trees, some snowy mountains in the background, and a river with (I assume) nearly freezing cold water. Looks good. Ooh, I think they also did an effect to make it look like the sleeve is distressed by the shape of the LP inside, a nice touch.

LISTENING: “Avalanche,” the opening track, is an instrumental and a welcome new addition to the modern canon of holiday music. You can play this one all winter long. Same with their other original on this EP, the (cough) title track. They are a metalcore band, so the sound is a little more aggressive sonically than a lot of the other holiday music, but it’s not unpleasant. They play the theme from Home Alone, which is on the imaginative end of 2018 holiday song selection, and their takes on more familiar songs are fresh, especially their initially unrecognizable version of “Last Christmas.”

VERDICT: This is available digitally and as a solid white 10”.  Go for the latter, but also go ahead and add this whole EP to your holiday playlist without hesitation.  It’ll liven up your party, maybe too much.

PJ Morton Christmas With PJ Morton

PJ Morton: ‘Christmas With PJ Morton’

TITLE: Every time one of these actually has an original title, it makes me wish that there was a song by that name.