By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
For many musicians, the lure of the Christmas songbook is hard to resist. Despite the challenge of reworking well-worn (and, in some cases, worn-out) songs, a few dozen acts try each year to make something fresh out of these seasonal favorites.
This year's crop is heavy on female-fronted pop. But within that milieu, one can find jazzy sophistication, folksy warmth and pure pop sweetness. Whether you're a stickler for vocal perfection or a connoisseur of off-the-wall holiday jams, chances are good that something on this list will add a little joy to your holiday soundtrack.
The Superions' Destination... Christmas!
Better Known As: The minimal synthpop side project of The B-52s frontman Fred Schneider.
Sounds Like: A drum-machine-fueled trip into Schneider's Day-Glo Christmas wonderland. The first track, "Santa's Disco," provides a pretty clear mission statement of playful irreverence and that unmistakable campy, twangy delivery. The lyrics are purposefully atrocious, as are the canned beats and Casio keyboard tones. It's a fun, funky exercise in bad taste.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Trimming your hot-pink Christmas tree while a yule-log DVD burns brightly on your TV screen.
The Indigo Girls' Holly Happy Days
Better Known As: Socially conscious folk-rock duo and Lilith Fair patron saints.
Sounds Like: The folksier end of the duo's spectrum, with plenty of banjos and acoustic guitars setting the table for Amy Ray and Emily Saliers' famed harmonies. The disc is an even split between well-known holiday songs ("I'll Be Home for Christmas") and a combination of lesser-known tunes and originals.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Spending a mild winter evening around the fire pit.
Annie Lennox's A Christmas Cornucopia
Better Known As: The vibrantly coiffed solo artist with steely and strident vocal chops and erstwhile lead singer of the Eurythmics.
Sounds Like: Lennox has multi-tracked her vocals to create a one-woman choir, and the effects are striking. She mostly sticks to traditional Christmas carols and revisits some forgotten gems. A spiritual mysticism hovers around these hymn-like arrangements.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Driving home from Midnight Mass.
Wilson Phillips' Christmas in Harmony
Better Known As: The '90s female vocal trio featuring Chynna Phillips and sisters Carnie and Wendy Wilson, all sprung from famous musical parentage. Their "Hold On" stands tall as a modern "I Will Survive."
Sounds Like: Saccharine harmonies on top of overproduced backing tracks. This disc may be responsible for more cavities than all the candy canes in the world. Christmas in Harmony is relentlessly, aggressively cheery; you either surrender to the Christmas spirit or get trampled by it.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Driving unwanted holiday guests from your home.
Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas II You
Better Known As: Songstress, actress, perfume peddler, Mrs. Nick Cannon and proprietor of 1994's Merry Christmas.
Sounds Like: Since this is the product of Mariah, the queen of over-singing, expect lots of silky vocal melisma on sacred tracks like "The First Noel/Born Is the King (Interlude)." The mood is more party-like on the funky "Here Comes Santa Claus" medley.
Perfect Seasonal Soundtrack For: Psyching yourself up for that last trip to the mall.