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This year promises to be a weird one for people like us - folks with an abiding fixation for unusual, strange, and compelling Christmas music. For one thing, a couple of the major players have dropped out of the race. Christmas Reviews ceased operations last year (though their website is still up) and FaLaLaLaLa is taking this year off (though their forum remains active).

What's New?So, the people that ought to be running the show refuse to play, and the big releases include a guy too slick for his own good (Michael Bublé), an upstart accused of sexual misconduct (Justin Bieber), a woman prone to magical thinking (Kate Bush), and a guy whose Google search results are synonymous with gross stuff (Scott Weiland). What is this - the Republican presidential primary?

Not to fear. Mistletunes, Stubby's House of Christmas, and about a million blogs are up-and-running (read more), and I've already found a bunch of off-the-beaten-path releases to get all hot-and-bothered over. And, with the advent of MP3's, some of the best stuff comes very late in the season. Last year, the best new song of the season (the Futureheads' "Christmas Was Better In The 80's") hit the streets on December 21. So, watch this page for the latest and greatest, and I'll do my best to keep up!

Christmas treeNew Music

So far, the biggest news for Christmas hipsters is albums by two indie sweethearts (yummy Zooey Deschanel and winsome Emma-Lee Moss) and their less attractive partners (M. Ward and Tim Wheeler, respectively).

She and HimDeschanel and Ward record as She and Him, and their A Very She and Him Christmas (available on vinyl, CD, and MP3) drips of an odd, post-modern irony. It sounds very tongue-in-cheek, and yet utterly sincere. Taken on its face, however, it's very pretty - just not very compelling. (Deschanel, of course, is best known as an actress. She co-starred with Will Ferrell in the Christmas flick Elf and even waxed "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Leon Redbone for the soundtrack.)

Emma-Lee Moss is better known as Emmy the Great, and her joint MP3 album This Is Christmas with Tim Wheeler (of English alt rockers Ash) is decidedly light-hearted - though it's more substantial than She and Him's fluffy offering. For one thing, its comprised mostly of original songs - even if they include goofs like Wheeler's (totally radical) "Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)" and Moss' (really creepy) "Zombie Christmas." In the end, I was pretty charmed - if not blown away. (The iTunes version, by the way, includes a digital booklet missing from Amazon.)

Personally, though, I'm much more stoked about albums by veteran garage/psych rockers The Gripweeds, veteran punks the Deadbeat Poets, and power pop legends The Jigsaw Seen. The Gripweeds have been blessed by no less than Little Steven (aka Bruce Springsteen's guitarist, Tony Soprano's consigliere, and proprietor of Wicked Cool Records). Their Under The Influence Of Christmas features guests from Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Smithereens, and the Left Banke on a rousing mix of originals and less-than-predictable covers. Heavy, man!

The Deadbeat Poets, meanwhile, consist of guys you've never heard of (definitely) from bands you've never heard of (probably) mostly hailing from the hard-rocking American Midwest. But their little EP, A Deadbeat Christmas, includes two killer songs, "Christmastime in Painesville" and "Drunk at Midnight Mass."

Jigsaw SeenThe Jigsaw Seen, meanwhile, are no strangers to holiday music, having previously released two EP's, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1989) and What About Christmas (2006). Their latest, Winterland, includes several Christmas songs (including their hard-to-find 2008 single, "Candy Cane", but it's actually an ambitious concept album about the loneliest season of all. By the way, their former drummer, Gary Schwartz, is releasing a single called "What's So Special About Christmas?"

(The aforementioned Kate Bush record, 50 Words For Snow, is much the same thing. I used to be a fan, but her over arching self-importance began to weigh on me. With just seven tracks, but clocking in at over 65 minutes, 50 Words For Snow would seem to confirm my worst preconceptions....)

Anyway, speaking of garage rock and power pop, two worthwhile compilations hit the streets this year - Garage Band Christmas Vol. 3 (Collectables) and Hi-Fi Christmas Party Vol. 3 (Vandalay). Both should be a hoot, but they are proving to be tough to locate. If Amazon can't hook you up, try Oldies.com and CDBaby.com, respectively.

Almost every year brings new albums from oldies-but-goodies like Carole King, Paul Anka, and Chicago. The Paul Anka album, Songs Of December, strives for the classic sound of Frank, Dino, or Nat King Cole - a pretty far cry from Anka's teen idol roots or his tawdry 70's hits. But, this is the guy who wrote "My Way" and the "Tonight Show" theme song. So, not surprisingly it succeeds in its high-tone ambitions. That said, I would have preferred a seasonal variation on "You're Having My Baby."

Carole KingPaul Anka, actually, recorded his first Christmas album over 50 years ago (It's Christmas Everywhere, 1960). Carole King - who counts Anka as a peer - waited nearly as long to record her first Christmas song ("Love For Christmas," 2002) and roughly decade more to wax A Christmas Carole. And who can blame her - she's Jewish, after all (read more). Regardless, I saw Carole King perform this year (with James Taylor on PBS television), and she still possesses every bit of power that made Tapestry (1971) one of the best-selling albums in history. But "Love For Christmas" was pretty bathetic, so I'm worried that A Christmas Carole might be a mere ghost of Carole's past. My copy is in the post - I'll report back.

