Joy to the World! Four New Christmas Albums You Won’t Want to Re-Gift

Festive tunes from Old 97’s, JD McPherson, and more.

Los Straightjackets

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Does the mere thought of Christmas music make you queasy? That’s understandable, given how aggressively cheerful or shamelessly sentimental much of it is. Despair not! Here are four releases that won’t induce nausea and may even make the holidays easier to bear, from most to the least traditional:

Los Straitjackets
Complete Christmas Songbook
Yep Roc

This release compiles two albums and other seasonal odds and ends recorded over the years by Los Straitjackets, the vibrant band that wears Mexican wrestling masks and specializes in old-fashioned rockin’ guitar instrumentals. The vibes are bright and breezy on these 27 delightful tracks, which transform chestnuts like “Joy to the World” and “The Little Drummer Boy” into swingin’ surf music.

Old 97’s
Love the Holidays
ATO

Fronted by Rhett Miller, Old 97’s excels at snappy alt-country that takes a sardonic look at relationships and other reasons for angst, so it would be natural to approach Love the Holidays warily, expecting a takedown of cherished traditions. Surprisingly, this engaging set plays it more or less straight on clever originals from the exuberant title track to the tender “I Believe in Santa Claus” to the feel-good jive of “Rudolph Was Blue.” Plus, it includes old faves like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Miller usually sings like a skeptic—see his excellent recent solo album, The Messenger, for the unvarnished Rhett—but this album is a lovely addition to the Christmas canon.

JD McPherson
Socks
New West

JD McPherson plays greasy, swaggering rock that harks back to the pre-Elvis days of raucous R&B, and he hasn’t made any concessions to the season on Socks. Powered by honking saxes, stomping beats, and McPherson’s spirited blues shouting, the rowdy “Hey Skinny Santa,” the slinky title track (“This is the worst gift I ever got”) and the Fats Domino-inspired “Every Single Christmas” sound like vintage party music, repurposed for the holidays. This is one Christmas album you’ll be tempted to revisit after the decorations are put away.

Rodney Crowell
Christmas Everywhere
New West

Crowell probably couldn’t be glib or frivolous if his life depended on it. He displays the usual thoughtful gravitas on Christmas Everywhere, employing his weathered-but-unbowed voice to compelling effect in reflections on the realities of the season, both melancholy and joyous. The title track envisions traveling in a time machine to prevent John Lennon’s murder, while the funky “When the Fat Guy Tries the Chimney on for Size” celebrates the spirit of giving. If “Very Merry Christmas” offers reassurance, “Christmas Makes Me Sad” and “Merry Christmas from an Empty Bed” reveal gloomier undercurrents that false cheer can’t erase. Crowell’s unflinching honesty is a bracing antidote to tedious platitudes, though it seems like he sure could use a hug.

Don’t miss my companion post, “10 Albums That Helped Me Keep My Sanity in 2018.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.