opbmusic DJ JT Griffith is our resident holiday music expert. He’s programmed for KMHD Jazz Radio, the Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights event and opbmusic. And each year, he shares this lovingly curated list of new seasonal songs.
“The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show”
The highlight of my holiday season so far has been the Kacey Musgraves special, available through Amazon Prime and on streaming music platforms. The 45-minute special is an homage to the holiday variety shows of yore (think Bing Crosby and Judy Garland but also the even cheesier ones from the ‘60s and ‘70s). Special guests include Lana Del Rey, Leon Bridges, Camila Cabello, the Radio City Rockettes and more. Kacey’s nana even makes a heart-warming, real-life cameo. There’s also an emotional original song, “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” which Musgraves wrote after a loved one died before Christmas a few years ago — a nice nod to the fact that the holidays aren’t just a marshmallow world for everyone. I also found it remarkable how big-budget the show is and yet Musgraves’ band of talented musicians still play a central role.
Los Lobos - “Llegó Navidad”
The legendary L.A. band (with some Portland roots!) have released “Llegó Navidad,” their first full-length holiday album. It’s a collection of songs from across North, Central and South America, with the strong original “Christmas and You” as one of the highlights. This is an instant modern classic —right up there with my other favorite from the past decade, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ incredible 2015 release “It’s A Holiday Soul Party.”
Matt Nathanson – “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home”
Bear with me here. Matt Nathanson has released his version of of U2’s 1987 version of Darlene Love’s version of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” from “A Christmas Gift from Phil Spector” album. Christmas music is often an echo of songs and versions from the past and Matt does a good job revisiting the epic, rocking nature of U2’s classic. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his vocal is reminiscent of Bono’s.
Andrew Bird - “Hark!”
Andrew Bird has released a six-song EP that includes two originals and standards such as “Holy Night,” Vince Guaraldi’s “Skating” and “Christmas is Coming.” Andrew explains the personal appeal: “There are a couple originals in here that address this idea of light and warmth in the darkness as well as some classics that have some nostalgic resonance with me.”
Merge Records – “You Wish: A Merge Records Holiday Album”
The North Carolina–based indie rock institution has released their first Christmas compilation, which includes originals from founder and Superchunk front man Mac McCaughan, with Spent’s Annie Hayden, Fruit Bats, The Essex Green, Telekenesis, The Shout Out Loads. Big highlights include William Tyler’s instrumental cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” and Hiss Golden Messenger and Lucinda Williams covering John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison.”
Josh Rouse - “The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse”
Singer-songwriter Josh Rouse has released his first holiday album full of originals (although the first edition of the CD and LP comes with a bonus disc of 3 classic songs recorded acoustically). The collection is exactly what fans of Rouse would want: joyful, soft and sweet, melodic and with a subtle twist of humor. The first single, “Mediterranean Xmas,” is representative of the loving slice of holiday reflection that is heartfelt and soft but not saccharine.
Dan Wilson - “Christmassy”
Prolific singer-songwriter Dan Wilson is perhaps best known from his time with ‘90s alt-rock band Semisonic. This December, Dan shared a number of his Christmas songs on Twitter. Highlights include the 2018 release “Christmassy.” Dan said, “This is a song about the weeks and days building up to the holidays. In Los Angeles, it feels like the holidays seem to come and go in a few short weeks. But growing up in Minnesota, the buildup was long and languid.”
Brushfire Records – “This Warm December Vol. 3”
Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records has released the third edition of their Christmas compilation featuring a nice mix of originals and holiday classics from the likes of G Love and Special Sauce, Rogue Wave, Jack Johnson, ALO and a wonderful rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Bahamas.
JD McPherson - “Red Bows (For A Blue Girl)”
No stranger to holiday music, the Oklahoma-based rockabilly revivalist released a single this month that included a track from his excellent 2018 Christmas album and a new song called “Red Bows (For A Blue Girl).”