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What's New? I'll be honest: I've bitten off more than I can chew. Since last year, I've reorganized my entire Christmas section, built a huge Artists & Albums index, expanded my Songs & Singles index, and written a heap o' reviews. But, like the layers of an onion, I keep uncovering new, wacky yuletide treasures - records, CD's, whatever - I can't resist.

So, I have hundreds Christmas CD's cluttering up my office - more, certainly, than the 200 or so already reviewed herein. They gather dust, waiting to be catalogued and reviewed in my usual obsessive-compulsive manner. Rather than throw this year's crop of holiday goodies atop that languishing pile, I'm giving you, faithful reader, 30 of the best and brightest rockin' Christmas CD's for 2005. So, what have I missed? Drop me a line...

Randy Anthony

Herb Alpert Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Christmas album
For years, idiots (like me) have paid way too much for the TJB's out-of-print 1990 Christmas CD (originally issued on LP in 1968). Now, Shout! Factory has reissued Alpert's jaunty, Latin-flavored kitsch-fest, replete with crystal-clear mastering, restored artwork, and a colorful, informative booklet. deluxe. Not the Brass' finest hour (that came several years earlier), but loads of fun all the same. [purchase]
Anita Baker Anita Baker, Christmas Fantasy
The older I've gotten, the more orthodox I've grown in my approach to soul music. Hence, I've all but lost patience with modern rhythm & blues, with its endless seductions and bland arrangements. I stopped listening to Anita Baker for just such reasons, but, man, can that lady sing! Christmas Fantasy, however, leans towards jazz, and that's a major improvement - even if it's still too smooth.... [purchase]
Charlie Byrd Charlie Byrd, Christmas Carols For Solo Guitar
Among jazz circles, Mr. Byrd is revered as a six-string wizard of the highest order. Outside, jazz circles, well, not so much. Don't let that deter you, however, from rediscovering this quiet masterwork first issued in 1966. Byrd takes an acoustic tack similar to John Fahey, though his tone is more reverential and his technique more straightforward. Koch Records' reissue restores the original cover art. [purchase]
June Christy June Christy, This Time Of Year
Cool Miss Christy was nearing the end of her heyday when This Time Of Year was released in 1961, but her characteristic wit and charm still hold sway. This is a Christmas album with a difference, as roughly a third of the record relates more to the season than the holiday, and many of the songs find comely June pining away all by her lonesome. Issued on CD for the first time by Collector's Choice. [purchase]
Nat King cole Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song
Now in (at least) it's third incarnation during the digital age, Ol' King Cole's holiday chestnut has swollen to over twenty tracks, including three renditions of the celebrated title track. This may or may not be enough to force morons like me to buy it yet again (oh, who am I kidding...), but it certainly adds value for the regular Joe shopper. Also recommended: Christmas For Kids (read more) [purchase]
John Denver John Denver, Rocky Mountain Christmas
Since their merger, Sony/BMG has undertaken a minor refurbishing of John Denver's catalog - once the crown jewel in RCA's crown. Included is yet another iteration of Rocky Mountain Christmas (read more), an album he released in 1975 at the height of his popularity. Notable mainly for several great originals, including "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas." Includes two bonus tracks [purchase]
Everly Brothers Everly Brothers, Christmas With The Everly Brothers
Rhino Records released one of the last important missing rock-related Christmas CD's, Christmas With The Everly Brothers (1962, read more), earlier this year. The problem is, it's not very good: the famed duo's reverential reticence to rock proved stifling. But, to fans - especially those interested in the Collector's Choice Warner-era reissues - it's still a must-have. [purchase]
Rosie Flores Rosie Flores, Christmasville
Early in her career, this Texan vixen looked to be her generation's Wanda Jackson (or Neko Case, if you prefer). Turns out, Rosie's ambition didn't burn that hot, and she was just too darned nice. Which, it turns out, makes her an ideal candidate for a Christmas record. Christmasville is eclectic but relaxed, witty yet sincere, and leans heavily on Rosie's rockin' roots rather than stuffy standards. Kudos! [purchase]
Diana Krall Diana Krall, Christmas Songs
