The Ten Best: Christmas albums

Dean Martin

Christmas With Dino

Dean Martin's geniality is well suited to Christmas songs: there's a self-mocking smile in his voice that tempers the genre's sentimental tendencies without lapsing into cynicism, as shown on this material culled from his previous seasonal offerings, A Winter Romance and The Dean Martin Christmas Album.

EMI (£5.99)

Bruce Cockburn

Christmas

Canadian singer-songwriter Cockburndraws on an old family hymnal for songs such as the spooky "Down in Yon Forest" and "Jesus Ahatonnia". His winning strategy is to treat these and more familiar songs such as "I Saw Three Ships" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" as folk songs, restoring an earthy humanity to long-petrified material.

Revolver (£14.99)

Frank Sinatra

The Christmas Collection

For Frank, sleigh bells don't just ring, they ring-a-ding-ding. This new collection compiles together songs from seasonal albums and TV specials, including duets with Bing Crosby, tracks with Tina, Nancy and Frank Jr from The Sinatra Family Wish You A Merry Christmas, and a previously unissued 1991 recording of "Silent Night".

Warner (£9.99)

Various Artists

It's A Cool, Cool Christmas

An XFM benefit album for The Big Issue, this features the indie likes of Belle & Sebastian, Eels and Snow Patrol. Highlights include Flaming Lips' "White Christmas" and Calexico's "Gift X-change", a veil of cello, guitar and vibes parting to reveal the lines "What would it take to hear you say/The gift you give is love/The gift you give is enough".

Jeepster (£11.99)

The Beach Boys

Christmas with the Beach Boys

Bulked out here with alternative takes and previously unissued seasonal songs recorded in 1977, this is essentially the 1964 Beach Boys' Christmas Album, one side of which featured Brian Wilson's production on cuts such as "Little Saint Nick", while the other had more "mature" arrangements of standards by Dick Reynolds.

Capital (£4.99)

Low

Christmas

This contrasts successful with the fake jollity of most Christmas albums. Low's slow, "sadcore" style and attention to background ambiences brings a haunting, enchanted mood to "Long Way Around the Sea" and "One Special Gift", while "Little Drummer Boy" is transformed by a blend of the industrial and ethereal.

Tugboat (£16.99)

Joan Baez

Noël

This album pairs Joan Baez's crystalline tones with early-music arrangements of traditional carols (including "Coventry Carol", "What Child Is This?" and "Little Drummer Boy") with an instrumental palette of harpsichord, lute, woodwinds, pump organ, harp and viols used to provide settings appropriate to each song's era.

Vanguard (£9.99)

James Brown

Funky Christmas

Compiled from his three previous Christmas albums, this features the Godfather of Soul's own distinctive take on seasonal matters, riffing and rapping through "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and whipping up a storm on "Santa Claus, Santa Claus", a bout of gospel testifying with Santa substituting for Jesus.

Spectrum (£4.99)

Cyndi Lauper

Merry Christmas... Have A Nice Life!

Cyndi Lauper accentuates the folksy, rural nature of her material, using instruments such as dulcimer and recorder to create a pleasing air of "rustique moderne". "Early Christmas Morning" is set to Cajun accordion and child choir, while "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" becomes a frisky ska tune.

Sony (£6.99)

Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift For You

Phil Spector's Christmas album has never been challenged as the pre-eminent seasonal pop sound since the mid-Sixties. The producer's stable of girl groups turned in definitive performances of standards such as The Crystals' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", and The Ronettes' "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Universal (£9.99)

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