Sufjan Stevens / Vince Guaraldi

Songs for Christmas Singalong (Asthmatic Kitty) / A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy)

In his cute-as-a-button essay accompanying the five-EP Sufjan Stevens collection, Rick Moody wonders, “Why is it that the horrible little tree in the Peanuts special seems better than any other tree ever?” Well, sincerity, for starters; it’s the only Christmas special that can break your heart, because it’s the only one that has a heart. That, and the music—Vince Guaraldi’s snowflake piano playing, cool jazz to warm the soul no matter the calendar’s whims. At last, though, the soundtrack-turned-standard gets a facelift with fresh packaging and four new tracks (!): “Christmas Is Coming” with a little more crackle and bump; “The Christmas Song” that was perhaps too late-night for primetime; a more-bounce-for-the-ounce “Greensleeves”; and a “Christmas Time Is Here” on which the kids provide only oohs that make you say ahhh.

The latter would feel warm and snuggly in Stevens’ overstuffed box of gems: four discs of ancient and brand-new standards (to Web-trollers who found these things years back) and another just-recorded disc of instant essentials, among them the Styx-by-way-of-“Father Christmas” Kinks “Get Behind Me, Santa!,” the epic “Star of Wonder,” the warm-cookies-and-cold-milk “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance” and the jokily titled “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” that’s anything but a gag (“Our father yells, throwing the gifts/In the wood stove, wood stove”). Stevens, whether alone on banjo or fronting a string quartet, finds nourishment in moldy cheese and faith in antique melodies. Twice he approaches the 15th-century “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming”—as a vocal piece in 2001, as an instrument more recently—and begs us to consider why the simply, poetically told tale of Jesus’ birth isn’t among the fifth-grader’s canon.

 
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