Chicago XXXIII: O Christmas Three, one might guess, is the third Christmas album that Chicago has recorded. Well, the third time might be the charm in romance, but in the music business it means artistic stagnation. Does anybody really know what time it is? Time to quit, boys.

Of course, no year is complete without at least one grand kiss-off to Christendom's most sacrosanct liturgy. This year's model? Erin McKeown and her Fuck That! The Anti-Holiday Album. Except for the florid scatology ("Santa Is An Asshole"), McKeown's self-satisfied, neo-folkie opus would sound quite at home on National Public Radio - but don't mistake that for a compliment.

Finally, no one has ever quite figured out what he intended, but Iggy Pop - the Godfather of Punk - actually cut a reasonably straight-faced, incredibly craggy rendition of "White Christmas" back in 2009 (no, really). Well, he's at it again - this time as a guest vocalist on Noel! Noel!! Noel!!! by French songwriter Michel Legrand. Iggy croaks out "The Little Drummer Boy" but fails to explain what a bad boy like him is doing on a nice album like this.

Christmas treeReissues

Christmas music fans find themselves trapped in a sort of purgatory these days. The Christmas classics that remain to be reissued on CD are generally so poor in commercial potential that most may never be. The obvious solution? Digital downloads. But most labels haven't fully embraced the MP3 as a format for vintage music. Lady Gaga remixes, yes. Spike Jones holiday rarities, not likely.

Into this breach steps Capitol Records who, as in years past, have released a niggardly slate of classics as MP3 downloads - and instantly leapt to the front of the pack among major labels. Rarely has so little accounted for so much. What is this - the Republican presidential primary?

Whatever the case, Capitol's classics fall into two categories: vintage LP's that have never been reissued during the digital age and CD reissues that fell out-of-print long ago. In the former category, we have easy listening nuggets by Vic Dana and Johnny Mann, plus My Christmas Dreams (1966) from country crooner Sonny James. In the latter category, we find Red Simpson's Trucker's Christmas (1973) and the baby boomer favorite, The Best Of Christmas (1968).

Even better is Les Paul and Mary Ford's Christmas Cheer! (1955). This is a fabulous, four-song EP has been expanded to six songs, so it includes every holiday track Paul & Ford ever cut for the label (on three separate singles, 1951-1955). Only two of the six have ever been reissued during the digital era.

Best of all, however, is a loose series of early-90's CD compilations - replete with Vargas-style pin-up artwork - that deftly summarize Capitol's rat-pack, bachelor-pad, ultra-lounge glory years (read more). These include Christmas Kisses (1990), Merry Christmas Baby (1991), Let It Snow (1992), and Happy Holidays (1993). Like most MP3 reissues, these albums include no documentation whatsoever - which almost makes it worth paying the exorbitant prices the CD's fetch these days. It's your money, but the music is among the best ever produced during the waning days of Hollywood's golden era.

As for CD's, Capitol has reissued the Beach Boys' Christmas Album (1964) and Frank Sinatra's Jolly Christmas (1958) for the umpteenth time. Good stuff, but - again? P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Much more laudably, Capitol deigned to license an overlooked Buck Owens classic to upstart reissue specialists Rock Beat Records. Merry Christmas From Buck Owens and Susan Raye (1971) has never been reissued in any format, and it has (until now) been largely forgotten by history. It is admittedly a lesser effort than Owens' prime 60's LP's - Christmas With Buck Owens (1965) and Christmas Shopping (1968). In fact, it consists largely of remakes from those albums. But, it's lots of fun, and Rock Beat's CD even includes a bonus track from Capitol's 1973 compilation, California Christmas (also never on CD... hint, hint). Yee haw!

Speaking of upstart reissue labels, Real Gone Music made its debut this year, having crawled out of the wreckage of Collector's Choice - which dialed back its original reissues in favor of its mail order business. Real Gone's initial holiday slate is a real mixed bag - a two-fer from crooner Ed Ames, beautiful music from David Rose (the man who gave us "The Stripper"), and, best of all, the long-anticipated CD debut of Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits.

Cameo Parkway Records was a family of Philadelphia-based labels best remembered for giving the world Chubby Checker and his greatest hit, "The Twist." Over roughly a decade (1956-1967), the label produced a handful of wildly varied - and often bizarre - holiday singles. At least a few of them qualify as stone-cold classics, including "White Christmas (3 O'clock Weather Report)," a novelty song which makes vicious fun of Bobby Kennedy, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel - all in under three minutes! Most notable, however, is "Sock It To Me Santa," a James Brown-inspired rave-up by a very young Bob Seger. Priceless!

Anyway, notoriously stingy music industry impresario Allen Klein held onto the Cameo Parkway masters for years before finally allowing a glorious set of reissues to be released starting in 2005. Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits followed in 2008, but only as an MP3 download. Collector's Choice planned to reissue it on CD last year - and they got as far as a new version of the MP3 album (with bonus tracks and new cover art) before scuttling the project. Enter Real Gone Music (headed by former Collector's Choice guru Gordon Anderson), and Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits finally gets to see the light of day as a CD. As Mr. Seger puts it, "Santa's got a brand new bag!"

