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This year has been no different from the previous few - I've spent so much time buying (and listening to) music that I haven't had much time to write about it. Plus, I launched a whole new website - www.hipchristmas.com - to host the Christmas reviews that were straining the bounds of my other website. Not much has changed, there's just more room to breathe. I still have a big Artists & Albums index, an ever-expanding Songs & Singles index, fun-to-read Christmas Lists, and a Christmas Jukebox bulging with over 350 songs (and counting).

What's New?But consequently, I still have thousands of Christmas CD's cluttering up my office - far more, certainly, than the few hundred or so 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, a list the best and brightest rockin' Christmas CD's for 2008 (below).

A Boring Christmas. At first glance, my reaction to this year's schedule of holiday releases was that this was going to be one boring Christmas. The big names included Enya (yawn), Loreena McKennett (snooze), and Melissa Etheridge (zzzzzz), while the biggest news was generated by the third (count 'em) Christmas albums by Tony Bennett (gotta love him) and Harry Connick (enough already). Brian Setzer - the latter day savior of cool Christmas music - could only muster a "best of" collection, while RCA practiced the most vile form of necrophilia by allowing a bevy of tarted-up country girls to paw over Elvis Presley's revered Christmas catalog (Christmas Duets, and I use the term loosely). (Target, by the way, did much the same for poor old Nat King Cole.)

On closer inspection, there is some cool stuff this year - you just have to look hard to find it. My top picks include Christmas A Go Go, a rockin' collection from Little Steven's Underground Garage, and Stocking Stuffer, a holiday rave-up from über Noo Yawk garage rockers the Fleshtones. Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna have unleashed a hard rockin' compilation called A Blackheart Christmas (an iTunes exclusive) that includes Laguna's "Home For Christmas" (1980) and Jett's "Little Drummer Boy" (1981) as well as a new version of "Silent Night" featuring Barack Obama (no, really). And, my homeboys Los Lonely Boys have contracted a bad case of the Christmas Spirit.

Christmas A Go GoThough I suspect none will generate much heat, I also gotta render props to the first-ever formal Christmas albums from Tommy James, Aretha Franklin, Neil Sedaka, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (sans Turner... and Overdrive). Finally, speaking of over-the-hill action, a bunch of geezers from Badfinger, Nazz, the Shadows of Knight, and other proto-punk bands cobbled together no less than two volumes of Garage Band Christmas. Great concept, at least.

To CD or Not CD? The big news last year was the tentative emergence of the MP3 as a channel for lost treasures. The CD is, by all accounts, on its last legs, and the major labels seemed about to embrace the new MP3 format as a way to reissue music that never warranted (commercially speaking) full-fledged CD release. Capitol, for instance, gave us Ferlin Husky's Christmas All Year Long (1967), and Keith Richards' 1978 single, "Run Rudolph Run," finally saw the non-bootleg light of day.

Sad to say, the trend hasn't grown considerably. My favorite is Abkco's Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits featuring several goodies previously released on their boxed set, plus some really cool, truly obscure platters. Capitol has graced us with Wayne Newton's Songs For A Merry Christmas (yippee!), and a little label with the catchy name of Essential Media Group has reissued some super kitschy Hi-Fi LP's by the Surfers, Town Pipers, and Wurlitzer wizard George Wright. But, that's about it.

Cameo Parkway Holiday HitsThere are, however, an increasing number of new holiday releases exclusively available as MP3 downloads. Foremost among them is the Pretenders Holiday EP, a modest little effort that includes a new version of their classic "2000 Miles," the Raveonette's Wishing You A Rave Christmas, which does not include their terrific "Christmas Song" (see Christmas With The Kranks), and Weezer's late-breaking Christmas With Weezer, which does not include either of their previous Christmas songs - and suffers for their absence. And, imporobable as it may seem, Snoop Dogg presents Christmas In Tha Hood, a ribald holiday party from deep in the ghetto - which, again, does not include his fabulously filthy 1997 take on "The Night Before Christmas" (read more in Horny Holidays).

