By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
World Famous Children's Choirs Sing Christmas Songs
Did somebody say sweetness and light? This collection of European children's choirs features a cathedral-filling purity of massed young voices that is almost luminescent. The only familiar name here--unless you're a student of such things--will be Die Weiner Sangerknaben (aka the Vienna Boys' Choir), but all the groups here deliver the achingly ethereal, sublimely beautiful sounds you associate with the VBC as they sing the traditional holiday songs of their countries. Often accompanied by a single organ, the choirs invoke a liturgical feeling that will help assuage any guilt pangs stemming from not actually going to church this Christmas.
Merry X-mas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad
The reputation of Juan Garcia Esquivel--the man who was to late '50s and early '60s pop what Frank Zappa would later be to rock, a fearless innovator and a punctilious arranger and composer--was reborn in the still-widening wake of the lounge revival. After years of languishing, his music--think of background music for the domed cities and hovercars that folks once thought we'd be enjoying by now--has been reissued and repackaged for another generation to marvel at. This album consists of the expected workhorses, pepped up with the inadvertent cheese of early electronics, immaculately dovetailed vocals often deployed as another instrumental part, percussion, and broad sweeps of steel guitar: "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," et cetera. Most of these cuts are from the 1959 album The Merriest of Christmas Pops and feature the Space-Age Bachelor himself introducing you to his holiday pad, then bidding you adieu at the end. It's quirky and fun, and if you can get past the smirking irony and love-of-kitsch that so afflicts the martini-'n'-cigarette-holder set, there's a whole lot more here waiting to enliven your holidays. Fabulous in the truest sense of the word.
O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock for Choice
The album starts with a cautionary rhyming tale by renowned scrooge Henry Rollins--not at his most acidic here, probably overwhelmed by the season's spirit. It continues with forgettable ditties by the Dance Hall Crashers, Sponge, and Juliana Hatfield, then it really goes downhill: Bush is as odious as ever on a live track that reveals their utter lack of anything to offer (even more than their studio work). The nerdy Presidents of the United States of America goof off while Wool tries to be a Christmasy Green Day. Luscious Jackson, Mike Watt, and the Cranes hold your attention, at least until you realize that mailing a twelve-dollar check to Rock For Choice instead of buying this weak-as-water compilation would be a real time-saver this busy season.
A Classic Cartoon Christmas
Nick at Nite Records
As the fine folks at Nick at Nite so selflessly remind us, we are the TV generation, and we've replaced the traditional externals of Christmas--caroling, sleigh rides, begging for figgy pudding--with quality tube time. A Classic Cartoon Christmas works best when it invokes the blue-phosphorous glow of long-standing favorites like How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the lovely "Welcome Christmas") and the Ur-special A Charlie Brown Christmas (the three Vince Guaraldi Trio classics we all recall: "O Tannenbaum," "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," and "Christmas Time is Here"). We're referencing our own experience here--perhaps that's all we can ever do--and inasmuch as the spirit of the season resides in anthropomorphic snowmen and electric shaver-riding Santas, it can be found in Burl Ives singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and Jimmy Durante rasping his way through "Frosty the Snowman." There are only a few clinkers--it may be from a Christmas special, but "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" doesn't sound very Christmas-y (especially as mangled by Keenan Wynn and Andy Rooney), and freed from its visuals the basso profundo of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is just plain disturbing--and only one notable omission, the theme from Pee Wee's Christmas Special. It may be rooted in one of the most secular businesses around, but perhaps the point behind this collection is the way in which we can invest higher hope in even the basest of things.
"Yeah," you say, "but what was the best Christmas album of all the ones you listened to?" Find out next week.