In the same vein, German label Tramp Records has compiled Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party, a fairly brief set of very rare rhythm & blues including the digital debut of Count Sidney's legendary Goldwax single, "Soul Christmas." So far, it's only available as an MP3 download in America, but the CD (and limited edition LP) can be purchased directly from the label or from Amazon Deutsche.

Each year since 2005, Las Vegas modern rockers The Killers have released a Christmas single to benefit (RED), an AIDS charity helmed by U2 singer Bono. This year's effort is The (RED) Christmas EP which compiles all the previous singles plus one new track, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball." So far, it's only available on iTunes - no word on CD or vinyl release.

Earning big points (as always) for class is Tony Bennett, whose Classic Christmas Album (Columbia) surveys 40 years of holiday recordings spanning four full-length albums and two neato rarities - "What Child is This" (1968) and "Christmas in Herald Square" (1998). I'm not certain yet if I'm going to purchase a copy - I already own nearly everything on it - but The Classic Christmas Album is a wonderful way for new fans to catch up.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Elvis Presley and the lavish 2-CD reissue of his 1971 LP, The Wonderful World Of Christmas. Rather than one disc neatly summarizing several, we have a single album exploded to more than twice its original length - including the legendary, unedited, eight-minute version of "Merry Christmas Baby." Sold exclusively through the King's official website.

And, let's give a shout-out to Stratocruiser, a rootsy, power pop band based in North Carolina. In case you didn't know, they're our kind of band. Why? Every season for seven consecutive years, Stratocruiser has released a free Christmas song for their fans - including this year's gift, "Anytown USA" (get yours here). But, for those of us who like to own our music in the actual (as opposed to virtual) world, Stratocruiser is offering an EP, Holiday Music, compiling all seven. Available only for a limited time.

Finally, it's worth noting that a lot of CD's have been reissued this year as CD-R's (which are manufactured literally after you order them). In most cases, this is just a cost-cutting move by the labels. The Booker T & The MG's classic, In The Christmas Spirit (1966), for instance, was reissued in 1991 and has never gone out-of-print. In a few cases, though, out-of-print rarities have been restored to circulation, including the legendary Christmas Party With Eddie G (1990) and Winter Fire & Snow (1995), a unique compilation of post-modern rockers. So, be on the lookout...

Christmas treeSingles

As mentioned above, some of the best stuff - singles especially - has been arriving closer and closer to December 25. Conversely, not many singles get released before Thanksgiving - at least, not many you'd care much about. Here's what I've found so far - but much more is on the way (alphabetical by artist).

