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What's New?I'll be honest: I've bitten off more than I can chew. I have several hundred Christmas CD's cluttering up my office - that's in addition to the 150 or so already reviewed herein. They gather dust, waiting to be cataloged and reviewed as has become my obsessive-compulsive custom. Rather than throw this year's crop of holiday atop that languishing pile, I'm giving you, faithful reader, a preview of the best and brightest Christmas music for 2004.

Before we commence, I should mention that a couple of important new Christmas songs are contained on recent soundtracks. First, Alfie includes Mick Jagger's "Lonely This Christmas (Without You)," the Rolling Stone's first holiday effort (a duet with young British soulstress Joss Stone). Second, The Polar Express (consisting of Yule tunes both new and old) features Aerosmith's Stephen Tyler vamping through "Rockin' At The Top Of The World." Anyway, what have I missed? Drop me a line...

Randy Anthony

Gene Autry Gene Autry, The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings (Varese)
Finally, every precious Christmas song this famous singing cowboy cut for Columbia comes home to roost in one spot! Previous compilations (read more) were excellent, but they overlooked songs as essential as "Merry Texas Christmas, You All" and "Thirty-Two Feet - Eight Little Tails." Beautifully mastered, annotated, and packaged - perfect! Quite literally the rosetta stone of modern Christmas music. [purchase]
Barenaked Ladies Barenaked ladies, Barenaked For The Holidays (Desperation)
Never been a big fan of these Canadian good-time boys, but their easy-going, eager-to-please style suits the season just fine. Seven originals are scattered among the 20 tracks, including a softer rendition of their own "Green Christmas," originally cut for Jim Carrey's Grinch movie in 2000. Covers range from deconstructions of traditional carols to surprisingly straight-faced readings of modern classics. [purchase]
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Everything You Want For Christmas (Vanguard)
These swing revivalists waxed their first Yuletide effort, What'chu Want for Christmas, in 1995. No great shakes, really, but they've improved considerably since then, sounding noticeably tighter and sharper. The Daddies reprise several songs from the original record (now insanely rare) and cover songs like "Mr. Heatmeiser" and "Zat You Santa Claus?" tailor-made for their brassy, irreverent schtick. [purchase]
Emmy Lou Harris Emmylou Harris, Light Of The Stable (Rhino)
This stunning album (read more) began as a mere single in 1975, and was fleshed out to a full-length LP in 1979. When reissued on CD in 1992, the original cover art (featuring a Madonna-like photograph of Harris) was replaced with a less appropriate image. Here, Rhino employs yet another lesser cover but has remastered the music and expanded the track selection with three newly-recorded songs. [purchase]
Chris Isaak Chris Isaak, Christmas (Reprise)
Mr. Wicked Game maintains a tricky balancing act between roots rock, blue-eyed soul, and lounge camp. It's a lot of work juggling those disparate elements successfully (as on Forever Blue), but while Isaak doesn't phone it in here, he doesn't break a sweat, either. Established fans (of which I am one) will enjoy Christmas (read more), but skeptics will remain unconvinced. Includes five original songs and vocals by Stevie Nicks. [purchase]
Dean Martin Dean Martin, Christmas With Dino (Capitol)
Nearly identical to Making Spirits Bright (read more), a surprisingly strong collection from from a singer widely considered inferior to peers like Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, or Tony Bennett. Maybe so, but Dino's Christmas music is a lot more fun, capturing the same sexy, silly, lubricious vibe that made him such a loveable cad onscreen. Most notable for Martin's definitive take on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" [purchase]
Brian Setzer Brian Setzer, Boogie Woogie Christmas (Surf Dog)
I have yet to write my review of Setzer's 2002 Christmas album, but suffice to say that it's one of the best rock-oriented holiday releases of all time. Only one original song, ("So They Say It's Christmas") but the covers are immaculately executed and occasionally off-the-beaten-path ("The Man With The Bag"). This reissue adds two new songs, with another two added to a version only sold through Target stores. [purchase]
Frank Sinatra Frank Sinatra, The Christmas Collection (Reprise)
During his long tenure at Reprise Records during the twilight of his career, the Chairman Of The Board recorded one full Christmas album (The Sinatra Family Wish You A Merry Christmas, 1968) and a significant number of other holiday songs. This material was originally compiled on The Sinatra Christmas Album (1987), of which The Christmas Collection (read more) represents a significant, long overdue upgrade. [purchase]
Dwight Twilley Dwight Twilley, Have A Twilley Christmas (DMI)
As a power pop pioneer, this Tulsa native has become the very definition of what Robert Christgau termed "semi-popular." Despite a paucity of hits, Twilley has soldiered on, most recently with this 6-song Christmas EP. Pointedly eclectic, Have A Twilley Christmas (read more) is exactly the sort of entertaining-yet-ephemeral gem that makes Christmas music geeks (c'est moi) tingle all over. [read more]
Stevie Wonder The Best Of Stevie Wonder: The Christmas Collection (Motown)
Stevie Wonder's 1967 Christmas album, Someday At Christmas (read more), isn't Motown's best, but it deserved refurbishing nevertheless. At last, here's a remastered version, replete with two rare bonus tracks. While issued by parent company Universal under the generic umbrella of their 20th Century Masters series, this CD sure beats Motown's dry-sounding, no-frills 1990 edition. [purchase]
Maybe This Christmas Tree Various Artists, Maybe This Christmas, Tree (Nettwerk)
The third volume in Nettwerk's varied and excellent (though occasionally twee) holiday series is packed with rare and exclusive goodies to delight doe-eyed college girls. At least two songs - the Raveonettes' "Christmas Song" and Lisa Loeb's "Jingle Bells" were released last year on a very limited basis. Most, like Polyphonic Spree's faithful rendition of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," are newly recorded. [purchase]
Music From The O.C. Soundtrack, Have A Very Merry Chrismukkah (Warner Brothers)
The third volume in a series accompanying The O.C., a popular WB TV show (which, I must admit, I have never seen), this one ostensibly addresses both the Christian and Jewish traditions of the season. However, these mere seven songs all concern Christmas, so go figure. On the other hand, several are very good and/or previously rare, including tracks by the Raveonettes, the Eels, and Jimmy Eats World. [purchase]
Ultimate Christmas Cocktails Various Artists, Ultimate Christmas Cocktail (Capitol)
On one hand, I'm disappointed. This 3-CD box is really just a slipcase with two previously released volumes of Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails (read more) plus a newly-compiled third volume that fails to maintain the standards established by the first two. Nevertheless, the music is pure swank. If you don't already own these discs, here's an easy, affordably way to tiptoe through the Yule lounge. [purchase]
Ultimate Soul Christmas Various Artists, Ultimate Soul Christmas (Capitol)
Not really the ultimate anything (read more), this 2-CD set is a very good deal (under $20) and an interesting sampler - 30 songs spanning approximately 40 years. Despite the lack of stylistic coherence (any moron can tell you Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz singer) and the absence of much real soul music, we get several bona fide classics and a heretofore unheard gem, Candi Staton's "Christmas In My Heart." [purchase]

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