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Merry and bright new music for the holidays

A man hangs an ornament on a white-flocked Christmas tree. A color-blocked stained glass window is in the background.
courtesy of the artist
Jose James trims the tree in a holiday video

As much as we love the classics, it's good to freshen up the holiday playlist. This year, vocalists Norah Jones and José James each released their first Christmas albums.

Jazz/R&B crooner José James won us over a few years ago with his tributes to Bill Withers and Billie Holiday.

With bassist Ben Williams, pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer Jharis Yokely, "Merry Christmas from José James” is a cozy, soulful collection of holiday standards, with two original songs written by James: "Christmas in New York" and "Christmas Day."

And speaking of cozy, Norah Jones, whose voice is like your favorite fleece wrap, also felt the need to record a Christmas album this year.

“I’ve always loved Christmas music but never had the inclination to make a holiday album until now,” Jones said in a news release. “Last year I found myself listening to James Brown’s 'Funky Christmas' and Elvis’ 'Christmas Album' on Sundays during lockdown for a sense of comfort. In January 2021, I started thinking about making a Christmas album of my own. It gave me something fun to work on and look forward to."

Fun and playfulness, with just a hint of nostalgic yearning, are evident on the album. Of the 13 songs, six are Jones' originals.

"When I was trying to figure out which direction to take, the original songs started popping in my head,” she explains. “They were all about trying to find the joys of Christmas, catching that spark, that feeling of love and inclusion that I was longing for during the rest of the year."

Listen for selections from both of these new albums on KNKX Midday and Evening Jazz.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.