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Your Handy Guide for a Cool Yule

Each year brings another handful of Christmas albums and singles. I even know people that collect ’em. Seems like nearly every musical act has to at least record a Christmas song at some point in their existence, if not an entire album. As with anything, some are better than others. Here are a few newbies this year that might possibly be worth a spin…

Border hoppers Los Lobos are out with Llegó Navidad, their first holiday album. Sporting one new original song, “Christmas and You,” the bulk of the tracklisting consists of (mostly) obscure covers from North, Central and South America, such as Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe’s “La Murga de Panema” and Javier Solis’ “Regalo do Reyes.”

Singer-songwriter Josh Rouse (pictured) has also released his first Christmas album, The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse, consisting of nine new original songs. Physical purchases of the album also include a bonus EP featuring three demos from the album plus performances of three traditional Christmas songs.

Remember Letters to Cleo? They were out of action for 17 years but reunited in 2016 to bring their ‘90s alt-rock to a new generation… or at least back to their parents who aren’t embarrassed that they used to sing along to the Boston group’s radio hits. Their brand new holiday EP OK Christmas includes one original and covers of Elvis Presley (“If I Get Home on Christmas Day”), Boston band The Dogmatics (“X Mas Time – Sure Don’t Feel Like It”) and The Kinks (“Father Christmas”), the latter of which they fuck up in an ill-fated attempt to be sensitive and politically correct, changing the lyrics to “You can melt down all the machine guns/ So the kids are safe on the streets.” Barf.

Americana duo The Imaginaries were all set to open the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s annual Christmas tour before it was cancelled due to Setzer’s severe tinnitus. That setback didn’t stop them from releasing Hometown Christmas, an album of 13 originals and covers; here’s a version of the title track. They’ve also recorded a new album in Muscle Shoals, due in the spring, with the help of bassists David Hood (Aretha Franklin, Etta James and many others) and Shonna Tucker (ex-Drive-By Truckers), guitarist Kelvin Holly (Little Richard, Bobby Blue Bland) and other hotshots.

Merge Records has released its first Christmastime compilation, You Wish: A Merge Records Holiday Album. Among the label’s artists contributing original songs and covers are Coco Hames, Hiss Golden Messenger with Lucinda Williams, Mikal Cronin, Telekinesis, Shout Out Louds and Mac McCaughan with Annie Hayden.

And then there’s a bunch of Record Store Day/Black Friday Yuletide releases that you may still be able to find in the bins. Most were reissues of previously released material, but there were a few new platters in the batch, namely 7” singles from The Regrettes, Peter Holsapple and Acid Witch.

Josh Rouse photo by Manol Millan.