  • I'm Not A Pervert by Austrian Death Machine
    Deja vu? My favorite bizarro moment from Christmas 2008 was "Jingle Bells" from the EP A Very Brutal Christmas by Austrian Death Machine, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-obsessed side project of Tim Lambesis, vocalist (let's not call him a singer) for San Diego metalcore band As I Lay Dying. This track from the new EP Jingle All The Way goes to the well again - arguably a mistake - but Lambesis gets away with it for two reasons. First, Arnold did open himself up to further ridicule with recent revelations of sexual misconduct. Second, it's just as funny as "Jingle Bells." And louder!
  • Christmas Alone by The Black Swans
    Voiced by singer Eve Searls (Bird & Flower), the Black Swans lament the annual family holiday ritual on their new single, a Bandcamp exclusive. Ready to crawl under a rock this holiday season? "My family gives me the blues," agrees Eve. Her solitary Christmas gives her respite from drunk uncles, Christmas sweaters, and "fruit cakes made of stone." Ouch!
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town by The BoDeans
    This is the group's third holiday track by my count, and it marks their first recording without founder Sammy Llanas. While it fails to capture what I love most about the band - earnest, harmony-laden, slightly askew roots rock - it's not bad at all. But, I miss Sammy.
  • Rock And Roll In Christmas by Billy Burnette
    Son of rockabilly legend Dorsey Burnette, Billy's waged a long, fitfully successful career in music - including a stint in Fleetwood Mac. This track trades on his rockabilly bona fides and ties into his recent album Rock N' Roll With It.
  • Thinking About You (This Christmas) by Paul Carrack
    This veteran vocalist and keyboardist has played and sung on some pretty big hits including "How Long" (Ace), "Tempted" (Squeeze), and "The Living Years" (Mike + The Mechanics). But, his holiday album, Winter Wonderland (reissued as A Soulful Christmas), was largely ignored back in 2005. This track is his first Christmas song since then, and it's pretty much more of the same - excellent, energetic, blue-eyed soul.
  • There's Still Christmas by Clarence Clemons
    Recorded in 1981 but never released, this sentimental ballad (and Clemons' oily baritone) just don't quite cut it. Still, God rest the Big Man's soul. The b-side - an instrumental version of "The Christmas Song" - is better.
  • Christmas Time This Year by Ry Cooder
    Not a single so much as a track from his recent LP Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down. Dark stuff about war set to a bouncy Tejano beat (courtesy Flaco Jimenez). Cooder cut an earlier Christmas track with a similar feel: "Christmas In Southgate" from My Name Is Buddy (2007).
  • Holiday (What Do You Want?) by Mike Doughty with Rosanne Cash
    Unlikely as it seems, the former singer for Soul Coughing - a fairly alternative band from the deepest recesses of the 90's - is joined by Johnny Cash's daughter on this song. It's just a track from his latest album, Yes And Also Yes, but it employs one of my favorite conventions - Christmas as romantic metaphor.
  • Merry Fucking Christmas (To Some Of You) by 85% Jesus
    I have no idea who these guys are (just try Googling them) but they are loud, fast, pissed off, and utterly self-righteous. Makes for the perfect anti-capitalist holiday screed. We are the 85%!
  • Christmas On My Mind by the Hep Stars
    The Hep Stars were a 60's Swedish beat group who were quite popular in their own country. They had a sort-of Beatles/Bee Gees vibe, and this single is from their 1967 holiday album, Jul Med Hep Stars (newly available for download). It's a nice little nugget - and one of the few on the LP sung in English - but, the most significant thing about the band is one of their members: ABBA's Benny Andersson, enjoying his first big break.
  • What A Christmas by Henry Gross
    Years ago, Gross gave us "Shannon," a Top 10 hit about a dead dog. He's not quite the one-hit wonder he's often portrayed as (if only because he's refused to go away), and this song shows why - an effective, tuneful ballad (with a screaming guitar solo). First appeared on To Kate: A Benefit For Kate's Sake (2005).
  • The Rebel Jesus by Ivan & Alyosha
    Jackson Brown wrote and recorded this thought-provoking ballad for the Chieftains' Bells of Dublin" project in 1991, and he recorded his own version for The Next Voice You Hear: The Best Of Jackson Browne (1997). This up-tempo version by a thought-provoking young group may be the best yet.
  • Santa Comes 'Round by J. Tex & The Volunteers
    A largely unknown Danish trio plays this cocktail country ode to Kris Kringle, with just the right the amount of twang to balance their Jordanaire-style polish. Available on CD, vinyl, and MP3.
  • Blue Christmas by Cyndi Lauper
  • Home for the Holidays by Cyndi Lauper & Norah Jones
    I haven't heard much about either of these tracks yet - despite the fact that they feature two of the most respected women in music. Over the years, Lauper has recorded a heap of Christmas music (Jones, not so much) including "A Christmas Duel" (2008), her masterful, malevolent duet with The Hives. Of these two songs, I prefer the jaunty "Home For The Holidays" to the mournful "Blue Christmas."
  • All I Really Want This Christmas by Little Jackie
    Hip hop singer Little Jackie sums up what so many of us feel this time of yea, facing down recession and global warming in the midst of celebration. What does she really want? "A sense of humor." Why? "To get me through this haze, this optimism puts makes me feel so crazed - in a daze, tipsy, in a Christmas maze like a rat in a Santa hat." Been there.
  • Could It Be Christmas? by Jon Lindsay
    When Ken Stringfellow of the sainted power pop band The Posies calls your music "weird, wonderful stuff," you get my attention. Hence, this track from budding Charlotte, North Carolina singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay. "She thinks I'm an Ebeneezer," he sings, "but I've got spirit of soul." I agree.
  • Hark The Herald Angels Sing by Los Straitjackets
    These masked instrumental marauders have already gone to the holiday well twice - 'Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets (2002) and Yuletide Beat (2009). Now they're back with a two-track single, which is also available on 7-inch vinyl through Yep Roc Records.
  • 'Tis The Season To Be Lonesome by Jacob Lyda
    I'd never heard of country newcomer Jacob Lyda until I stumbled across this single - attracted by its clever Chipmunks parody artwork. He's apparently kicked up a bit of a stir lately in Nashville ("I'm Doing Alright"), and this is the best new traditional country Christmas single I've heard all year.
  • Christmas Could Have Been Good by Mando Diao
    These Swedish alt-rockers remind me of mopey, melancholy bands like American Music Club, with a perverse twist of Fatima Mansions tossed in (how's that for a reference?). And it works, because those of you who haven't experienced the familial torture and regret they describe so vividly - count yourself lucky.
  • It's Christmas Time by Mr. President
    I don't really follow "world beat" music - I have enough to keep me busy - so this one caught me by surprise. Also known as Patchworks, this French/African funk specialist has created something that could arguably have been created in Detroit or Chicago around 1974. Get down with your bad self.
  • Christmas All Over This Town by The Plimptons
    This one's a freebie (plus two more songs) offered exclusively through their website. The band describes themselves as "a six-piece D.I.Y. pop band from Glasgow," and they sound a bit like an updated version of the Undertones' amiable punk rock.
  • It's Christmas by Polyphonic Spree
    Recorded back in 2003 during sessions for Together We're Heavy and performed annually at the band's Christmas extravaganza, "It's Christmas" was written by Tim DeLaughter, the leader of this Dallas-based alternative choir. The song also features his three-year-old son Oscar, who makes a cameo appearance as the song fades out. Sold only through www.goodrecordsrecordings.com.
  • Xmas Swagger by Princess Superstar
    The comely Princess is among the most unconventional (and oldest) acts in club music - a genre that trades upon unconventionality (and youth). This track isn't quite as out-there as "I Hope I Sell A Lot Of Records At Christmastime" (1999), but it's hardly predictable. It grooves harder, and it's got more than enough "naughty" to be very, very nice.
  • Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin' Nice) by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
    On the a-side of her holiday debut, modern blues chanteuse Grace Potter renders a suitably reverent reading of Charles Brown's soulful classic, "Please Come Home for Christmas." I prefer the rockin' b-side.
  • We've Still Got Christmas by Sand Aid
    Like "Band Aid" this group is comprised of English musicians who have joined together to record a benefit single - except you've never heard of any of them. Rather, this is a bunch of unsigned musicians from Blackpool, and the proceeds go to the BBC's Children in Need charity. Musically, "We've Still Got Christmas" is a little over the top, but more than half the money will go directly to the kids. As Sand Aid says, that's better than putting it in Simon Cowell's pocket.
  • What's So Special About Christmas? by Gary Schwartz
    Schwartz has served time behind the drums for two top-notch modern pop bands, The Jigsaw Seen and The United States of Existence. This is his solo debut, and it's cut from the same cloth - catchy, smart, and played with impressive skill.
  • Skank Til Christmas by The Selecter
    Back in the early 80's, The Selecter was perhaps the fourth best-known band in the "Two Tone" ska revival behind Madness, the Specials, and the (English) Beat. They didn't last very long at the time, but the soon came back in the 90's and have been at it ever since. In typical Selecter style, both "Skank" and its flipside, "A Christmas Fable," are packed with beats and fraught with conscience.
  • Home For Christmas by the Shanes
    This German "hard polka" group have been around since the early 1990's and look and sound as if they were been named in honor of Pogue singer Shane MacGowan. If Google is translating their website correctly, they appear to be shutting down the operation. A farewell tour was announced in 2010, so this might be their farewell recording. And a nice one, at that - melancholy, sentimental, nostalgic (and sing in English).
  • Sweet Christmas by Shonen Knife
    I dearly love this band - including their two previous Christmas singles, "Space Christmas"(1991) and "All I Want For Christmas" (1999). "Sweet Christmas" incorporates the girls' abiding obsession with candy and cake, and it's being issued by UK indie Damnably Records in a very limited run on white vinyl. But, it is available worldwide as an MP3 download.
  • This Christmas Time by Ben Reel
    Don't know much about this guy, but I sure like the song. He reminds me a little of Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) or Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), and his website claims that the song will also appear as a bonus track on an upcoming compilation.

