Sufjan Stevens, Songs For Christmas

Mike McGonigal

By Mike McGonigal

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Recorded in annual batches since 2001 (although for some reason skipping 2004), Songs for Christmas stands as a monumental effort. Sufjan recorded much of the material at home and plays the majority of the instruments. Seventeen of the forty-two numbers are originals. His friends Matt Morgan and Vito Aiuto dropped in to sing, but otherwise all the vocals are Sufjan's.

A holiday record that would win over the Grinch

The music itself is an ideal Christmas stocking, packed with traditional tunes, original songs, poems and stories, and cool little instrumentals. The music feels as personal as the way it was recorded — not only the originals, but Sufjan's interpretations as well. Even the clichéd songs, the sort of awful ones you've heard a gazillion songs in your life already, sound darn good here. It's hard to do that oft-played song justice, but his banjo-driven "Amazing Grace” is very moving.

In a way that's both calculated and visceral, Sufjan really connects with the true joy of the holiday — even the Heatmiser or the Grinch would be won over by this thing. The songs are chimey and cheery and there's something about them that instantly announces “Hey, it's Christmas!” Approaching the greatness of holiday albums from John Fahey, Mahalia Jackson, Harry Belafonte and Willie Nelson, Songs for Christmas is a new holiday classic.