This young Canuck (widely-known as beauty to hubby Elvis Costello's beast) possesses a startling mixture of talent and looks. I mean, she can really tickle those ivories, and she sings with style and grace - but hubba hubba hubba! Christmas Songs is her full-length follow-up to a 1998 EP, and the season allows our occasionally icy chanteuse to warm up bit. [purchase]
Loretta Lynn Loretta Lynn, 20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection
Despite the fact that she put so much effort into it, Loretta Lynn's 1966 Country Christmas has largely languished during the digital effort. No less than six of the songs are originals (Loretta wrote three), and they're all keepers. Universal reissued the original Decca LP under their 20th Century Masters umbrella, but it's all there: 12 remastered tracks, original cover art, and liner notes by Mae Axton. [purchase]
Marah Marah, A Christmas Kind Of Town
On the Yep Roc website, these Philly roots rockers list reasons for making Christmas Kind Of Town. Among them, "Holiday songs allow decent 'liberal' folks to celebrate 'conservative' values like family, friends, eating dinner together, roasting chestnuts, and home fires burning without employing tactics like tightening borders, tax cuts for the elite, veiled racism, and Old Testament brainwashing!" 'Nuf said. [purchase]
Marshall Tucker Band Marshall Tucker Band, Carolina Christmas
More than any band save the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker embodied smart southern rock, mixing country, jazz, and accomplished musicianship into a potent stew. Their Christmas is a reunion recorded in the band's South Carolina hometown of Spartanburg. It features four original tunes - including the hilarious "My Christmas In Custody" - in addition to the usual carols and standards. [purchase]
Dean Martin Dean Martin, A Winter Romance
Originally released in 1959, this LP was as much about winter (and romance) as Christmas, though it's easily the best of Dino's two Christmas albums. And while Martin has some great holiday compilations out there - such as Christmas With Dino (2004, read more) - it's winter-themed gems like "June In January" they omit. This newly remastered version was originally available exclusively from Collector's Choice. [purchase]
McGarrigle Sisters Kate & Anna McGarrigle, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour
These Canadian sisters entered the public ear as composers of the title track to Linda Ronstadt's 1974 breakthrough, Heart Like A Wheel. The duo has since flown under the radar, earning critical accolades while remaining most notable for their associations - especially with Loudon Wainwright, Kate's ex-husband and sire of Martha and Rufus, both of whom cameo here along with Emmylou Harris. [purchase]
Aaron Neville Aaron Neville, Christmas Prayer
Aaron Neville possesses a voice unparalleled in the annals of pop - calling it angelic doesn't do it justice. But, when his mellifluous pipes are divorced from the Crescent City funk of his famous clan, Aaron sounds pious, ponderous, and self-impressed. Which means Christmas Prayer, a seasonal album nearly 100% religious in content, will please Neville's devoted following - and the rest of us can go to hell. [purchase]
TonyOrlando & Dawn Tony Orlando & Dawn, A Christmas Reunion
You probably haven't noticed, but we're in the midst of a Dawn renaissance. Yep, the "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" trio are back, reissuing their back catalog, including a boxed set, a nice collection of hits, and some cheese-stuffed DVD's of their TV variety hour. The Michael Omartian-produced Christmas Reunion is intended mainly for 70's diehards (like me) and included a new song, "Christmas In New York." [purchase]
Paul Revere Paul Revere & The Raiders, A Christmas Present... And Past
The Raiders' odd little Christmas album came during a period in which proper rock stars didn't make Christmas albums. But, the Raiders (however popular) were never that cool. Hence, A Christmas Present (1968, read more), the holiday record the Turtles should have made - but didn't. Reissued on CD by Sony in 1990, then quickly deleted, this latest incarnation is courtesy Koch Records. [purchase]
Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat, We Three Kings
Once upon a time, these Dallas psychobillies were a truly awesome spectre of rock. Early songs like "Bad Reputation" and "400 Bucks" were so intense they were frightening. We Three Kings is not - in fact, it's damn near convivial. But, I do not intend to damn with faint praise - it's also a lot of fun. The good Reverend simply seeks a graceful way to fade into the sunset, and I think he's found it. [purchase]

