recommended Christmas Cds
On a Tight Budget this Christmas season - then see my best buys at the bottom of the list

I can highly recommend the following CDs - they have all withstood the test of time. Not all will be to everyone's taste. But I will try to point that out below. And anyway you can always go to a music site and check them out before buying. As of Nov 2008 I guess is as good a site as any to buy CDs. . is still in business but I haven't bought from them in some time. They lost me when they eliminated the opportunity to preview the music. I told them it was a stupid idea but maybe I was wrong as they are still in business.Sam the Record Man is long gone as a web presence although we still have a Sam's store here in Belleville. In the US you can try or Allegro has a very good selection and reasonable shipping rates to Canada. Oldies has lots of good old stuff but I have found their shipping more expensive.
    However there is now a very economical alternative. There is a legitimate subscription download site EMusic where many of these albums can be downloaded in MP3 format. At 30 cents or 40 cents a track this is quite an attractive alternative. I have the $12 per month subscription that gets you either 30 or 40 tracks. I was upgraded to 40 tracks per month to persuade me to continue my subscription. The tracks are blessedly free of any digital rights control. They do not expire after you unsubscribe. And the quality is generally very good (not quite as good as the original wafe file of course but quite satisfactory). If you wish they can be easily converted to regular CD format. With recordable CD blanks at about 30 cents apiece this is an attractive alternative. There are many software packages that will do this. I tend to use Magix Audio Cleaning 10 which I also use for converting my old vinyl albums to CD. EMusic do not have the big labels like Sony and MCA but they do have millions of wonderful tracks of all genres. If you think you might be interested you can have a look at the  Emusic Browse page.
If that looks interesting you can sign up for a subscription and receive 50 free tracks. But if you are interested why not contact me and I will have Emusic send you an invitation to join. Either way you get 50 free tracks but if I invite you and you join I can also receive up to 50 free tracks. 
email me   Please remember to change the reply to address if you wish a reply.
It may take Emusic a day or so to get your invitation out.
I have marked all the recommended albums that are available on Emusic and linked them. Just click on the blue-outlined graphic of the cover.
Then you can check out and audition the tracks. It is a bit frustrating that for some reason a few of the tracks are not available for download.
In fact most titles are linked to a source.

 Some of the recommendations may no longer be available. But it is encouraging that several of the really good ones have been re-released in the past few years. So here they are in no particular order:

Note: Nov 28/03 I stopped by Walmart last week to see if they still had the bargain CDs I recommend below. I am sorry to say I only found one copy of one title. Sorry if I made you suffer a trip to Walmart. If I see some more bargains I will let you know.

"Belafonte - to wish you a Merry Christmas"  Harry Belafonte - RCA 2626-2-R Originally recorded back in image 1962.
  There may be more than one reissue format. Make sure it has "Mary's Boy Child" - surprisingly the original Christmas album didn't. I see there is a new compilation just out recently (red cover). It has some extra tracks from other albums. But I think this one is the better buy. Some of the extra tracks are from his "Jump Up Calypso" album which is worth getting anyway. Available at

"This is Christmas - A complete collection of the Alfred S. Burt Carols" The Voices of Jimmy Joyce - TRO Hollis Music 422B (that might only be for the sheet music)   16 voice A Cappella Choir 
If you are
asking yourself who is Alfred S. Burt; he is the man who wrote Come, Dear Children, Some Children See Him, The Star Carol etc. And no, he did notimage die in the 1800's. Although these carols now seem timeless they were written between 1943 an 1954. This CD is a must have. Oh, and if you were wondering how many voices Jimmy Joyce had - it appears to be 16. But this is no harder to believe than the fact there were 16 guys all with the same name Harry Christopher (but I digress). See the official Alfred S. Burt Carols website. It has the history and all the lyrics. Sorry I can't find a source for this. I did find some reviews that do not think quite so highly of it as I do.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" Vince Guaraldi Trio - Fantasy FCD-8431-2   piano jazz trio
I know you have heard this one. And I have heard some jaded, Christmas weary people who claim to be sick of it.
image But don't listen to it in the supermarket or elevator. Sit down quietly at home with a glass of port and the tree lights twinkling and listen to it there. Vince Guaraldi's arrangements may seem rather simple and straight forward today but I'll bet he introduced more people to jazz than anyone else around at that time or since. Alas neither Vince Guaraldi or Charles Shultz are still with us but they will be long remembered.  Available on EMusic

