‘Tis the season for bad music.

Don’t get me wrong, I have the requisite reverence for the classics. It’s just every random pop act who’ve decided to re-record said classics and in doing so removed all nostalgia from the mix.  The holidays are all about nostalgia—why on earth would you do that?

Here are my favorites. They’re not all classics, but the songs will be familiar and they’ll feel timeless. Which is all the comfort we really want in the bleak days of December leading up to Christmas.


Chet Atkins: Christmas with Chet Atkins

A DJ friend of mine who happens to have a real soft spot for Christmas music told me I needed a copy of this. When I was down in Nashville, I found a copy and I’ve been spinning it ever since.

Chances are you’ve heard most of this album already. Songs from these recordings show up in all kinds of mixes and for good reason. Guitarist Chet Atkins takes standards and makes them his own. The songs are timeless—so is his take on them.


Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas

If you’re of a certain age, the Charlie Brown Christmas special has been burned into your subconscious…in a good way. Few of us can help ourselves from dancing to Linus and Lucy when the song pops on a playlist—nearly every take on these classic standards bebops its way into your heart. It’s also the reason Fur Elise has become a Christmas song for many of us.


Ella Fitzgerald: Wishes You A Swinging Christmas

If the bebop of the Vince Guaraldi Trio is too much for you, step back in time to swing along to some standards with Ella Fitzgerald. Ella has a voice for the ages and her approach to the songs of the season will have you singing along and ready to party. Best for wrapping presents or drinking eggnog.


The Gypsy Hombres: Django Bells

You’ve probably noticed by now that I tend to prefer instrumental Christmas music to overwrought syrupy takes by known vocalists (Ella aside, of course). This album is no exception—it’s a unique and lovely take of standards by the Gypsy Hombres. If you’ve ever wondered what Blue Christmas sounds like played by a jug band fronted by a eastern european fiddle, this album is for you. Really, it’s for everyone. A hidden gem for sure.


John Fahey: A New Possibility

You might not think you need the hard acoustic guitar sounds of John Fahey this Christmas, but you do. Playing solo throughout, it’s a mix of arpeggiated finger picked rompers and subdued, strummed ballads mixed to hear every crisp pluck and squeak of the instrument. With the right setup, it sounds like Fahey has plopped himself down in the living room for a private concert—were I so lucky.


The Boston Pops: Holiday Pops

I’m not enough of a connoisseur of this style to have a strong preference between Keith Lockhart and Arthur Fielder or even know which of these 3 albums we own gets the most plays. But I know that Christmas won’t feel like Christmas without some choral music mixed in. If you like yours on the poppier side (we do) this does nicely.


George Winston: December

The sweet balm of this album is what gently eases me into the holidays every single year. Last on this list, first each season, Winston manages to convey everything from the stark chill of early December nights to the warmth and joy of Christmas morning with his arrangements of standards alongside original compositions for solo piano.