I'm also intrigued by the concept employed by a satisfyingly noisy indie band called Oh, Hush! They send you a "digital ornament" (available only through their MySpace shopping cart) - an actual, tree-worthy decoration that enables you to go online and download their EP Hush! The Herald Angels Sing. Neat idea, but it flies in the face of the buy-it-now, get-it-now trend overwhelming the traditional marketplace. Good luck with that....

Meet Hot Singles Online! After a slow start, the singles scene really heated up in December - an side effect, I suppose, of the speed with which MP3 "product" can be released into marketplace. Most notably, the Hives and Cyndi Lauper (now there's a match made in heaven) have an MP3 single out called "A Christmas Duel," and it's the best yuletide throwdown since the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl duked it out in "A Fairy Tale Of New York." Hives singer Pelle and Ms. Lauper recount in sordid detail how they did each other dirty all year. "I slept with your sister," he admits. "That's OK," she retorts, "I slept with your brother." Ultimately, the pair makes up for Christmas - sort of. "Whatever you say, it's all fine by me," they conclude. "Who the fuck, anyway, wants a Christmas tree?" Who, indeed?

Hives & Cyndi LauperIndie darlings The Wombats have a promising CD single ("Is This Christmas?") due out December 16, also available for download the same day as part of a special edition of their acclaimed debut, A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation; the single is a benefit for MENCAP. And The Killers make it three years in a row with "Joseph, Better You Than Me," with Elton John and the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant (limited CD single benefiting RED available from Newbury Comics). On the flipside of the demographic coin, veteran English band Status Quo has released their first-ever Christmas song, "It's Christmas Time." It's the group's 75th single, and it's also available on their 2008 compilation Pictures: 40 Years of Hits.

And, there's a bunch more to download: singles from power poppers Stratocruiser ("Thank You Xmas"), rap rockers Hollywood Undead ("Christmas In Hollywood"), R&B sweetheart Keisha Cole ("Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"), and country hunk Luke Bryan ("Run Rudolph Run"), plus something nauseatingly adorable by eternal wuss Barry Manilow from the animated TV special "A Cranberry Christmas" ("Christmas Is Just Around The Corner").

She's a true punk goddess, but former Avenger Penelope Houston's first holiday effort (an iTunes exclusive) is the way-too-gentle "Gentle Voices" (written by and sung with alt-folkie Pat Johnson). More to my liking, indie hunk Butch Walker and indie hottie Taryn Manning have covered Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over The Again" (now almost a classic - how time does fly...). And, Teddy Thompson has recorded a lighthearted, reggae-flavored original composition, "Christmas," featuring his semi-famous family - father Richard, mother Linda, and sister Kamila. Sales of the single (an iTunes exclusive) benefit Amnesty International.

On the weird side of the holiday (my favorite side...) we have "retrosexual" dance diva Lady GaGa doing a "Milkshake" sort-of-thing with her highly sexualized "Christmas Tree." And, you simply must hear the Austrian Death Machine's oh-so-delicate rendering of "Jingle Bells." Is this a joke? Maybe, maybe not - either way, it sure is funny!

WeezerFormer Monkee Davy Jones does a pretty good job with his rollicking "It's Christmas," a rather English-sounding track in the tradition of Roy Wood's "I Wish Could Be Christmas Every Day." Not to be outdone, venerable party rocker Gary U.S. Bonds is giving away an MP3 download through his website (www.garyusbonds.com). It's called "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," but it bears only a passing resemblance to that hoary old carol. It's a great arrangement in the vein of "Quarter To Three," but the audio quality is rather disheartening. At least the price is right!

Speaking of free stuff, Amazon, the world's largest online, well, everything has deigned to bestow upon us a free holiday MP3 every day during December until Christmas (go get 'em). As I post this, they're on Day 4 - and it's not looking half bad. Amazon also offers a free 5-track holiday sampler.