"The Christmas Album (originally Christmas Carousel)"  Peggy Lee - EMI MFP 724383106721 (originally Capitol Records) vocals with orchestra and children's chorus
This album may exist in other formats, in fact I think I have seen the original orangey cover of the original LP. Peggy Lee was a very fine pop singer from the days when we really did have pop singers. What set this album apart at the time was that it had some lesser known songs on it including several of the Alfred S.Burt carols. Most of the arrangements are by Billy May and are terrific. image And Jimmy Joyce (see above) gathered the children's chorus and directed it. The kids are terrific too: they actually sound like real kids. My CD reissue has some extra tracks that  aren't quite up to the original album but they are all at the end so you could cut them off  after the original 12 and the CD is still well worth the price. NOTE: There seems to be a stripped down version out there with only 11 songs. Although it is cheap it misses some of the songs from the original album. Here is the list of songs that are on the original plus the extras on my CD version. Alas a cover photo does not seem to be available.
I Like A Sleighride (Jingle Bells) Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), The Don't Forget To Feed The Reindeer Star Carol, The Christmas List, The Christmas Carousel Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town Christmas Waltz, The Christmas Riddle, The
Tree, The Deck The Halls White Christmas Winter Wonderland Little Drummer Boy Happy Holiday Christmas Spell, The Toys For Tots
                                                                     <---these are the unnecessary extras-------------------------------------------->
The new "Christmas with Peggy Lee" album has most of the original 12 tracks. But the "Christmas List" seems to be missing. Too Bad.

"The Charlie Byrd Christmas Album" Charlie  Byrd - Concord Concerto CCD-42004
Solo acoustic image guitar
 It is interesting that this CD includes the words for most of the songs: it is not a sing-along album. It also isn't a party album but another quiet time, by-the-fire type of album. The arrangements are exquisite and the playing of course is exemplary. I just gave this a good listen again last week and it sounds even better than I remembered it.  Available on EMusic

"The Last Month of the Year" The Kingston Trio - Collectors' Choice Music CCM- 117-2
(aka EMI Capitol Music Special Markets 72435-23524-2-5)
 augmented folk trio
image This album was done very early in the career of the original Kingston Trio and may just be the best thing they ever did. It still sounds good after all these years. The songs might not sound quite as authentic as they would performed by Jean Ritchie, or Peggy Seeger  etc. but they are most enjoyable. The addition of the bouzouki  gives a more ancient sound and is quite different from any other Kingston Trio album. By the way look at those numbers for the EMI records. You would almost think that someone from Stations Design (in joke for Hydro alumni)  came up with the numbering system wouldn't you! Available at

"Bright Day Star" The Baltimore Consort - Dorian DOR-90198  sort of an Elizabethan Minstrel group comprising lute, flute, viols and cittern and vocals  It's a bit hard to describe this group but go to a music site where you can check image them out if you are not already familiar with them. The songs span  from 1561 to 1932. A delightful album. And as always the Dorian sound is impeccable. Sorry: the Dorian Website says this is out of print.
But now Available on EMusic  

"Christmas Party - Holiday Piano Spiked with Swing"  Dave McKenna - Concord Jazz CCD 4923-2   solo piano
This is exactly the same album as "Dave McKenna Christmas Ivory" Concord CCD-4772-2 except cheaper, so get this one. If image you are not familiar with Dave McKenna this will be a great introduction. Dave doesn't need a rhythm section. He is definitely one of the swingingest pianists around today. At only $8.98 Cdn at this is definitely a best buy.   A BEST BUY !   Available on EMusic and an even better buy

"Please Come Home for Christmas" Charles Brown with special guest artist Bill Doggett - King K-5019X  blues vocal with piano combos  This may be a bit hard to find but well worth looking for. I got mine at Kop's/Vortex Kollectibles on Queen Street West Toronto (your one stop shopping area, with Atlas Machinery and Active Electronics nearby). And even if image you can't get this exact recording there are others out there by Charles Brown that will do quite nicely. Charles is not to be confused with Shultz's Charlie. Charles Brown is one of the most erudite blues singers around. The persistent piano accompaniment might not be to everyone's liking. All of us have suffered the blues sometime at Christmas. This album is the perfect antidote. There are a couple of instrumental tracks with Bill Doggett on the (Hammond) organ.  Available at

"The John Fahey Christmas Album" John Fahey - Attic ACD 1362  acoustic guitar some with piano and/or flute and/or cello accompaniment  
image Fahey 1& 2 I don't know if this Attic release is still available. It also says Burnside Records on the back. I had the original LP "The New Possibility" recorded in 1968. The CD contains newer (ca 1990) recordings  with additional material. Some of John's other recordings are a bit quirky but the playing and arrangements here are beautiful. Available on EMusic as A New Possibility - John Fahey's Christmas Album Volumes 1 And 2
the buff coloured cover.

