"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," John Legend feat. Esperanza Spalding
John Legend, AKA the first Black man to EGOT, is a national treasure. Put him behind a piano and watch him go; his soulful, romantic voice is mesmerizing. How he made it all the way to 2018 without putting out a Christmas album is beyond me. His cleverly named Legendary Christmas is packed with gems: It kicks off with "What Christmas Means to Me," which features Stevie Wonder himself, then there's the very first time I've enjoyed a rendition of "Silver Bells," lots more more classics, and a few originals. My favorite is when he channels Frank Sinatra in his gorgeous rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which features Portland-raised singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding.
As I wrote this, a friend of mine inquired in a group chat asking whether anyone had gone "Chrissy Teigen hunting?" yesterday, the day of her husband's Portland show at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Unfortunately, the thought hadn't occurred to me.
“My Old Santa Claus,” Sia
I'm a sucker for a Sia single, and this one is a prime example. In "My Old Santa Claus," a newly released bonus track from her 2017 album Everyday Is Christmas, her "everyday Santa Claus" is a lover Sia let go, and whom she's now missing desperately in the thick of the Christmas season. Sia sings, "Well if this is what the season is bringing/I gotta shoot through/Cause if Christmas is so green and so red then/Why am I so blue?" Maybe the reason I like it so much is because, aside from some sleigh bells in the background, it sounds like it could be a regular non-Christmas Sia song.
“This Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” PJ Morton
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/keyboardist PJ Morton has one of those timeless soul voices that his luminaries like Stevie Wonder possess. This year the New Orleans-born artist accomplished the rare feat of making a Christmas album that actually hits, and doesn't feel redundant. Its eight tracks are funky and soulful, with Morton opening with a reggae-infused version of "Winter Wonderland," doing a refreshing take on Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" featuring Stokley, and "Do You Believe," a gorgeous duet with Yolanda Adams. There's also an excellent cover of Stevie Wonder's "Give Love On Christmas Day," but my favorite is Morton's rendition of "This Christmas," featuring New Orleans bounce artist Hasizzle.
“You’re a Mean One,” Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator's two tracks for the soundtrack is the most enticing thing about this new animated remake of Dr. Seuss' The Grinch, a film that absolutely no one asked for. (Also check out the accompanying six-track EP he released called Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr Seuss' The Grinch.) For the Pharrell Williams-narrated movie, Tyler updated the classic "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" with a hip-hop treatment that actually works, also adding drums and strings and embodying the character of the Grinch. "I Am the Grinch," the other song Tyler created for the soundtrack, features Fletcher Jones.
"This Christmas Day," Jessie J
One of the lesser-talked-about great pop-powerhouse singers of her generation, Jessie J nails it with This Christmas Day and its title track. The album as a whole is solid, with features from the likes of Boys II Men ("Winter Wonderland) and Babyface ("The Christmas Song"). I also like Jessie J's peppy version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and she was basically born to cover "The Man with the Bag." Jessie J's distinct vibrato, natural rasp, insane range, and affinity for perfecting vocal runs makes this album of mostly oldies feel new.
"Funky Ass Christmas," Aloe Blacc
"I Got Your Christmas Right Here," the lead single off Aloe Blacc's Christmas Funk album, is all right, but I prefer the vibes and messaging on "Funky Ass Christmas." On the track Blacc sings "We gon' have a funky ass Christmas/It's gon' be a vibe/Grooving to the music/dancing through the night." Yes, this laidback energy is exactly what I need blasting through the speakers while I shield my boyfriend from my family's interrogation, and wait for the edibles to kick in.