The Cadenza guide to holiday music

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it’s socially acceptable to bump your favorite holiday songs for all to hear. Here’s what Cadenza will be playing for the rest of the holiday season:

“A Very She & Him Christmas”

It’s traditional, with just enough of a modern take to make it interesting, but not enough to ruin the nostalgia. If you’re picky about your Christmas music like me, She & Him’s 2011 album has a touch of folk, but the choral backups and big band accompaniments keep everything light and cheery. The band’s duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward is mostly represented by Deschanel’s vocals, but her unique voice seems almost made for caroling. The album contains only 12 songs (use it to count down the 12 days of Christmas!), but every cover is calmly drawn out, simple and easy to relax to when you finally get a break after exams.
— Kendall Carroll

“Christmas Island” Jimmy Buffet (1996), Bob Dylan (2009)

“Christmas Island,” written by Lyle Moraine in 1946, substitutes sleigh bells for coconut trees, imagining a tropical locale where Santa travels by canoe. Who better to lend his interpretation than Jimmy Buffet, America’s resident beach bum? Rocking at a gentle lilt, Buffet leans into the tropical imagery with steel drums, soothing harmonies and a pedal-steel guitar, turning an escapist novelty into a tourism ad. It’s a tidy fantasy, but a deeply satisfying one at that.

Bob Dylan, who tackled the song for his 2009 album, “Christmas in the Heart,” takes a different approach. Where Buffet treats the song as a natural extension of his worldview, Dylan plays it as a sly gag. The pedal steel and vocal harmonies are inflated just past their natural registers, teasing out elements of self parody Dylan confirms with his ragged vocal. Much has been made of the dry wheeze he’s adopted in his latest act; here, it cuts through the song’s romantic imagery like a rusted knife. The tone, as always with Dylan, is difficult to pin down; the humor is not. Merry Christmas, he says, with a smirk.
— Mark Matousek

Anything by Frank Sinatra

This is a tradition in my family. It doesn’t matter if the song he’s singing is about snow or presents under the tree or any other “holiday” subject matter. The purpose of putting on Frank Sinatra is that you need an accompaniment to your cooking. Whether you’re making lasagna, breaded and fried vegetables, ravioli or any other carbohydrate and red sauce-based Italian food, Frank hits the spot.

Take “Come Fly With Me,” for example. Perhaps you think it’s a romantic song meant for two lovers to listen to on a sunny spring afternoon, as they take part in a movie montage walking through the park. You’re wrong. It’s a song you listen to while you cut up salami and put out some bread and olive oil for Santa Claus. Ol’ Blue Eyes is the only way to ring in the season. Note: Tony Bennett is an acceptable substitute.
— Noah Jodice

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and seeing Mariah Carey in the flesh, sitting atop a massive Christmas float as if it were her throne. And honestly, I think it really was her throne, because Mariah Carey is the unequivocal queen of Christmas. Few will dispute that “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is the ultimate holiday tune. It’s the song you put into Pandora when you want the perfect cookie-decorating soundtrack. It’s the one Christmas song that radio stations can get away with playing every hour, on the hour, from Thanksgiving to Dec. 25 without driving their listeners insane. It’s a song about love and holiday cheer, belted out through Mariah Carey’s uber-powerful, pop-diva vocal cords. As someone who can be a bit of a scrooge about the incessant stream of holiday music that comes around every December, even I find it hard to resist singing along when I hear this modern Christmas classic.
– Katharine Jaruzelski

“White Christmas” soundtrack

Ever since I was a kid, my family has huddled together on Christmas Eve and watched the 1954 movie “White Christmas.” With many acts performed by Bing Crosby, who’s known for his amazing voice in addition to his acting skills, the songs lull me back into childhood, when all I really wanted during December and January was for it to snow. Mostly for snow day reasons. Anyway, titular track “White Christmas” especially takes me back to a time far away from exams, when all I had to worry about was if my gingerbread man was realistic enough. It’s about simpler times, before the holidays were so rampantly commercialized, and brings across a simple message of goodwill and love. And during the holidays, who can resist that?
— Lindsay Tracy

“El Burrito Sabanero” by all of Latin America, basically

Christmas is always an awkward time for foreigners like me who did not grow up listening to “Little Drummer Boy” or “All I Want for Christmas Is You” whenever December came around. Let’s just say I’m never ever playing “Guess The Song: X-mas Edition.” Instead, I’ll be listening to the good, old classic Latino Christmas tunes, most famously “El Burrito Sabanero.” Originally from Venezuela, the song is essentially a cross-cultural Christmas phenomenon that has been rendered in hundreds of ways. Not a single member of the Latino culture does not know this song. Yet, for such a widely popular track, it still feels surprisingly personal because it evokes nostalgic childhood memories and stories from all generations. Its jolly, catchy melody along with its simple but genuine lyrics cannot be resisted and for that, it will live forever on. Personal favorite version: Juanes’ 2006 cover.
— Alberto Farino

“A Rosie Christmas” by Rosie O’Donnell

Oh, you didn’t know that Rosie O’Donnell released a Christmas album in 1999? Well, she did, and it is one of my family’s favorites. With songs like “Magic of Christmas Day (God Bless Us Everyone),” featuring Celine Dion, “Santa on the Rooftop,” featuring Trisha Yearwood, and “Do You Hear What I Hear,” featuring “Sesame Street”’s Elmo, this album has everything you are looking forward to for your holiday listening, from random celebrities to fictional characters. So what if Rosie O’Donnell doesn’t have a great singing voice, or if it’s slightly disconcerting to hear Angelica from “The Rugrats” sing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”? Chalk it up to nostalgia or too much eggnog, but this Christmas album will have you dancing around in your Christmas tree skirt in no time, all the while reminding you just what you were up to in 1999. ­
— Elena Wandzilak

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