In addition, the fine folks at Norton Records are releasing three holiday singles - their first since 2007, and the latest installments in a long, fascinating series of 7-inch, 45-rpm goodies. This year's crop includes "Who Likes Christmas Anyway?" by East LA's premier rockers, Luis & The Wildfires; "(Christmas At) Montségur" by everyone's favorite obnoxious Christian rock band, The Knights Of The New Crusade; and "It's Christmas Time" by The Qualities, a reissue of an impossibly rare 1955 doo wop single presented by jazz eccentric Sun Ra.

Other singles of note include "What I Want For Christmas" by R&B cutie Macy Gray; "Wishes" by arch indie duo The Bird & The Bee; "Xmas Swagger" by NYC's ultra-chic Princess Superstar; "She's All I Want For Christmas" by Lloyd, an up-and-coming R&B singer; "Mister Kringle's" by twee poppers Dressy Bessy; "Let Me Be Your Santa Claus," a bluesy effort by jazz group The Joe Hurt Trio; "Cheer Up, It's Christmas" by UK "grime" practitioner Wiley; "Christmas All Over The World," a surprisingly good freebie from country icon Tim McGraw; an underwhelming ballad called "Christmas Lights of Blue " from Detroit garage soul specialists The Come Ons; "I Wish To All (A Merry Christmas)" and "I'll Be Your Santa Claus" from soul legend Eddie Floyd (a free sneak peek at a planned full-length Christmas album next year); "Jingle Bells" by Steve Miller (his first holiday track since "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" for 1989's Christmas In The Northwest); and an oddly sentimental rendering of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" by punk stalwarts Fear, originally released as a 7-inch single for Black Friday b/w the much better (and louder) "Another Christmas Beer" from 2000 (also available).

Also, we have "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Christian hardcore band August Burns Red; "Merry Christmas Wherever You Are" by Tanya Tucker (originally recorded by George Strait in 1999); "Christmas Without You" by OneRepublic; "Nuttin' For Christmas" by Plain White T's; "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Cynthia Basinet; "Happy This Christmas" by former Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall; a newly released, 2006 live version of "Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)" by Pearl Jam, taken from their soundtrack album, PJ20; "The Little Drummer Boy" by Nicole Atkins; "Merry Christmas" by Bryan Adams; "Wishes" by The Bird & The Bee; "White Christmas" by Lady Gaga; "In The Morning" by Jack Johnson (excerpted from This Warm December, Vol. 2); "Shake It Up Christmas" by Natasha Bedingfield; "Love Is Christmas" by Sara Bareilles; "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" by Little Big Town; and a new edition of The Ravonettes' tremendous "Christmas Song" (2003).

