Best new holiday music 2021: Molly Johnson, Tami Neilson, Tyler Shaw, more
Originals and covers by more than 20 artists including PIQSIQ, Tenille Townes and Kelly Clarkson
Depending on where you fall on the Grinch Heart Spectrum — pea-sized to three-sized — the sudden onslaught of non-stop holiday music is either a never-ending nightmare or a delightful dream come true. But there's good news for both extremes and everyone in between: 2021 is a fabulous year for new, festive songs.
Let us soundtrack your holidays with 13 playlists, including Classical Holidays, Seasonal Favourites, Pop Christmas, Marvin's Room Christmas and more. Access them all via CBC Listen's Holiday Playlists.
Start with incredible originals from huge stars (Tenille Townes, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Stapleton), exciting indie artists (PIQSIQ, Wrabel, Hiss Golden Messenger), and talented new voices (Ellen Doty and Taylr, Maya and Ben). From there, revisit seasonal favourites including gorgeous instrumentals (Chilly Gonzales, Alexandra Stréliski), sentimental heartbreakers (Terra Lightfoot, Elle King) and childhood classics (Tom Wilson and the Art of Time Ensemble). Or throw your own dance party with a delightful reinvention of Madonna's "Holiday," a winter remake of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" called — what else — "December," or the 40th anniversary Cut Chemist Remix of Blondie's "Yuletide Throwdown" featuring Fab Five Freddy.
That's just a taste of the 22 new songs you'll find below. Hopefully it brings you that heart-grew-three-sizes glow.
Song: "Christmas Cards"
Artist: Tenille Townes
The rising country star reaffirms she's one of the most exciting songwriters today with her bittersweet tribute to growing up and apart from childhood friends. Come for this perfect line — "we had more hairspray than we had bangs" — and stay for this gut-punch of a chorus:
Someone you loved along the way,
Becomes someone you used to know.
Now we're postmarked pretty paper,
Our best cursive from the heart,
It's kinda funny how forever turns into Christmas cards.
Song: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
Artist: Ria Mae
Darlene Love's iconic Christmas staple gets a shimmery, electro-pop makeover from one of the country's most singular voices, Ria Mae.
Song: "Don't You Know it's Christmas"
Artist: Molly Johnson
Few people radiate joy like Molly Johnson, and this upbeat R&B single is an irresistible party starter with multigenerational appeal.
Artist: Kelly Clarkson featuring Chris Stapleton
When Kelly Clarkson released her new holiday album a few months ago, everyone was all about her winking post-divorce anthem, "Christmas isn't Canceled (But You Are)." While that song is absolutely a treat, the record's real gem is "Glow" featuring Chris Stapleton. It's a sweet, flirty duet between two people who light up each other's lives.
Artist: She & Him
She & Him's laid back, funk-and-groove take on this Madonna classic is a perfect pop of surprise for the holiday playlist.
Song: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"
Sisters Inuksuk Mackay and Tiffany Ayalik have essentially reinvented holiday music the last few years, and they continue to break new, creative territories with this sparkling interpretation of Tchaikovsky's classic. Mackay and Ayalik harmonize in five parts, and add throat singing and sweeping melodies to create something truly magical.
Artist: Tami Neilson
Tami Neilson nails the wistful nuance of Joni Mitchell's beautiful original, and draws out the song's haunted, homesick heart with soulful, soaring vocals and a country-hued arrangement.
Song: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Artist: Terra Lightfoot
When heartbreak threatens to hijack the holidays, don't resist. Feel those feelings and move through them with Terra Lightfoot's dreamy, yearning take on Judy Garland's classic.
Song: "Sometimes Christmas is Hard"
The song lacks nuance, but just try to hold back tears. Its arrangement and Wrabel's lilting delivery will break even the happiest and hardest humans.
Song: "Calling You Home for the Holidays"
Artist: Catherine MacLellan
This hopeful and heartening folk-pop beauty hits extra hard as many face a second pandemic holiday. If that's your situation in 2021, Catherine MacLellan's original might be the perfect song to kick off a long-distance listening party with the ones you love and dream together of what next year might look like.
Song: "Hanukkah Dance"
Artist: Hiss Golden Messenger
Hiss Golden Messenger's indie-rock delight is perfectly named: this is a dance party that will have everyone moving and grooving every time it plays.
Song: "Yuletide Throwdown" (Cut Chemist 40th anniversary remix)
Artist: Blondie featuring Fab Five Freddy
This song is so off-its-moment that it's basically a time machine back to 1981, and yet it's also so cool that it can't help but be unbound by simple things like the space-time continuum. Cut Chemist's 40th anniversary remix is a fitting tribute to both of these truths: the artists provide a contemporary context without anchoring it too deeply in the present day.
Artist: Max Parker
Remember the fictitious cover at the heart of the Bill Nighy plot in Love Actually? "December" is the real-life version of that, but way more fun and not just a craven attempt to cash in on the Christmas spirit. Max Parker's festive makeover of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" amps up the sparkle and shine for the dance-happy electro-disco crowd.
Song: "Silent Night"
Artist: Alexandra Stréliski
This achingly beautiful instrumental unfolds like a lullaby across Alexandra Stréliski's keys.
Song: "White Christmas"
Artist: Chilly Gonzales
Chilly Gonzales' interpretation is a soulful trip through time with the perfect amount of playful pageantry.
Song: "Home Again"
Artist: Maya & Ben
This piano-driven pop-jazz-R&B holiday original is a delightful soundtrack to any holiday homecoming, big or small.
Song: "On This Christmas Day"
Artist: Joe Newberry and April Verch
Joe Newberry and April Verch's acoustic folk gem is sweet, humble, and stripped down, the perfect song to melt into in front of the fire.
Song: "A Christmas to Remember"
Artist: Ryland James featuring Ralph
Ryland James and Ralph channel Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' flirty momentum in this shimmery, sparkling cover of their 1984 holiday classic.
Song: "Warm Me Up"
Indie pop band Tandm's high-octane Christmas original is an irrepressible bop and its accompanying music video is an equally adorable bit of family entertainment.
Song: "Maybe This Christmas"
Artist: Tyler Shaw
The cozy warmth of Tyler Shaw's voice as he covers Ron Sexsmith's holiday classic is the equivalent of wearing matching turtlenecks and hanging out in front of the fire with someone you love.
Song: "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch"
Artist: Tom Wilson and the Art of Time Ensemble
A brooding, slinky, wildly theatrical take on this childhood classic is absolutely enthralling for kids and grownups alike. Recorded over a series of live seasonal shows, this song kicks off Art of Time Ensemble's new album, Christmas in Prison, with Tom Wilson growling and stomping gleefully over a bed of big band flourishes and a brief but welcome hint of Whoville from the the Canadian Children's Opera Company.
Song: "Glad You're Here"
Artist: Ellen Doty & Taylr
Every holiday season needs a new slow burn, and this sensational track by Ellen Doty & Taylr is perfect for holding each other just a little bit closer in the warm glow of first love, forever love, or for-this-moment love. Click to listen to "Glad You're Here" as the track won't be publicly released until Dec. 1 (but we have Doty's blessing to share the private link).