Fantasia: ‘Christmas After Midnight’ (Concord)
Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Fantasia doesn’t stint on the high-flying melismas that made her an “American Idol” winner on “Christmas After Midnight,” a set of largely familiar Christmas songs with arrangements leaning toward small-group jazz. Its guest-star moment, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with Cee Lo Green, is a misfire. But Fantasia finds surprising moments of introspection, and she makes “Give Love on Christmas Day” more sincere than either the Temptations or the Jackson 5 did. She has made a few daring choices: James Brown’s sidelong reminder about poverty, “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” and a Jerry Lieber-Mike Stoller song recorded by Ray Charles, “The Snow Is Falling,” that goes beyond blue to suicidal. J .P.
Liz McComb: ‘Merry Christmas’ (GVE/The Orchard)
The singer and pianist Liz McComb, originally from Cleveland, has been an emissary of American gospel, living in Paris for the last three decades. Her Christmas album places intimate voice-and-piano showcases, like “Silent Night” and a bilingual version of a French carol, “Il Est Né, le Divin Enfant,” alongside band performances that span jazz ballads (“The Christmas Song”) and tambourine-driven gospel (“Joy to the World”). In every setting, her voice is soulful and forthright. J. P.
Chanté Moore: ‘Christmas Back to You’ (CM7)
Credit DeWayne Rogers
Chanté Moore, a star of 1990s R&B, sounds robust on this album, but maybe not in the ways you expect. On some of the originals here — see the teasing “Cover Me in Snow” and the swaggering “Santa Don’t Sleigh” — Ms. Moore sings in the clipped syllables of Atlanta rap. And there is a very familiar sort of love song here as well: “Birthday,” which begins, “Even though it’s your birthday/you’re still working/it out for me.” But it isn’t just any dedicated partner on the receiving end of this sensuous ode: It’s Jesus. J. C.
The Piano Guys: ‘Christmas Together’ (Portrait/Sony)
More is less on “Christmas Together,” which augments the Piano Guys with, among others, Plácido Domingo (singing “Silent Night”), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the King’s Singers and the “American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta. The videos that made the Piano Guys a YouTube phenomenon were prettily consonant, ingeniously arranged and nimbly choreographed productions of pop hits mingled with classical melodies, often played on, inside and all around a single piano, sometimes joined by a cello. “Christmas Together” keeps the pealing prettiness and classical mash-ups, but in much larger formal arrangements that usually turn toward popera. There are inventive moments, like the Middle Eastern-tinged version of “Little Drummer Boy/Do You Hear What I Hear.” But for most of the album the group’s geeky, do-it-yourself charm all but disappears. J. P.
Joe Scarborough: ‘A Very Drumpf Christmas’ (Sony/Red)
Most likely, you’re here for Track 2 of this three-song EP: “The Drumpf,” a Dr. Demento-ready vaudeville number about the president written and sung by the Trump-friend-turned-antagonist Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The song — which also features Roz Brown and Tanesha Gary — is brassy and ghoulishly comic: “The Drumpf squawks like a wombat but slithers like a lizard understands/Yeah he’s got a big ol’ belly, but man that beast got tiny little hands.” But Mr. Scarborough has a growing music habit — this EP is his fourth in four months — and so the other songs here perhaps tell a more nuanced story. On “This Christmas It’s You & Me,” he groans about fussy uptown types, and on “Christmastime,” he perhaps offers a hint of yuletide rapprochement: “Why don’t we try to make our journey better/by turning enemies to friends?” J. C.
Sia: ‘Everyday Is Christmas’ (Monkey Puzzle/Atlantic)
Credit Tonya Brewer
Snow, candy for all, kissing under mistletoe, anticipation, drunkenness, generosity, anxiety, affection, puppy welfare — Sia’s thoughts about Christmas are as much a jumble as anyone else’s, only far more tuneful. She collaborated with the producer Greg Kurstin on 10 gleaming Christmas songs that flaunt their immersion in pop history, from Phil Spector (“Candy Cane Lane”) to Motown (“Puppies Are Forever”) to Adele (“Everyday Is Christmas,” an affirmation of true love set to a lachrymose waltz). They revel in every squeak and slur of Sia’s voice, giving the album a wacky audacity. J. P.
Gwen Stefani: ‘You Make It Feel Like Christmas’ (Interscope)
Gwen Stefani gives familiar songs and her own new ones (written with Justin Tranter and Busbee) a luxury retro treatment — horns, strings, backup singers going “zu, zu, zu” — without a hint of camp or posturing. There are just a rockabilly twang and a tone of genial, grateful satisfaction in her voice. Her new songs, like “My Gift Is You,” praise romantic bliss and tilt slightly toward arena-country. And of course her beau, Blake Shelton, shows up to share the Motown-style title track. J .P.