Stay Tuned. Potentially, the biggest release of the year for those of us who treasure holiday music that rocks, rolls, and/or swings was Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2, the sequel to Document Records' amazing out-of-print 2005 release, now available as an MP3 download. The second installment was scheduled for September, but was never released. A glance at the label's website indicates that the current credit crisis is impinging on their ability to do business. Ouch.

Gary from Document explains, "As a result of the turbulent first half of the year we have postponed the release of Blues, Blues Christmas Vol. 2 until next year. I promise that it will be worth the wait." Good thing, Gary, because I'll be waiting.

So, boring or not, I found plenty to get excited about this Christmas. I always do.... What have I missed? Drop me a line...

Randy Anthony

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Anderson, Jon Three Ships
- American release of European "22nd anniversary edition" (2007)
1985 image buy  
The Archies The Archies Christmas Album featuring Betty & Veronica 2008 image buy  
Bachman, Randy Takin' Care Of Christmas
- hard copies sold through his website; downloads sold through iTunes
2008 image buy  
Barbary Coasters Hark! Tidings of Barbary Joy 2008 image buy  
Barlowgirl Home For Christmas 2008 image buy  
Bennett, Tony A Swingin' Christmas
- with the Count Basie Big Band
- also available with DVD
2008 image buy review
Boxmasters
- featuring Billy Bob Thornton
Christmas Cheer
- includes 2007 single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
2008 image buy  
Brown, Alison Evergreen
- with Joe Craven
2008 image buy  
Campese, Mike The Meaning Of Christmas 2008 image buy  
Carpenter, Mary-Chapin Come Darkness Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas 2008 image buy  
Casting Crowns Peace On Earth 2008 image buy  
Chenoweth, Kristin A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas 2008 image buy  
Chipmunks Christmas With The Chipmunks
- 20 track compilation with new artwork
2008 image buy  
Cole, Nat King NBC Sounds Of The Season: The Nat King Cole Holiday Collection
- features contemporary stars singing electronically-created duets with Cole; initially sold exclusively at Target stores
2008 image buy  
Connick, Harry What A Night! A Christmas Album 2008 image buy  
Cottrell, Travis Ring The Bells 2008 image buy  
Crow, Sheryl Home For Christmas
- initially sold exclusively at Hallmark stores; issued overseas with different cover
2008 image buy  
Day, Doris Complete Christmas Collection
- complete 1964 “Doris Day Christmas Album” plus many bonus tracks
2008 image buy  
Enya And Winter Came 2008 image buy  
Etheridge, Melissa A New Thought for Christmas
- includes her 2004 single "Christmas in America"
2008 image buy  
Fleck, Bela & The Flecktones Jingle All The Way 2008 image buy  
Fleshtones Stocking Stuffer 2008 image buy  
Franklin, Aretha This Christmas
- initially sold exclusively through Borders stores
