Guide to Holiday Music

If you are tired of sharing the mall with other stressed-out, over-drawn shoppers and would like to spend this holiday season in regal splendor in a time gone by, pick up Christmas at Downton Abbey (Warner Bros.). This 2-CD set features period holiday music and even a few numbers from members of the cast. Other performances include heavenly holiday chestnuts from Choir of Kings College Cambridge, Taverner Choir and Taverner Consort, among many other artists.

A perfect follow-up to the mostly classical and choral-inspired Downton Abbey Christmas is A Michael Feinstein Christmas (Concord). Feinstein is a New Yorker, but an American treasure in the way his career has been devoted to keeping the great American songbook fresh for new generations of music listeners. This sparse piano and vocal outing perfectly captures the simple melodies and timelessness of holiday songs from various eras, but with an obvious emphasis on pre-rock ballads.

Idina Menzel has become a superstar as the voice of Elsa in the animated family blockbuster film Frozen. This Christmas CD Holiday Wishes (Warner Bros.) is the perfect follow-up to the film and with her current star turn on Broadway in If/Then, she claims a unique place in the world of music. Her duet here with Michael Buble on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” alone makes this CD worth the price of admission.

An American group who has created a unique hybrid of holiday and winter music in the past and now has another fresh take on the season is Over The Rhine. The group is basically led by the husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. Their newest, Blood Oranges in the Snow (Great Speckled Dog), continues in the vein of previous releases with original songs that directly address the holiday season and others that reflect the many moods of winter.

Dan Hicks has had a remarkable career as a member of both the seminal Psychedelic San Francisco group The Charlatans and Bay-area retro faves Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks. If that is not enough, Hicks has been making holiday music with various friends as the Christmas Jug Band. Their newest CD, Jugology: Greatest Near Misses (Best Of…), on Globe Records, collects tracks from their five acclaimed albums. There are two tracks not available on previous releases, making this an indispensable new release for hardcore Jug Band fans.

A new seven song-EP worth searching out this season is I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Epic). The main draw here is Fiona Apple’s one-of-a-kind take on “Frosty the Snowman” and the duet of “Winter Song” from Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.

Finally, don’t miss the reissue of Imagene Peise: Atlas Eets Christmas (Warner Bros.)from the Flaming Lips originally released in 2007.