Finally, the cherry on the sundae: "Santa's Going South" by Toby Keith & Sammy Hagar. Cunnilingus joke? Let's hope so. Otherwise you've just got a shameless promo by a country hack for a sleazy bar owned by a washed up rock singer. And, that'd just be sad. (Our friend Stubby points out, it even uses stock photography recycled from a bad reggae compilation.)

Christmas treeMy Christmas List

Anyway, the list below is a look at the new albums that I think will be of interest to people who love holiday music that rocks, rolls, swings, or twangs - meaning that it is neither a list of my recommendations nor a comprehensive list of new releases. Hope you find it useful. What have I missed? Drop me a line...

Randy Anthony

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Abbeygate, Karling Christmas With Karling 2011 image buy  
Allen, Geri A Child Is Born 2011 image buy  
Ames, Ed Christmas With Ed Ames/Christmas Is the Warmest Time of the Year
- 2-for 1 Real Gone CD reissue of RCA LP's from 1967 and 1970, respectively
2011 image buy  
Angry Snowmans What We Do Is Festive
- punk parody band trades off the Germs' LP "What We Do Is Secret"
2011 image buy  
Anka, Paul Songs Of December 2011 image buy  
Ann-Margret Ann-Margret's Christmas Carol Collection
- newly reissued as CD-R
2004 image buy  
Beach Boys Christmas Album
- 1964 LP remastered (again), original 12 tracks
2011 image buy review
Bennett, Tony The Classic Christmas Album
- compiled from recordings 1968-2008 including one unreleased track
2011 image buy review
Bieber, Justin Under The Mistletoe
- also available in deluxe edition
2011 image buy  
Black Label Society Glorious Christmas Songs That Will Make Your Black Label Heart Feel Good (EP)
- featuring former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde
2011 image buy  
Bowling For Soup Merry Flippin' Christmas Vols. 1 & 2
- expanded version of 2010 release
2011 image buy  
BublÉ, Michael Christmas
- also available in deluxe edition
2011 image buy  
Bush, Kate 50 Words For Snow
- not a formal Christmas album, but a themed album about winter
2011 image buy  
Chicago Chicago XXXIII - O Christmas Three 2011 image buy  
Chipmunks Christmas With The Chipmunks
- same track listing, but slightly different cover than 2010 edition
2011 image buy  
Cole, Nat King Christmas With Nat King Cole
- 24-track Delta UK CD compiling Capitol recordings
2011 image buy review
Collins, Dorothy Won't You Spend Christmas With Me
- former singer for bandleader Raymond Scott and featured vocalist on "Your Hit Parade"; Everest LP reissued on MP3 by Essential Music Group in 2010; newly available on CD-R
1958 image buy  
Connick, Harry Music From "The Happy Elf"
- children's story inspired by his music
2011 image buy  
Continentals Best Rockin' Christmas of Them All
- MP3 download only, though their website promises a CD...
2011 image buy  
Crow, Sheryl Home For Christmas
- MP3 download edition of 2010 CD reissue with new cover and two bonus tracks
2010 image buy  
Crowder, David Band Oh For Joy 2011 image buy  
Dana, Vic Little Altar Boy & Other Christmas Favorites
- Dolton LP never reissued on CD; reissued as MP3 download in 2011
1967 image buy  
Darin, Bobby Songs of Christmas
- reissue of "25th Day of December" (1962)
2011 image buy review
Darin, Bobby Christmas With Bobby Darin
- 20-track Delta UK CD combines "25th Day of December" (1962) plus non-Christmas hits
2011 image buy review
Deadbeat Poets A Deadbeat Christmas (EP) 2011 image buy  
Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler This Is Christmas
- London-based singer-songwriter Emma-Lee Moss with member of English band Ash
2011 image buy  
Ginuwine A Ginuwine Christmas 2011 image buy  
Grant, Amy Christmas Album / Christmas to Remember
- 2-for-1 reissue of albums from 1983 and 1999, respectively
2011 image buy  
Grip Weeds Under the Influence of Christmas 2011 image buy  
Guaraldi, Vince The Charlie Brown Collection
- 4-CD boxed set including "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and
2011 image buy review
Hawk Nelson Christmas (EP) 2011 image buy  
Hep Stars Jul Med Hep Stars
- popular 60's Swedish pop group; best known elsewhere as the band that gave ABBA's Benny Andersson his first big break; 2008 CD reissue of 1967 LP, newly available as MP3 download
2011 image buy  
Holy Grail Seasons Bleedings (EP)
- 4-track EP contains only one bona fide Christmas song; 2-track vinyl available from Prosthetic Records
2011 image buy  
James, Sonny My Christmas Dream
- Capitol LP never reissued on CD; newly available as MP3 download
1966 image buy  
Jars Of Clay More Christmas Songs (EP) 2011 image buy  
Jigsaw Seen Winterland
- concept album about the season, including a few Christmas songs
2011 image buy  
Keb Mo Spirit Of The Holiday (EP) 2011 image buy  
King, Carole A Holiday Carole
- first-ever Christmas album from celebrated singer/songwriter; Amazon exclusive MP3 edition has four extra tracks
2011 image buy  
Killers The (RED) Christmas EP
- compiles five year of singles plus new track; an iTunes exclusive
2011 image buy  
Kostelanetz, Andre Wonderland Of Christmas