2008 image buy  
Gentleman Auction House Christmas in Love 2008 image buy  
Grant, Amy The Christmas Collection
- selections from three Sparrow albums plus four new songs
2008 image buy  
Helix A Heavy Mental Christmas
- initially sold exclusively at Wal-Mart stores
2008 image buy  
Hewett, Howard Christmas 2008 image buy  
Hill, Faith Joy To The World 2008 image buy  
Hollyridge Strings Christmas Favorites 2008 image buy  
Hough, Julianne NBC Sounds Of The Season: The Julianne Hough Holiday Collection
- initially sold exclusively at Target stores
2008 image buy  
James, Bob Christmas Eyes
- with daughter Hilary James
2008 image buy  
James, Tommy I Love Christmas
- includes titular 2004 single
2008 image buy  
Jarreau, Al Christmas 2008 image buy  
Jones, Jim A Tribute To Bad Santa
- with Mike Epps and the Skull Gang
2008 image buy  
Keith, Toby Classic Christmas, Vol. 1 2008 image buy  
  Classic Christmas, Vol. 2
- above two split 2007 2-CD set into separate volumes
2008 image buy  
King Of Hawaii Mele Kalikimaka 2008 image buy  
Ledisi It's Christmas 2008 image buy  
Lee, Byron & The Dragonaires Christmas Party Time In The Tropics
- includes the complete albums "Christmas Party Time" and "Christmas In The Tropics," circa 1969-1971
2008 image buy  
Little River Band We Call It Christmas
- previously available only through band's website
2007 image buy  
Los Lonely Boys Christmas Spirit 2008 image buy  
Mann, Aimee One More Drifter In The Snow
- imported reissue of 2006 album with bonus track ("River," 2005) and new artwork
2008 image buy  
McKennitt, Loreena A Midwinter Night's Dream 2008 image buy  
McKnight, Brian I'll Be Home for Christmas 2008 image buy  
Murray, Anne Anne Murray's Christmas Album
- selections from four previous original albums plus four new songs
2008 image buy  
Newton, Wayne Songs For A Merry Christmas
- MP3 only, first-ever digital reissue
1966 image buy  
Oh, Hush! Hush, The Herald Angels Sing (EP)
- "digital ornament" gives access to MP3 download
2008 image buy  
Patterson, Rahsaan The Ultimate Gift 2008 image buy  
Peters, Gretchen Northern Lights 2008 image buy  
Point Of Grace Tennessee Christmas: A Holiday Collection
- compiled and remixed from previous releases
2008 image buy  
Presley, Elvis Christmas Duets
- electronically-created posthumous recordings with a variety of female country singers
2008 image buy review
Pretenders Holiday (EP)
- an iTunes exclusive download
2008 image buy  
Raveonettes Wishing You A Rave Christmas
- MP3 download only
2008 image buy  
Rogers, Kenny Christmas from the Heart
- soundtrack from a Hallmark TV special
2008 image buy  
Sedaka, Neil Miracle of Christmas
- 1-CD version with traditional favorites
2008 image buy  
  Miracle of Christmas
- 2-CD version with extra disc of original compositions
2008 image buy  
Seeger Sisters American Folk Songs for Christmas
- featuring Peggy, Penny, and Barbara Seeger; reissued as MP3 download; custom CD available directly through Smithsonian Folkways
1957 image buy  
Setzer, brian

