In his cute-as-a-button essay accompanying the five-EP Sufjan Stevens collection, Rick Moody wonders, Why is it that the horrible little tree in the Peanuts special seems better than any other tree ever? Well, sincerity, for starters; its the only Christmas special that can break your heart, because its the only one that has a heart. That, and the musicVince Guaraldis snowflake piano playing, cool jazz to warm the soul no matter the calendars whims. At last, though, the soundtrack-turned-standard gets a facelift with fresh packaging and four new tracks (!): Christmas Is Coming with a little more crackle and bump; The Christmas Song that was perhaps too late-night for primetime; a more-bounce-for-the-ounce Greensleeves; and a Christmas Time Is Here on which the kids provide only oohs that make you say ahhh.
The latter would feel warm and snuggly in Stevens overstuffed box of gems: four discs of ancient and brand-new standards (to Web-trollers who found these things years back) and another just-recorded disc of instant essentials, among them the Styx-by-way-of-Father Christmas Kinks Get Behind Me, Santa!, the epic Star of Wonder, the warm-cookies-and-cold-milk Come On! Lets Boogey to the Elf Dance and the jokily titled That Was the Worst Christmas Ever! thats anything but a gag (Our father yells, throwing the gifts/In the wood stove, wood stove). Stevens, whether alone on banjo or fronting a string quartet, finds nourishment in moldy cheese and faith in antique melodies. Twice he approaches the 15th-century Lo! How a Rose Eer Bloomingas a vocal piece in 2001, as an instrument more recentlyand begs us to consider why the simply, poetically told tale of Jesus birth isnt among the fifth-graders canon.