- easy listening classic finally on CD and MP3
2011 image buy  
Kutless This Is Christmas 2011 image buy  
LaBelle, Patti & The Bluebelles Sleigh Bells, Jingle Bells & Bluebelles
- Brookside reissue of Newtown LP above with new cover; originally issued as MP3 in 2007, now available as CD-R
1963 image buy review
Legrand, Michel Noel! Noel!! Noel!!!
- arranged and conducted by Legrand with guest vocalists including (believe it or not) Iggy Pop
2011 image buy  
Little River Band A Little River Band Christmas
- reissue of "We Call It Christmas" (2007) with new title and cover plus two bonus tracks
2011 image buy  
Lovett, Lyle Songs For The Season (EP) 2011 image buy  
Mann, Johnny Singers We Wish You A Merry Christmas
- Liberty LP never reissued on CD; reissued as MP3 download in 2011
1967 image buy  
Marsalis, Ellis New Orleans Christmas Carol
- also available in deluxe MP3 edition (two extra tracks) and digital music card edition (two extra tracks plus video)
2011 image buy  
Martin, Dean Winter Dreams
-24-track Delta UK CD combines two Capitol LP's, "A Winter Romance" and "Sleep Warm"
2011 image buy review
Martin, Dean My Kind Of Christmas
- new edition of 2009, 14-track compilation on Hip-O Records
2011 image buy review
Marx, Richard The Christmas EP 2011 image buy  
McCready, Heather Christmas The Way I Hear It
- Texas singer/songwriter
2011 image buy  
McKeown, Erin Fuck That! Erin McKeown's Anti-Holiday Album 2011 image buy  
My Morning Jacket iTunes Session
- exclusive digital EP
2011 image buy  
O'Connor, Mark Appalachian Christmas
- numerous guests Allison Krauss, James Taylor, and Yo Yo Ma
2011 image buy  
Alexander O'Neal My Gift To You
- remastered and reissued by Tabu
1988 image buy  
Owens, Buck Merry Christmas From Buck & Susan
- with singer Susan Raye; reissued on CD by Rockbeat Records (2011)
1971 image buy  
Paul, Les & Mary Ford Christmas Cheer!
- 7-inch, 4-song Capitol EP; reissued as MP3 download with bonus tracks in 2011
1955 image buy  
Peters, Vanessa The Christmas We Hoped For 2011 image buy  
Philp, Dave The Last Noel
- previously released as by The Automatics (2007)
2011 image buy  
Pink Martini Joy to The World, Part 2
- vinyl serialization of popular 2010 CD; part one released 2010, part three to be released next year
2011 image buy  
Presley, Elvis The Wonderful World Of Christmas
- special edition with many bonus tracks sold exclusively through official website
1971 image buy review
Roberts, Julie Who Needs Mistletoe 2011 image buy  
Romeo's Fault If Christmas Trees Were Ice Cream Cones 2011 image buy  
Rose, David The David Rose Christmas Album
- Capitol LP first reissued on CD by Real Gone Music (2011)
1968 image buy  
Rusby, Kate While Mortals Sleep 2011 image buy  
Rhys, Gruff Atheist Xmas EP
- former member of Super Furry Animals
2011 image buy  
She & Him A Very She & Him Christmas
- actress Zooey Deschanel and singer/songwriter M. Ward
2011 image buy  
Simpson, Red Trucker's Christmas
- newly available as MP3 download
1973 image buy  
Sinatra, Frank A Jolly Christmas
- yet another remastered version of 1957 classic; original artwork, same tracks as 2007 edition
2011 image buy review
Skaggs, Ricky Skaggs Family Christmas 2 2011 image buy  
Smalltown Poets Christmas 2011 image buy  
Smith & Burrows Funny Looking Angels
- Tom Smith (Editors) and Andy Burrows (Razorlight, I Am Arrows)
2011 image buy  
Standring, Chris & Shorr, Kathrin Send Me Some Snow 2011 image buy  
Stratocruiser Holiday Music (EP)
- compiles seven years worth of Christmas singles
2011 image buy  
Sunturns Christmas 2011 image buy  
TobyMac Christmas In Diverse City
- former member of Christian rap group DC Talk
2011 image buy  
Vara-Tones Have Yourself A "Vara" Merry Christmas
- vintage 60's instrumental surf band who re-formed in the 1990's
2011 image buy  
Wakely, Jimmy An Old Fashioned Christmas
- reissued as MP3 in 2010, newly available as CD-R
1975 image buy  
  Winter Wonderland
- same as above with different title and artwork; newly available as CD-R
2010 image buy  
Weatherstar Christmas Makes the Heart Grow Fonder 2011 image buy  
Weiland, Scott Most Wonderful Time of the Year
- oddly traditional effort from Stone Temple Pilots vocalist; originally scheduled for 2010
2011 image buy  
Yule Logs You Ruined Christmas 2011 image buy  
Zorn, John A Dreamer's Christmas 2011 image buy  
soundtrack Elf: The Musical
- Broadway play based on 2003 Will Farrell movie
2011 image buy  
soundtrack Glee: The Christmas Album 2 2011 image buy  
soundtrack Merry Christmas From Sesame Street
- 1975 LP now available as CD-R and MP3
2011 image buy  
soundtrack Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas
- expanded edition with new artwork
2006 image buy  
soundtrack Seasons Greetings: A Jersey Boys Christmas
- companion to the popular musical about the Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons who recorded a Christmas album called "Seasons Greetings" in 1962 (later reissued as Christmas Album)
2011 image buy  
soundtrack A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
- part of a series of stoner comedies
