The COVID-19 pandemic has had us all wishing for merrier times. Musicians are no different. A swarm of performers, ranging from Macklemore duet partner Mary Lambert to Canadian pop stars Glass Tiger, have released holiday albums. Here’s a roundup of some of the best Christmas albums new to 2020.
Mary Lambert is feeling sad about the COVID-19 pandemic, but her quarantine-produced holiday EP, “Happy Holigays,” is cheering her up.
“I haven’t released something with levity in a hundred years,” she said with a boisterous laugh. “It was nice to not have to think about trauma for a few seconds.”
Lambert—who appears on Macklemore’s triple-platinum “Sam Love—offers classic favorites like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and originals such as “Seasonal Depression” on the record. The latter song is an anthem about taking meds, as Lambert suffers from bipolar disorder. She sings, “Take your meds / if you’re taking meds / get some rest / or eat a snack / it’ll all get better soon.”
On “Christmas Cookies,” she’s joined by her partner, a nonbinary professor or rhetorician named Wyatt.
“Wyatt and I play music all the time together, and I thought their voice would sound perfect in the song,” she said. “We were dying of laughter while recording, so I included some of that in the actual track.”
Lambert’s fondest Christmas memory is the annual scavenger hunt her mom hosted for Lambert and her siblings.
“It’s a rambunctious event,” she said. “I think we’ll carry on this tradition when we have kids. We are both all about surprises and prizes. Wyatt did a week-long scavenger hunt. I was all about it.”
“Songs for a Winter’s Night”
Canadian pop-rockers Glass Tiger tried to make the best of the lockdown and decided to do something constructive—record their first holiday album.
“We had talked about the Christmas stuff, but we were never able to get our heads wrapped around it,” said keyboardist/producer Sam Reid.
“This is going to be a Christmas like no other, so if there’s ever an opportunity when we should do a Christmas record, this is it.”
The album, “Songs for a Winter’s Night,” is a collection of nine original songs written by Glass Tiger, along with a cover of “A Song for a Winter’s Night,” the latter of which sees the band joined by Natalie MacMaster, Isabel Bayrakdarian of Santa Barbara, and the Steve Sidwell Orchestra.
Legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot makes an appearance to voice a poem written by lead singer Alan Frew, “Ode for a Winter’s Night.”
“it’s sad to see it wrap up, because it’s been keeping me mentally occupied for the whole time,” Reid said. “We had to create it over multiple time zones—we had string arrangements done in the U.K.; an opera singer from Santa Barbara, who sang in an empty concert hall in Fresno; and Alan in Italy. Then it was all stitched together.”
Frew was “marooned,” as Reid put it, in Italy while visiting his daughter in a European school.
Christmas is “a big deal” for Reid, who always wanted to record Christmas music. He admits he has a hard time with covers.
“It’s just really difficult to do justice to some of the songs I love,” he said. “You cannot beat Bing Crosby or Dean Martin. I’m a very traditional kind of music guy at Christmastime. It’s kind of like covering the Beatles. You’re not going to knock them off their perch.”
August Burns Red
“All I Want for Christmas”
August Burns Red regularly records Christmas songs in time for the holidays.
Guitarist Brent Rambler said the cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” is special, as bassist Dustin Davidson penned the metal version of the pop tune.
“When he was going through the remaining songs that we haven’t covered, there were so few that translate to cool metal songs,” Rambler said.
“That was at the top of the list. What he wrote came out awesome. He’s a phenomenal guitar player.”
Rambler’s favorite Christmas tradition is the chicken pot pie his family makes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—but this isn’t the usual frozen version of comfort food.
“Every year my family gets together in Lancaster County and we make the Lancaster County version of chicken pot pie, which is noodles, chicken stock and herbs. That’s it. We’ve been doing that for 36 years—before my time. It’s a great family gathering.”
August Burns Red is hosting a Saturday, December 12, livestream for $15 to $40.
“The Birth of a King”
Producer Tommee Profitt’s 15-year dream was to record a holiday album. Thanks to the pandemic, the former Michigander who frequently works with rapper NF did that with “The Birth of a King.”
The genre-bending, high-concept Christmas album stands out because of his signature cinematic sensibilities and his epic take on traditional holiday music. Special guests include Avril Lavigne, Chris Tomlin and Stanaj.
“The funny thing is, I’ve actually dreamed of making this album since 2005, when I was in college,” Profitt said, calling from Nashville.
“One of my class assignments in one of my music classes was to reimagine a Christmas carol. I did one of them and I had so much fun just imagining doing more than one. I said, ‘One day, I want to do one big Christmas album.’ I had no idea it would be 15 years later.”
Profitt put a lot of pressure on himself