Brian Setzer Brian Setzer, Dig That Crazy Christmas
Last year I stated, "I have yet to write my review of the former Stray Cats' 2002 Christmas album, Boogie Woogie Christmas, but suffice to say it's one of the best rock-oriented holiday releases of all time." Well, I still haven't written that review - and he's got a new one! Dig That Crazy Christmas follows a similar formula: hip covers, rocked-up traditional tunes, and some clever Setzer originals. [purchase]
Martin Sexton Martin Sexton, Camp Holiday
Forever the bridesmaid, critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter Martin Sexton has watched peers like David Gray and Shawn Colvin achieve commercial success while his career (relatively speaking) has languished. Still waiting for my copy of Camp Holiday to arrive, but I anticipate great things, so long as Sexton applies his usual grace and soul to these holiday standards (plus one original composition). [purchase]
Frank Sinatra Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra
Christmas albums are often disappointing, usually because artists are reluctant to attack the season with the same grit and verve they bring to the rest of their music. Such was the case with Frank Sinatra's 1957 Capitol LP, A Jolly Christmas (read more), though Frank's worst is better than most people's best. This reissue includes a bonus track that's the best thing on the album - the Chairman's magical rendition of Jules Styne's "Christmas Waltz." [purchase]
Jimmy Smith Jimmy Smith, Christmas '64
You wouldn't know from looking, but jazz organist Jimmy Smith's Christmas '64 has been available for years - reissued on CD as Christmas Cookin', same as the 1966 LP version. Either way, jazz heads and regular folk alike will appreciate Smith's funky, tender approach to the season. The Cookin' reissue added two seasonal tracks, but the '64 version presents Smith's original vision - artwork intact. [purchase]
Jo Stafford Jo Stafford, The Joyful Season
Suave, smooth Jo Stafford was a major pop star for ten solid years before rock 'n' roll drove her (and a lot of other talented singers) off the airwaves. Her first Christmas album, Happy Holiday (1955), is her best, but The Joyful Season (recorded nearly a decade thereafter) has its charms. Issued on CD for the first time by DRG Records with five bonus tracks featuring Gordon MacRae. [purchase]
Brian Wilson Brian Wilson, What I Really Want For Christmas
Many years ago, Brian Wilson's Beach Boys cut one of rock's finest Christmas albums, and the troubled genius has revisited the subject fitfully ever since. What I Really Want For Christmas, however, is his first officially released Christmas album since 1964, and to call it "anticipated" would be putting it mildly. His collaborators include Jimmy Webb, Bernie Taupin, and members of the Wondermints. [purchase]
Forty Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas Various Artists, Forty Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas
I wouldn't give this CD - a tribute to Vince Guaraldi's 1964 jazz classic - the time of day except that the original is so freakin' brilliant it makes me cry like a little girl. In fact, to turn such genius into smooth jazz pablum borders on criminal. So, skip David Benoit, Dave Koz, and the execrable Rippingtons and go buy Guaraldi's soundtrack instead. That, Charlie Brown, is the real meaning of Christmas. [purchase]
Happy Christmas Vol. 4 Various Artists, Happy Christmas, Volume Four
Sorry, but for me, Jesus is not the reason for the season. Not too hot on Moses or Mohammed, either. Christmas long ago became a secular holiday in my house, but I gotta hand it to the holy punks on Happy Christmas - they rock like hell. Admittedly some of the artists on this unsung series fall prey to wussy Christian pop clichés, but mostly, they make a joyful - and raucous - noise. [purchase]
Forty Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas Various Artists, Holiday Heart
Subtitled An Eclectic Aural Celebration of Christmas and Chanukah, this festive, alternative-leaning double CD raises awareness of and money for vital hospice care (read more). Not as star-studded as Ho Ho Ho Spice (2002), Holiday Heart is a nevertheless a worthwhile, wide-ranging album featuring Rick Derringer, Ron Sexsmith, and the Dismemberment Plan. Exclusively at CDBaby. [purchase]
Chronicles Christmas Box Various Artists, Merry Christmas: The Chronicles Christmas Box
Words can't really express my disappointment. When I heard the "Chronicles" folks at Universal were compiling a Christmas box, I got a tingle right down to my toes. Imagine the possibilities were they to plumb the rich depths of the Decca, Verve, Fontana, ABC, Motown... Instead, we get a modicum of well-worn classics and not one iota of annotation. Great for novices, lousy for collectors. [purchase]
Merry Mixmas Various Artists, Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed
This ambitious album is the capper to a recent trend (cf. Christmas Re-Grooved, Christmas Remixed, Reindeer Room) recasting classic holiday songs as modern dance grooves. The difference here is, Capitol Records let leading DJ's plunder their deep vaults for the real thing - classics from Bing, Dino, Ella, Eartha, Julie, and June. Personally, I like my vintage music straight, no chaser. But, you go, girl! [purchase]
To Kate: A Benefit For Kate's Sake Various Artists, To Kate: A Benefit for Kate's Sake
Very nearly a "who's who" of Americana, To Kate benefits the Children's Organ Transplant Association in honor of Kate Kirk, a North Carolinian youngster who recently received a life-saving blood transplant. To Kate features BR-549, Jim Lauderdale, Buddy & Julie Miller, Joe Ely, Jason & The Scorchers, Steve Earle, Rosie Flores, John Prine, and the Mavericks' Raul Malo. [purchase]
But Wait, There's More! In addition to the discs reviewed above, look for a special edition of The Muppets Christmas Carol soundtrack; a new Christmas single from Captain & Tennille; DualDisc reissues from Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child, and Harry Connick; mainstream compilations from Sony (Essential Christmas) and BMG (Coming Home For Christmas); a collection of country girls from Capitol (Christmas Angels); a not so Very Soulful Christmas from Koch; a post-hardcore throwdown from Warcon Records (Taste Of Christmas); some more of Universal's endless 20th Century Masters series; a bunch of crap from domestic diva Martha Stewart; and new albums from the Oak Ridge Boys, Jane Monheit, Peabo Bryson, Cool John Ferguson, and Faith Evans. Plus, comedy fans don't want to miss the SCTV DVD Merry Christmas From Melonville!

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