By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
How many versions of "Jingle Bells" does the average person need?
Plenty, apparently. Each year, the recording industry unleashes a torrent of seasonal discs, most of them dominated by a humdrum repertoire of tunes--and each year a percentage of them sell well enough to justify a similar deluge 12 months later. Provided here are reviews of some of this year's offerings, ranging from gifts that keep on giving to the aural equivalent of ugly ties and argyle socks that most folks will appreciate only if they can be returned for cash. So dive in--but keep those receipts handy.
Similarly, when an act is way past prime time, there's also no better way to keep product in the racks than to crank out a Christmas CD; that's a sacred music-biz rule. Even so, it's still something of a shock to see Christmas Time Again (CMC International) by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Southern-rock army that once fired off "Saturday Night Special." I'm guessing that if original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant hadn't croaked in that late-'70s plane crash, these guys never would have wound up playing "Greensleeves." But no one in the Charlie Daniels Band or .38 Special died, and they've got songs on this disc, so who knows? Suffice it to say that when Again rawks, as it does on Skynyrd's amusingly dunderheaded "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'," it's worth a chuckle, and when it doesn't, as on "Mama's Song" and "Classical Christmas," it's kinda sad. All these fellas want for Christmas is to be noticed again.
Of course, Linda Ronstadt is in pretty much the same leaky canoe as Skynyrd, but A Merry Little Christmas (Elektra) doesn't seem so out of character for her; the only surprise is that she took so long to get around to it. The album itself is precisely what you might expect from an aging chanteuse--lots of thick, creamy arrangements and an unmistakable sense of importance on "I Wonder as I Wander" and elsewhere that banishes fun to the margins. It's been many years since "You're No Good," and that's too bad. Christmas With Yolanda Adams (Elektra) displays a lighter touch. Adams, a onetime rising R&B star who never rose as high as many observers anticipated, doesn't go anywhere that's especially unforeseen, but her handling of "Born This Day," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and so on is mature without being stodgy and allows the occasional hint of soul to sneak in here and there. And in this case, every little bit helps.
Then there are the all-star compilations. Aside from Christina Aguilera's salvo, the biggest teen dream of the 2000 holidays is Platinum Christmas (Arista/RCA/Jive), a holiday summit of kiddie-pop sensations, with token oldsters such as Dave Matthews and Santana thrown in for good measure. But the largest names disappoint. Instead of something provocative--say, "Hit Me, Santa, One More Time"--Britney Spears delivers "My Only Wish (This Year)," an unobjectionable but generic retro bounce-fest; 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys are at their most cloying on, respectively, the drippy "I Don't Wanna Spend One More Christmas Without You" and the tepid "Christmas Time"; and Aguilera's "Silent Night/Noche de Paz" is, um, way too virginal. There's not much life elsewhere, either. TLC's "Sleigh Ride" shakes and shimmies engagingly, and at least R. Kelly's "World Christmas" has a clap track--but unless you've been dying to hear Dido ape Joni Mitchell, as she does on "Christmas Day," that's about the size of it. Sorry, boys and girls.
There's also lotsa celebrity shine on Another Rosie Christmas (Columbia), but it mostly takes a backseat to the jumbo ego of talk-show queen Rosie O'Donnell, who feels compelled to thrust herself forward as often as possible. I've had a lot of nightmares in my life, but nothing quite like "Nuttin' for Christmas," in which Rosie trades rhymes with Smash Mouth, and her "comic" Spanish cameo in Ricky Martin's "Ay, Ay, Ay, It's Christmas." There's also endless hayseed camping in "Merry Christmas From the Family," a swell Robert Earl Keen composition covered here by the Dixie Chicks that is every bit as agonizing. Kudos, then, to Destiny's Child, Marc Anthony and Donna Summer, who somehow managed to prevent O'Donnell from contributing to their songs at all.