Holiday albums of 2016: Hottest and coldest picks | EW.com

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The hottest (and coldest) holiday albums of 2016

(Illustration by Laura Lannes for EW)

From country renditions of Christmas classics to wild reworkings of seasonal tunes by drag queens and death metal bands, 2016’s crop of holiday albums is diverse and packed with must-hear music for every type of gathering. EW picked the best stocking stuffers — and a few lumps of coal.

Andra Day, Merry Christmas From Andra Day

The soul star revives last year’s duet with Stevie Wonder (“Someday at Christmas”) on this 16-minute EP. Other highlights include stunning vocal work on “Carol of the Bells,” where Day channels Aretha’s range and power. A

Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas

The country singer brings plenty of cheer on this season’s most diverse-sounding album, which features everything from mariachi bands (“Feliz Navidad”) and tropical vibes (“Mele Kalikimaka”) to a collaboration with Leon Bridges on the original composition “Present Without a Bow.” And her version of “Christmas Don’t Be Late” — decked out with strings and an accordion — is a nice alternative to the Chipmunks classic. A

Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue

On her first Christmas album in half a century, the country legend brings rootsy flair to “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and more. But the best tracks are her originals: “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus” is a hoot, while “White Christmas Blue” might be one of the saddest holiday tunes since, well, “White Christmas.” A-

She & Him, Christmas Party

For their second Christmas album, She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have selected another eclectic mix of standards, from Tin Pan Alley (“A Marshmallow World”) to Mariah Carey (“All I Want for Christmas Is You”). And the versatile duo delivers on rockabilly romps (“Run Run Rudolph”) and cozy jams (“Let It Snow”) alike. B+

Brett Eldredge, Glow

At only 30 years old, the country singer channels greats like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra on a brassy romantic collection, with bold big-band arrangements and a duet with Meghan Trainor. B+

Various Artists, And They Killed Christmas

This excellent compilation of hard-rock, punk, and metal Christmas jams is the season’s wildest holiday album: It’s got an ode for the transgender community (The Vandals’ “My First Christmas as a Woman”), a Jethro Tull-aping story of a department-store Santa Claus (Bob Rivers’ “Aquaclaus”), and Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor’s vulgar takedown of the season itself: “Just the smell of eggnog makes me vomit,” he rages on “X-M@$.” B+

Jon Batiste, Christmas With Jon Batiste

Stephen Colbert’s Late Show bandleader brings verve and soul to this set of seasonal tunes. He duets with R&B singer Aloe Blacc on the tender “Endless Love” and busts out his melodica — that’d be the instrument from Colbert’s new theme song — for a funky “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” B

Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, Christmas Together

The country king and queen deploy smart flourishes — the whimsical clarinet on “Santa Baby,” for instance — to elevate straightforward tunes to the next level. B

Various Artists, Christmas Queens 2

The second Christmas album compiled by contestants and fan favorites from RuPaul’s Drag Race is as wild and packed with hilarity as its 2015 predecessor. The beats don’t always work out — cuts like Jiggly Caliente’s “Xmas Hams” and Alaska Thunderf—‘s “Chr!$Tm@$ $Ux” have little replay value — but side-splitting skits and synth jams like Sharon Needles’ “Snow Machine” redeem the set. B

Jennifer Nettles, To Celebrate Christmas

The Sugarland singer’s holiday set — her second album of 2016 — offers a cure for cold weather with a scorching “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and a Bourbon Street-worthy rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” featuring Andra Day. B

Jimmy Buffett, ‘Tis the SeaSon

Buffett’s breezy set is predictably low-stakes, whether he’s affecting a lisp on “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” or infusing “Wonderful Christmastime” with reggae-lite island vibes. B

Sarah McLachlan, Wonderland

McLachlan’s entrancing voice gets buried on bombastic cuts like “Huron Carol,” but it’s radiant amid sparser arrangements: the slinky, jazz-inflected piano of “The Christmas Song” or the elegiac guitar of “White Christmas.” B-

Neil Diamond, Acoustic Christmas

The crooner’s fifth(!) Christmas album teems with charmingly rustic downtempo tunes (“O Holy Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) but could use more of the pep he gives to the rollicking “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” B-

Leslie Odom Jr., Simply Christmas

Aaron brrr? The Tony winner who portrayed Hamilton’s nemesis in the smash Broadway musical strikes a different tone on this elegant but subdued album. Play this during dessert and coffee. B-

Frankie Valli, ‘Tis the Seasons

A pinch of Auto-Tune, a smattering of synths: Credit the octogenarian Valli for dabbling with new sounds, even if they rarely work out. “Merry Christmas, Baby” is the album’s sole keeper, thanks to Jeff Beck’s bluesy fretwork. C+

Susan Boyle, A Wonderful World

The Scottish Britain’s Got Talent phenom’s album is pleasant but plainly unremarkable; standards like “Mull of Kintyre” and “What a Wonderful World” move at a glacial pace. C+

Pentatonix, A Pentatonix Christmas

Like the relative who’s had one too many at Christmas dinner, this collection of a cappella covers of seasonal classics is loud, in-your-face, and unrelenting. Bizarre arrangements plague the album, and a schmaltzy cover of Kanye West’s morose 2008 song “Coldest Winter” is worse than frostbite. C

Jane Lynch, A Swingin’ Little Christmas

While the arrangements pop, the actress’ over-the-top vocals — often echoed by collaborators Kate Flannery and Tim Davis — are cloying more often than not. C-

Todd Chrisley, A Chrisley Christmas

Reality TV star Todd Chrisley brings in his whole family, but they’re no Partridges or Jacksons. Contrary to the title, these rote tunes and insufferable spoken interludes prove he certainly doesn’t know best. D