"Memorabilia Navideña" Tish Hinojosa - Watermelon Records CD1006  tex-mex folk vocals with accompaniment
image This CD was also discovered at Kop's/Vortex Kollectibles I think. This is the one with the silver cover. But I have seen another version on a different label with additional songs. This is a rather short Cd but delightful;   "Arbolito" is included in both Spanish and English versions. Tish is one of the better singer/songwriters today. All her songs on this CD are well worth listening to. Tish has a pleasant soprano voice and clear articulation and the backing musicians are top-notch.
I see there is a new release about to come out titled From Texas for a Christmas Night. I couldn't find a cover picture for it.
But it has additional material and might be worth giving a listen to. Both are available at CDUniverse

"Joy To the World - Christmas Music for Pan Pipes and Organ" Georges Schmitt - Saydisc CD-SDL 357
pan pipes and organ

Who would have imagined me recommending a pan-pipes recording? But when you think about it, the combination of panpipes and organ make perfect sense. For what are pan pipes but the poor man's portable pipe organ. For you church organ fans - thisimage was recorded with the Schwendekel organ in Ribeauville, Alsace and produced by the Saydisc in England (with the quintessentially English address of  Chipping Manor, The Chipping, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucester).The sound is glorious. A websearch seems to indicate that Saydisc is out of business - so good luck - this means you should find it as a bargain or perhaps not at all. There are several albums by Georges Schmitt  Available on EMusic but I am not sure if this one is.

"Celebration - Christmas Fanfares and Carols" BBC Welsh Chorus, Fanfare Trumpeters of the Welsh Guard and readings by Aled Jones, Huw Tregelles organ  -  Nimbus records NI 5310  
image   An eclectic collection of mostly choir and organ but with some readings by Aled Jones include (perhaps Aled's voice was already changing when this was recorded ca 1991). A beautifully recorded album, as expected from Nimbus Records.  
Now Available on EMusic

"A Jazz Christmas - Hot Jazz for a Cool Night" collection including Dave Brubeck, Stanley Turrentine, Benny Carter, Louis Bellson, Jim Hall, Dick Hyman,  Kenny Davern and others - Musicmasters Jazz  01612-65089-2
There are lots of jazz Christmas collections out there now, good bad and indifferent. As you can see, the musicians included in this collection are a stellar lot. These cuts were all recorded from 1990 to 1992 so the recording quality is good.
image And the list of sidemen is just as impressive, including Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Terry Clarke, Howard Alden, John Chiodini and Jay Leonhart. But don't hold your breath for Toots Thielemans' harmonica; he is a no-show even though indicated in the notes. My favourite tracks are "The Christmas Song" played by Marvin Stamm on flugelhorn, A "Child is Born" by the venerable Benny Carter on alto sax accompanied by Hank Jones on piano, and "The Little Drummer Boy" played by the also venerable drummer Louis Bellson. No wonder they call the label Music Masters. Marvin Stamm shows up again on this one. I see it was recorded the same day as the Christmas Song. I would say Mr. Stamm was really in fine form on that day. Also Dick Hyman's inventive solo piano rendering of Irving Berlin's White Christmas (all 5 minutes and 14 seconds) is a delight. Even a little clattering of cutlery at Toronto's Montreal Bistro could not detract from this gem. These are all instrumentals except for the one vocal track by Rebecca Paris. Also Available on EMusic but with a different cover.

"Christmas Concertos - Corelli, Manfredini, Torelli, and Vivaldi" Il Giardino Armonico - Teldec Das Alte Werk 2292-46013-2 mostly string  baroque concertos played with original instruments
image I am always a sucker for Vivaldi's music and I especially like the sound of original instruments for music of this period. The sound of this Milan ensemble is both rich and gutsy. A beautiful baroque album. Available at CDUniverse

Budget Christmas CD's   All of these except the Canadian Singers can likely be found at Walmart for less than $5. But beware - these budget CDs have a habit of changing the cover art  frequently.

"It's Christmas Time" The Canadian Singers with special guests Johnny Cowell, Richard Fortin, Ralph Fraser and Haygood Hardy - CS200 probably a custom produced CD 8 piece vocal ensemble with instrumental soloists and synthesized accompaniment
I am not sure where I got this - sam the Record Man I would guess. I remember it was quite cheap. The only clue on how to find it is to contact the Canadian Singers Box 38039, Castlewood Postal Outlet, 550 Eglington Ave., Toronto, ON M5N 3A8, image Telephone (416) 239-5891. This Cd has a nice selection of songs, several of which you are unlikely to find on other Cds. It appears to me that all or most of the songs are either composed or arranged by Canadians and cover a wide range from Gene MacClellan's "Snowbird" to the Cherry Tree Carol arranged by Louis Applebaum to Our Winter Love written and and performed by Toronto's famous trumpeter Johnny Cowell. I do have some reservations about this one. Many tracks would have been improved without the synthesized accompaniment; either with piano or just a cappella. 2008 sorry I can't find this anywhere.