Lindsey Stirling: ‘Warmer in the Winter’ (Lindseystomp/Concord)
Lindsey Stirling is a pop violinist, a classical crossover artist, a ruthless and often gauche blender of styles and aesthetics and a second-place finisher on the most recent season of “Dancing With the Stars.” But the gimmick of Christmas is far grander than anything in Ms. Stirling’s tool kit. Especially coming from a performer who thrills at inserting herself into unlikely and unwieldy musical scenarios, this shrug of an album is reverent toward its source material, even when it sounds like warfare (“Carol of the Bells”) or like a Renaissance Faire (“I Saw Three Ships”). J. C.
Sultans of String: ‘Christmas Caravan’ (McKhool/CEN/the Orchard)
Titles like “Turkish Greensleeves,” “Jingle Bells/Auyuittuq Sunrise” and “Himalayan Sleighride” signal the global-fusion intentions of the fiddle-centric Canadian folk and world-music group Sultans of String. Nearly every track aims for an international hybrid, and the band’s extensive guest list includes Rubén Blades, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, Sweet Honey in the Rock and the Cameroonian bassist and singer Richard Bona. While earnest bombast takes over some songs, the tracks with the lightest touch — like “A Django Christmas”; a Gypsy-jazz version of “We Three Kings”; and “Song for Kwanzaa,” with jaunty African-style guitars — work best. J. P.
Tenth Avenue North: ‘Decade the Halls, Vol. 1’ (ReMade/Provident)
The Florida band Tenth Avenue North is a stalwart of contemporary Christian music, purveying deeply temperate lite-rock with the faintest hint of urgency. So it’s a surprise that it chose to treat the Christmas album concept not as a layup, but as an opportunity. “Decade the Halls, Vol. 1” is woolly and strange, with each song rendered in a different era’s style: swinging ’50s shuffle on “The First Christmas,” Weezeresque crunch on “Mistletoe (the Christmas Sweater Song),” Spotifycore club-pop on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or wonky piano drenched in Victrola-era static on “Good King Wenceslas.” J. C.
Various Artists, ‘Christmas Soul’ (Prime Music/Amazon Music Unlimited)
This 25-song playlist of holiday originals — one of three exclusives on Amazon’s streaming services, alongside “Acoustic Christmas” and “Indie for the Holidays” — is mostly dour and straight-faced, but the few exceptions are heartening. Head straight for two covers: an affecting version of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” by Davie, a young soul singer with a nervy voice, and Joey Dosik’s lonely read on Nate Dogg’s “Be Thankful.” Then skip to the hip-hop: Blu & Exile using a Notorious B.I.G. lyric as a jumping-off point on “Christmas Missed Us,” and Open Mike Eagle, on “Snowsuit,” telling a story of a holiday that delivers, even without the usual trimmings. J. C.
Various Artists, ‘Christmas Queens 3’ (Producer Entertainment Group)
Like the most successful contestants on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Christmas Queens 3,” the third holiday album from the TV show’s cavalcade of drag queens, is a blend of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. The scales tip dangerously toward nerve on the 16 not-hilarious interludes setting up the songs (no tea, no shade!), but vocal skill takes over on Phi Phi O’Hara’s sassy “O Come, All Ye Faithful”; Ginger Minj’s bright “White Christmas”; Ivy Winters’s harmony-thick “The First Noel”; and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” by a queen whose first name is Alaska and whose last name can’t be published here. The drag legend Jackie Beat pops in for “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” (“Dear Santa understand/Please just bring me one thing/a gorgeous Jewish man”), and the whole crew comes together for a joyously bubbly “Let It Snow.” CARYN GANZ
Various Artists: ‘Cool Blue Christmas: Boogie Woogie Santa Claus’ (Contrast)
Contrast Records delved deep into the archives for an eight-album “Cool Blue Christmas” series of seasonal obscurities — R&B, jazz, blues, gospel, country — from the 1960s and earlier. “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” focuses on R&B from 1945-49, before rock ’n’ roll but no less rambunctious. Its 26 tracks include a little a cappella reverence (the Dixie Hummingbirds’ “Holy Baby”), some seasonal cheer (Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus”), some lonesome blues (Julia Lee’s “Christmas Spirits”) and a bonkers mix of growling trombone and scat-singing in Leo Watson’s “Jingle Bells.” Meanwhile, Amos Milburn’s “Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby” turns every holiday endearment into a leer. Other R&B collections in the series, particularly “Mr. Santa’s Boogie” (1945-49) and “Blues for Christmas” (1956-61) are also thoroughly worthwhile. J. P.
Various Artists: ‘Cool Blue Christmas: Christmas in Jail (Ain’t That a Pain)’ (Contrast)
Even in the earliest days of recording, Christmas was an opportunity for musicians to change emotional registers. On this two-disc set — also part of the “Cool Blue Christmas” series — Contrast Records collects seasonal singles from 1924 to 1944. Some highlights: a couple of takes on “Santa Claus Blues,” featuring a young and impressive Louis Armstrong; the double entendre-laden “Let Me Hang Your Stockings in Your Christmas Tree,” by the barrelhouse blues man Roosevelt Sykes; and a scolding antidote to all that, “The Wrong Way to Celebrate Xmas,” by the Rev. Edward W. Clayborn, a guitar-toting evangelical. G. R.