We already know that a lot of Christmas music is terrible. That’s not a problem. What is a problem is when a few potentially awesome albums promise to raise our spirits only to let us down.
Al Green – White Christmas
Al Green, soulfully singing about Christmas? Excellent! This just might be counter-intuitive enough to be totally awesome.
Or, it could fall completely flat on its face. Which it does.
Everything about this record feels dashed-off and insincere. From questionable tempo choices to so-slick-its-awkward arrangements, this is a lousy album from an excellent singer.
Johnny Cash – [Assorted Christmas Albums]
As a Johnny Cash fan, I wish I could recommend buying one of his Christmas albums.
Throughout his career, Cash’s basic holiday material has been repackaged several times. Now after his death, that will continue for years to come.
It’s not that Cash’s Christmas material is terrible. It’s just that when you put it all together, it’s not particularly good. Instead of relying on his offbeat, rugged charm, Cash plays Christmas straight-laced, and the results suffer from it.
The arrangements are middle-of-the-road in the worst sense of the term. The songs are almost exclusively religious, which wouldn’t be a problem if they felt impassioned or sincere (they’re neither). Even songs that Cash should be well-equipped to nail, like “Blue Christmas” are tepid and toothless.
If only Rich Rubin had the opportunity to produce a follow up, the world might have had a thoroughly amazing Christmas album on its hands.
Ray Charles – The Spirit Of Christmas
Whether you’re hoping for the gritty, rollicking Ray Charles of “What I’d Say” and “Mess Around” or the earnest, elegant Ray Charles of Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, you can prepare to be disappointed.
The cheesy keyboard sounds, cliché arrangements, and unapologetically 80s production aesthetic make this music you’d expect to hear while shopping for Khakis in a New Jersey strip-mall circa 1990.
Again, this is not a terrible album. If it was, it might make for good kitsch, like James Brown’s mind bogglingly dreadful second Christmas record, The Merry Christmas Album. At the very least, Charles’ rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is charming. Overall, the tracks are either cloying, forgettable, or both. Unless you’re a Ray Charles completist, there’s really no reason to seek this one out.
There are already enough problems with the winter holidays: Your spouse’s office party, Fox News pundits ranting about an imagined “War On Christmas”, and the bald-faced commercialism that pushes the holiday season to begin ever closer to Halloween, as prophesied by Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”. Don’t let any of these albums become additional mistletoe in your eye.
For some more uplifting options, please see our list of The Best Christmas Albums In The History Of The Universe.