"The Christmas Album - The Royal Philharmonic Collection - A Collection of Contemporary and Traditional Christmas Music" Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Choir of the Arts Educational School Tring Park, The Amimage brosian Singers - Tring TRPG083     A BEST BUY !
As t
he title indicates, this is a nice mixture of  traditional and more recent carols including several of the fine John Rutter compositions; Nativity Carol, Candlelight Carol, Shepherd's Pipe Carol and the Donkey Carol. The orchestra and choirs are excellent and the sound recording (1995 - all digital)  is just fine too.  2008 I have no idea where you might find this.

" Christmas with Solid Brass - Christmas Favorites Arranged for Brass and Percussion" the Solid Brass - Season's Best VMK-1088  
Check the fine print on the back  - it should say "Manufactured under license from Dorian Group". This is your seal of approval.image You know that if  it was originally produced by Dorian Records it will be a quality production. The cover may be quite different but the VMK-1088 will likely remain the same. The label may show "Columbia River Entertainment Group" instead of  "Season's Best". Now Available on EMusic with original Dorian cover shown.

"Classical Christmas Instrumental"   Hugh McLean - organ,  Judy Loman - Harp, Goliard Brass quintet - Season's Best VMK-1085 or Columbia River Entertainment VMK-1085  
This one should indicate "Manufactured under license from CBC Recordings". The cover on the left seems to be the 1997 (Season's Best incarnation): that on the right is the 1998 Columbia River/Allegro version. Both carry the same number but in image image some respects are different. The cover on the 1997 version is nicer but the notes on the back are more misleading. I am still waiting for Guido Basso's version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. But what we lose on Basso's flugelhorn we make up for with Hugh McLean's organ. The solo organ and solo harp tracks are all excellent. My older version shows 3 tracks by Milan Kymlicka (small instrumental ensemble). I think in fact that this group appears with the Goliard Brass Quintet. But whatever the case it is a great album. If you blew your wad on a new subwoofer then you should at least spend $3 or $4 for these fine organ tracks to try it out!  Available on EMusic

Also worthwhile at this price and apparently from the same series:

"Holiday Favorites On Guitar" arranged and performed on classical guitar by James Wilson - Season's Best VMK-1087 or Columbia River Entertainment VMK-1087  solo guitar  Manufactured under license from Ode Record Company  
Some of the intros seem a bit gimmicky but the playing and sound are very good and some of the arrangements are every bit as good as those on Charlie Byrd's CD. Some tracks such as the first one (Sleigh Ride) sound like they are overdubbed or else Mr. Wilson is even better than I think. Easily recommended. Still available at Allegro for $3.49 . So it might be available in Walmart.

"Dickens Christmas" Ed Sweeney - Season's Best or Columbia River VMK-1080 banjo, guitars, hammer dulcimer etc.  Manufactured under license from Old Harbor Music  
Dickens Did they really have banjos in Dickens' England? I thought George Formby came along somewhat later. I would have likely titled this CD as "New Age Appalachian Dickensy Christmas" , but whatever. This might not be everyone's cup of tea but I got a get kick out of it. The banjo version of Jesu, Joy of man's Desiring could be subtitled "Dueling Banjos versus J. S. Bach. A strange assortment of other instruments are sprinkled here and there throughout; Melodian, bones, spoons, fiddle, concertina, handbells etc. I assume from the meager notes that Mr. Sweeney  plays all these instruments. They are all played exceedingly well. For example Mr. Sweeney's rendition of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is superior to Pete Seeger's. The 2 tracks on the 12 string guitar are quite beautiful.  
Available on EMusic and Allegro
I would say get all the above 4 CDs. It will still cost you less than the price of one CD at Sam's.
Yes that's my final answer!

Some Recent additions from the Emusic site. Just click on the cover to preview the tracks on the Emusic site.

"Oy To The World - A Klezmer Christmas" The Klezmonauts
klezmer Who would have thunk that Christmas music in Klezmer style could be so much fun.
I think this will be enjoyed for Christmases to come.

"Christmas Spirituals"  Odettaimage

Odetta's powerful voice with the simplest of accompaniment. 

"A Reggae Christmas  (Mafia and Fluxy presents)" various artists

image An other fun alternative Christmas album. There are many terrific tracks.
Start at the top - A Wonderful Christmas, Last Christmas, Driving Home for Christmas and This Christmas.
There are also nice versions of other better known Christmas favourites such as the Christmas Song and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
And they are all infused with that infectious reggae beat.

"A Cozy Christmas"  and " Let it Snow"  Sally Harmon

cozy image Two very pleasant piano albums suitable for all your Christmas entertaining.
The first is piano solo. On the second bass and percussion is added.

Merry Christmas!  JRM

back to the main music page

Revised Nov 11, 2008 by John R. Meale