2011 image buy  
various artists An Asian Man Christmas (EP)
- California indie label's brief MP3 compilation
2011 image buy  
various artists Best Of Christmas
- Capitol 2-LP set reissued as CD in 1991 and MP3 download in 2011
1968 image buy  
various artists Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits
- rare tracks from two legendary Philadelphia labels finally available on CD through Real Gone Music
2011 image buy  
various artists Candy Cane EP
- 4-track punk rock Christmas party; multi-colored vinyl available from Veritas Vinyl
2011 image buy  
various artists Cashing In On Christmas Vol. 3
- hardcore punk & oi from Philadelphia indie label Black Hole; available as 12-inch LP plus CD through Interpunk or as MP3 download through Amazon
2011 image buy  
various artists A Change For The Holidays: A Hip Christmas Vol. 2
- lounge, jive, and assorted ephemera from the Essential Music Group
2011 image buy  
various artists The Christmas Chronicles Vol. 1
- UK punk compilation from Pierpoint Records in support of the Teenage Leukemia Trust
2011 image buy  
various artists Christmas From The Blue Note
- from Half Note Records, the label founded by the legendary Greenwich Village jazz club; arrangements by Rich Shemaria feature McCoy Tyner, Lenny Pickett, Bela Fleck, and others
2011 image buy  
various artists Christmas Kisses: Christmas Classics From Capitol's Early Years
- newly available as MP3 download
1990 image buy review
various artists Cool Yule (Castle)
- UK 20-track CD collection of vintage jazz, swing, and pop newly reissued as MP3 download
2003 image buy  
various artists Epitome Of Cool At Christmas
- companion to 2-CD set of lounge classics from Delta UK
2011 image buy  
various artists Garage Band Christmas Vol. 3
- veterans of Human Beinz and others make merry; part of an ongoing series on Collectables Records
2011 image buy  
various artists Happy Holidays: Warm & Wonderful Christmas Favorites
- newly available as MP3 download
1993 image buy review
various artists Hi-Fi Christmas Party Vol. 3
- more power pop from Vandalay Industries; benefit for Blood Center in Milwaukee
2011 image buy  
various artists Holiday HAAM Jam Vol. 1
- benefit for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians
2011 image buy  
various artists Home For The Holidays (Om) Vol. 2
- above two jazzy, electronic 'chillout' music from OM Records
2011 image buy  
various artists Kings Of Christmas
- Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra death match
2011 image buy  
various artists Let It Snow! Cuddly Christmas Classics From Capitol
- newly available as MP3 download
1992 image buy review
various artists Mark Lamarr's Rhythm & Blues Christmas
- BBC personality presents 25 vintage classics; originally issued 2005
2011 image buy  
various artists Merry Christmas Baby: Romance & Reindeer From Capitol Records
- newly available as MP3 download
1991 image buy review
various artists My Favorite Gifts
- Americana from North Carolina-based Ramseur Records; proceeds benefit the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation; also available as MP3 download
2011 image buy  
various artists Now That's What I Call Christmas! 4: The Carol Edition
- same as original 2010 edition but with printed lyrics for popular carols; part of the ongoing Now That's What I Call Music series
2011 image buy  
various artists Power Chords, Harmonies, and Mistletoe
- California-based Twist Records compiles power pop from around the world
2011 image buy  
various artists Pravda's Rockin' Christmas Tunes
- venerable indie presents mixed bag including New Duncan Imperials; originally issued as MP3 download, available as CD-R as of 2011
2009 image buy  
various artists Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
- alternative Christian rock from Tooth & Nail and BEC Recordings
2011 image buy  
various artists Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party
- rare rhythm & blues from German label Tramp Records; available as MP3 in America, CD available directly from the label or from Amazon Deutsche
2011 image buy  
various artists Sweethearts & Stolen Christmas Kisses 2
- above two part of series of nostalgic series of 2-CD sets from UK division of Delta
2011 image buy  
various artists This Warm December: Brushfire's Holiday Vol. 2
- more sensitive alternative rock from Jack Johnson and cohorts
2011 image buy  
various artists 'Tis The Season To Be Fearless
- alternative rock from California indie
2011 image buy  
various artists We Wish You A Metal Xmas... And A Headbanging New Year
- new edition of 2008 collection by assorted aging rockers; same tracks as 2-CD special edition (2010) but consolidated onto one disc
2011 image buy  

 

Previous Years. We've been compiling this "what's new?" list for awhile, going back to 2004 (Chris Isaak, Dwight Twilley), 2005 (Diana Krall, Brian Setzer), 2006 (Aimee Mann, Bootsy Collins), 2007 (Smithereens, Darlene Love), 2008 (Weezer, Pretenders), 2009 (Bob Dylan, Los Straitjackets), and 2010 (James Brown, Shelby Lynne). Christmas Tree

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