Hear What We Hear
Another year, another rich haul of Christmas CDs. But instead of coming up with another essay about the latest in holiday music, we decided to help out the ailing economy--not to mention frazzled holiday shoppers--and do a Christmas CD buying guide. Don't waste your time at the local listening station comparing 20 versions of "Deck the Halls"--we've already done that for you (ugh) and have matched the best (or, at least, most interesting) seasonal albums of 2005 with a friend or family member on your list.
If your loved one...
...has a mullet and likes to shred on air guitar: Santamental, Steve Lukather and Friends
Highlights: Sampled Sammy Davis Jr. vocals on "Jingle Bells," Edgar Winter duet on "Winter Wonderland," Eddie Van Halen's fiery axework rippin' shit up on "Joy to the World"
... is a terminally depressed '60s drug casualty: What I Really Want for Christmas, Brian Wilson
Highlights: Outstanding cover art, quasi-Caribbean arrangement of "Deck the Halls," beautiful harmonies and easy-to-understand words of "Auld Lang Syne," damn-near-baroque rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
... is your frumpy maiden great-aunt: The Regis Philbin Christmas Album
Highlights: One and only one: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which features both a terrible Donald Trump cameo and an amusingly maniacal outro. Come to think of it, all of this CD has train wreck appeal; to cite one painful example, Pat Boone never whitenized and neutered any tune more than Regis and wife Joy do here with the once hypersexy "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
...is someone you wish would die a slow, painful death by "music"-induced brain hemorrhage: The Greatest Holiday Classics, Kenny G
Highlights: You can say one thing for Mr. G--the sound of his sax sure is, um, recognizable. But then, so is the sound of a grackle colony in an uproar, and we'd rather hear that than this any day.
...drives a 1972 Camaro SS: We Three Kings, Reverend Horton Heat
Highlights: Not many, really. Dallas' Rev puts a tolerable rockabilly spin on Christmas classics, and the only original song here, "Santa on the Roof," doesn't sound too different from their take on "Frosty the Snowman." But if your gift recipient just has to have a kick of exhaust with their mistletoe, grab the Kings.
...is still bitter about Thanksgiving: American Indian Christmas, Jana
Highlights: Just one--the fact that every Christmas classic on here, from "O Holy Night" to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," is sung in a different Native American language. By converting "Silent Night" to Navajo, this no-name Jana is pretty much throwing her heritage in the dirt to accept a warm, loving hug from Jesus--unless, of course, she's actually sneaking pro-Native American rhetoric into the song. I certainly can't tell.
...has a fully functional margarita machine on their bedside table: Christmas Album, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
Highlights: Pretty much the whole enchilada, from the samba-fied and almost Beach Boys-like opener of "Winter Wonderland" to the stately choir and lone trumpet of Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" that winds things up. It's hard to believe, but this thing's been out of print for years. Kudos to Shout! Factory for bringing it back.
...wishes there was such a thing as a Thanksgiving carol: Holidays!, Brave Combo
Highlights: Only two, if you only want songs from this season. "Hey, Little Dreidel" and "Coal and Switches" are standard fun-filled BC fare, even though the best Grammy winners from Denton already climbed down that chimney in 1991's It's Christmas, Man! But if you want a Christmas album that'll last through the year, Holidays! gives every day off of school--Easter, St. Patrick's Day, even Labor Day--its own polka ode. "Thanksgiving Day" would've worked better if it sounded less like a mariachi number and more like the "NFL on CBS" theme, but the boys make up for it on the greatest dedication to Cinco de Mayo ever put to tape. Makes us want to mix tequila into the eggnog.
... is a high-ranking member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club: Carolina Christmas, The Marshall Tucker Band
Highlights: It's gotta be "Christmas in Custody," a first-person narrative of the consequences of a second DWI in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
...screams "Fuck you!", slams the door in your face and blasts Saosin and UnderOath CDs: Taste of Christmas, Various Artists
Highlights: Without a doubt, From First to Last's "Christmassacre," which disses Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy and features the refrain "San-ta's go-ing to diiieeee!"
...is the sort of Ned Flanders-raised 8-year-old who is homeschooled and not allowed to read Harry Potter because of the "occult" overtones: The Incredible Singing Christmas Tree, VeggieTales
Highlights: Musically, absolutely none. For us, though, we find it amusing to ponder the near-certainty that within five or so years virtually all of the kids force-fed this cloying drivel will be cranking hard-core tunes like "Christmassacre" on the down-low.
...is more a Bart Simpson type of 8-year-old, in body or mind: Pull My Finger: Jingle Smells, Various (F)Artists
Highlights: It's not just a fart record--it also features burps. And it's not just a Christmas record either--there's a "Stinky Dreidel" in there too. Actually, it's kind of amazing how these people put together fart sounds to carry the melodies of these carols--it reminds us a bit of some of those 1960s records by synth pioneers Robert Moog, Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley. And since Rabelais, Dante, Chaucer and Joyce have all used farts in their works, you could make an argument for this as high art. But we won't be making that argument here.
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