Seeking some music to play during your Hanukkah (or Chanukah, if you prefer) celebrations? As you may have already discovered, it's not exactly an easy proposition -- there aren't a huge number of Hanukkah CDs on the market, and those Hanukkah CDs that exist aren't all terribly good. Not to worry, though -- I've picked through the best of the best and offer you up these eight great CDs, from the silly to the spiritual. And yes, the Dreidel song does make a few appearances on these CDs, but not necessarily in traditional form.
Frustrated with the lack of great Hanukkah music available to the public, Erran Baron Cohen, brother of Sacha Baron Cohen and music-maker extraordinaire (he composed the music for his brother's films Borat and Bruno, as well as his TV show, Ali G Indahouse), set out to create his own CD. Surprise! It's outstanding. The music is catchy, poppy, and incorporate pretty much all of the genres of music you've ever heard of, not to mention a handful of amazing special guests (including Ladino songstress Yasmin Levy and Israeli superstar Idan Raichel).
What does Woody Guthrie have to do with Hanukkah? Well, he wrote a bunch of poems about the holiday, believe it or not. Though he was a Christian, Guthrie's wife was Jewish, and he was immersed in the Jewish-American culture of Coney Island, where they lived near her family. Long after his death, the Klezmatics got their hands on some of these poems (it's a long story, which can be read at the official Woody Guthrie website, and released two CDs: a secular CD, Wonder Wheel, which won them a Grammy Award, and this Hanukkah CD. 12 songs, 8 of which have lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie himself (the other 4 are snappy instrumentals)... it's a great listen, even outside of the holiday season.
Read More: Essential Woody Guthrie Songs
Definitely aimed toward the younger set, but lots of fun just the same, this peppy CD is full of sing-along-able songs interspersed with short but pertinent bits of dialogue about Hanukkah, the history thereof, and the traditions that come along with it, including at least three songs about latkes... yum!
Read more: The Best Hanukkah Music for Kids
The Nutcracker is traditionally a Christmas story, but Ellen Kushner took Tchaikovsky's magnificent composition and composed a new story to go with it: The Golden Dreydl, about a young Jewish girl who is uninterested in the Hanukkah celebration but who, through some magical events, learns the true meaning of the holiday. Kushner narrates the story over a performance by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, who have re-tooled Tchaikovsky's music with klezmer instrumentation and rhythms. The effect is impressive, and makes for a nice evening of song and story.
The LeeVees (a side project of Guster's Adam Gardner and The Zambonis' Dave Schneider) are ready to fill in your Hanukkah celebration with their catchy indie-pop songs that are both funny and decidedly on point. With songs like "Applesauce vs. Sour Cream" (the age-old question of appropriate latke toppings), "How do you Spell Channukkahh?" and "Gelt Melts," this CD will leave you laughing for years to come.
This CD, from classical pianist Robin Spielberg, is a collection of songs old and new, played with her signature sensitivity and grace. Included in the tracks are a breathtaking version of "Rock of Ages," a haunting take on U2's "One," and Spielberg's original "West Bank Serenade." This CD will add an elegant and spiritual touch to any Hanukkah celebration.
Hanukkah Swings! is unabashedly a novelty album, adding a little jazzy vintage twist to the same-old same-old Hanukkah mix. If you want something a little jazzy to serve with kosher vodka martinis before you light the candles, this is just the thing.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a super-traditional Hanukkah CD, Oy Chanukah! is the best of the best. The songs are played in the old-world style, and between the songs are Hanukkah stories and remembrances told by Jewish elders. It's easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the winter holidays, but this album will put your feet back on the ground.