Christmas Rocks: The "Best Of" Collection

2008 image buy  
 

The Ultimate Christmas Collection
- same as above plus 2005 Christmas Extravaganza DVD

2008 image buy  
Sixpence None The Richer The Dawn of Grace 2008 image buy  
Spyro Gyra A Night Before Christmas 2008 image buy  
Straight No Chaser Holiday Spirits 2008 image buy  
Strait, George Classic Christmas
- reissue of Fresh Cut Christmas (2006) with new title and cover
2008 image buy  
Stratoscruiser Thank You Xmas (EP)
- MP3 download only
2008 image buy  
Surfers Christmas From Hawaii
- MP3 download only
1959 image buy  
Swift, Taylor The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection (EP)
- MP3 download of EP sold at Target stores in 2007
2008 image buy  
.38 Special 20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection
- repackaged version of Wild-Eyed Christmas Night (2001)
2008 image buy  
Texas Gypsies Every Kind Of Christmas 2008 image buy  
Thomas, Rosie A Very Rosie Christmas 2008 image buy  
Town Pipers Christmas Greetings From The Town Pipers
- MP3 download only
1959 image buy  
Trammps Soul Christmas With The Trammps
- CD/MP3 reissue of Christmas With The Trammps (2003) with new title and cover
2008 image buy  
Weezer Christmas With Weezer (EP)
- MP3 download only
2008 image buy  
Wright, George Merry Christmas
- MP3 download only
1956 image buy  
Yamin, Elliott My Kind Of Holiday
- includes tracks from EP sold at Target stores in 2007
2008 image buy  
various artists A Blackheart Christmas
- hard rockin' music from Kenny Laguna/Joan Jett label; an iTunes exclusive
2008 image buy  
  Blues Blues Christmas Vol. 2
- sequel to amazing 2005 release, available now as MP3 download; scheduled for September release, but not yet available....
2008 image buy  
  Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits
- legendary Philadelphia label shares rare digital goodies
2008 image buy  
  Christmas A Go Go
- superb 20-track comp from Little Steven's Underground Garage
2008 image buy  
  Christmas In Tha Dogghouse
- Snoop Dogg presents music from his magical ghetto kingdom; MP3 download only
2008 image buy  
  Christmas Regrooved 2
- electronic dance artists transform holiday classics
2008 image buy  
  Classic Rock Christmas (Go Digital)
- MP3 download taken largely from 1988 TV special "Rock 'n' Roll Christmas" hosted by comedian Dennis Miller
2008 image buy  
  Classic Rock Christmas (Hip-O)
- 14-track collection from taken mainly from Universal vaults
2008 image buy  
  Easy Christmas Now! Groovy Carols for a Cosy Winter
- nice mix of cool jazz, warm soul, soft rock, and easy listening
2006 image buy  
  The Essential Now That's What I Call Christmas
- one-disc distillation of popular series
2008 image buy  
  A Foggy Holiday: Carols From The SF Scene Vol. 2
- indie rock benefit album from San Francisco
2008 image buy  
  Garage Band Christmas Vol. 1 2008 image buy  
  Garage Band Christmas Vol. 2
- above two feature veterans of Badfinger, Nazz, and Shadows of Knight; part of an ongoing series on Collectables Records
2008 image buy  
  Holiday Slow Jams
- slimmed down version of Slow Jams For Christmas (2007)
2008 image buy  
  Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs
- compilation from celebrated Los Angeles night club
2008 image buy  
  It's Christmas, Baby!
- southern soul from Ecko Records; some tracks released as MP3 download in 2006
2008 image buy  
  Merry Happy Christmas
- another MP3 compilation from Nettwerk Records
2008 image buy  
  Motown Christmas: Playlist Your Way
- 14 track collection in eco-friendly packaging
2008 image buy review
  No Ho Ho Vol. 2: Christmas Gone Wrong 2008 image buy  
  No Ho Ho Vol. 3: Christmas Songs You Haven't Heard
- above two are eclectic MP3 download albums from the Selector Series; sequels to 2007 volume
2008 image buy  
  Psychobilly Christmas
- mostly obscure modern punk/rockabilly on the Cleopatra label
2008 image buy  
  Redeye 2008 Holiday Sampler
- indie rock distributor's roster includes Fleshtones, Supersuckers, Ron Sexsmith; MP3 download only
2008 image buy  
  A Sexy Christmas
- bedroom-friendly pop and R&B from Time-Life
2008 image buy  
  This Warm December: Brushfire Holiday's Vol. 1
- sensitive alternative rock from Jack Johnson and cohorts
2008 image buy  
  24 Greatest R&B Christmas Hits
- Gusto Records compilation from the King Records vaults
2008 image buy review
  Ultimate Christmas Album Vol. 7
- part of series on Collectables Records
2008 image buy  
  Verve Remixed: Christmas
- part of a remix series from the venerable jazz label
2008 image buy  
  Verve Unmixed: Christmas
- original versions of songs from above
2008 image buy  
  A Very Special Christmas: Playlist Plus
- 3-CD, 51-track compilation from long-running series; eco-friendly packaging
2008 image buy review
  We Wish You A Metal Xmas... And A Headbanging New Year
- assorted aging rockers assault the holidays
2008 image buy  
  What I Want For Christmas
- MP3 download sampler from Nettwerk Records
2008 image buy  
  X Christmas
- part of a Christian rock CD series from BEC Recordings
2008 image buy  

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