A Very Tolerable Christmas

Great holiday music comes in many genres, from the melancholy solo piano of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas to the effervescent girl-group soul of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. But these five soft selections hang together just right, making up a wintry mix of songs that, when heard collectively, simulate a soothing bath in a tub of warm cocoa.

1. Bing Crosby & David Bowie

Bing Crosby CD

Drawn from the 1977 TV special Bing Crosby's Merrie Old Christmas, the inspired and historic pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie is enough to instantaneously trigger nostalgia-induced weeping in anyone over, say, 35. But this is no novelty trifle: Hopeful kindheartedness emanates from it in palpable waves. (from Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics)

2. Low

Low CD

The Duluth trio Low is most widely known for playing 1) slowly; and 2) sparsely. Consequently, for fans of the band, the sleigh bells that open the irresistible eight-song Christmas EP are as jarring as sleigh bells can get on a song with "Christmas" in the title. Both "Just Like Christmas" and the EP itself provide an ideal mix of sweet seasonal joy and minor-key melancholy. (from Christmas)

3. Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens CD

In recent years, Sufjan Stevens has responded to the holidays the way he's responded to everything else: by releasing a honkload of music. His five years' worth of Christmas EPs were released in box-set form last year, and they're wonderful — as sonically inventive as they are generous in spirit. Best of all is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," which builds from a gentle voice-and-banjo reading to the soul-stirring sounds of a heavenly choir. (from Songs for Christmas, Vol. II: Hark!)

4. The Weepies

Weepies CD

The Weepies' "All That I Want" currently classes up the TV ads for some retailer or other, which instantly makes it one of the finest songs in heavy rotation right now. A sweetly loping rhythm, punctuated by sleigh bells, provides a rich backdrop for some of the sweetest boy-girl harmonies around. As with all everyone on this list, the rest of The Weepies' catalog warrants further exploration, too. (from Happiness)

5. Eef Barzelay

Eef Barzelay CD

Former Clem Snide singer Eef Barzelay is renowned for his clever wordplay, but he's nowhere near renowned enough for his uncommon warmth as a singer. His gentle phrasing gets put to soul-massaging use on this wonderfully spare reading of "Joy to the World," on which the air in the studio seems to be singing backup. (from Bitter Honey)

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Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics [2006]

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Album
Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics [2006]
Artist
Bing Crosby
Label
Capitol
Released
2006

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Christmas

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Album
Christmas
Artist
Low
Label
Tugboat
Released
1999

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Songs for Christmas

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Album
Songs for Christmas
Artist
Sufjan Stevens
Label
Asthmatic Kitty
Released
2006

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Happiness

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Album
Happiness
Artist
The Weepies
Released
2004

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Bitter Honey

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Album
Bitter Honey
Artist
Eef Barzelay
Label
Spin Art
Released
2006

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