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A Very Special Christmas, various artists (A&M)

If there's anything better than buying rock 'n roll Christmas records, it's knowing that at least part of the money you're spending will benefit a good cause, in this case the Special Olympics. All of the five albums released since 1987 have their moments, though I have to say I still prefer the first one as a listening experience. For one thing, it has a strong connection to the Phil Spector album, with U2's cover of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and the Pointer Sisters' rendition of Phil's arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Jon Bon Jovi is here with "Back Door Santa" and Run DMC perform "Christmas in Hollis," The Pretenders do a classy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Bruce Springsteen donates his version of "Merry Christmas Baby." Madonna acquits herself well on Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and John Cougar Mellencamp has an interesting take on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Whitney Houston is here to present the set's diva moment on "Do You Hear What I Hear." Others on the initial outing include Eurythmics, Sting, Alison Moyet, Stevie Nicks, Bryan Adams and Bob Seger. Update: A DVD out for 2007 brings us a collection of selected videos and live performances from the entire Special Christmas series. Update again: For 2008, there's a three-disc package offering highlights from the whole series of albums.

A Very Special Christmas 2, various artists (A&M)

Five years passed before the Special Olympics tried to surpass their initial achievement with this album. They didn't, actually, but it wasn't for lack of trying, given the artist roster. Still, we could have done without sappy old Debbie Gibson, Luther Vandross and Michael Bolton, and Randy Travis' "Jingle Bell Rock" was mainly a sop to the country market. Still, we do have to give props to the duets: Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown on his classic "Merry Christmas Baby" and even Cyndi Lauper with Frank Sinatra on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Then we have Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with "Christmas All Over Again, Paul Young in a fine version of Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me" and Jon Bon Jovi and Run DMC offering new performances, the former's "Please Come Home For Christmas" being the subject of an over-shown video with Cindy Crawford. Aretha Franklin provides the diva moment with "O Christmas Tree," while Sinead O'Connor gives us a non-Christmas Dylan song, "I Believe In You." Also on hand are Extreme, Nancy and Ann Wilson, Boys II Men, Tevin Campbell, Vanessa Williams and Wilson Phillips.

A Very Special Christmas 3, various artists (A&M)

With two well-received predecessors already in the racks, most listeners will want to know who's on it and how it compares to the other two. Answering the second question first, it's not quite as good as 1 but it's better than 2. The biggest weakness this collection has from the rock 'n roll standpoint is that most of the artists are a bit too reverent for their own good; everyone's too much on their best behavior this year. No Doubt wins the rockingest cut in a walk with "Oi To the World" against little competition. Still, there's plenty to like here. Smashing Pumpkins, Sheryl Crow and Blues Traveler turn in good performances, characteristic of their regular releases but not too solemn. Natalie Merchant breaks out with a gospelly "Children Go Where I Send Thee" and Sting's "I Saw Three Ships" is serious but sprightly. An all-star cast of rap stars take on Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and blues prodigy Jonny Lang tears into "Santa Claus is Back in Town." Dave Matthews and Mary J. Blige perform original tunes, and the remaining artists, Steve Winwood, Tracy Chapman, Patti Smith, Chris Cornell and Enya all fall on the too-serious side of the ledger with their performances of Christmas standards. Overall, though, this is a worthwhile album.

A Very Special Christmas Live From Washington, D.C., various artists (A&M)

Taken from a White House concert at Christmas 1998, this was an easy way to get another album in the marketplace to benefit the Special Olympics. While some of these performances are reprises from the first three Special Christmas albums (Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," Jon Bon Jovi's "Please Come Home for Christmas," Tracy Chapman's "O Holy Night," Vanessa Williams' "What Child Is This"), there are a few original moments on this one, most of which fall under the Sheryl and Eric show that dominated 1998's concert scene. Sheryl Crow duets with Mary J. Blige on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and with Eric Clapton on "Merry Christmas Baby," the Bruce Springsteen arrangement. Eric then solos on "Christmas Tears," duets with John Popper on Canned Heat's "Christmas Blues" and with Tracy Chapman on "Give Me One Reason," her non-Christmas hit. Bon Jovi returns with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home,)" sounding suspiciously like Bono from the first Special Christmas album. The whole cast then gets together on the Phil Spector version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Say, there's an awful lot of blues on the set list for a White House concert; that probably won't happen again any time soon.

A Very Special Christmas 5, various artists (A&M)

The franchise continued in 2001, keeping a number of previous participants and adding a selection of modern artists to keep things up to date. Like Volume 4, most of the tunes were taken from a live concert in 2000 at the White House. Macy Gray kicks things off with her version of "This Christmas," Wyclef Jean mixes it up by rapping over Stevie Wonder's "Merry Christmas Baby" and taking the lead on a medley of "Little Drummer Boy/Hot Hot Hot" (really!) Jon Bon Jovi does the Elvis version of "Blue Christmas," Stevie Nicks reprises her "Silent Night" from Volume 1, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers put a holiday spin on "Little Red Rooster" and Sheryl Crow joins the Heartbreakers for "Run Run Rudolph." A highlight, for me anyway, is Powder's version of "Christmas Don't Be Late, (The Chipmunk Song)"; see, Vonda Shepard, you had dibs and you let it slip away. SR-71 does Billy Squier's "Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You" and Eve 6 do "First Noel," B.B. King and John Popper trade riffs on "Back Door Santa" and Darlene Love does a note-perfect version of her "White Christmas" from the Spector album. Dido is on here too with her own "Christmas Day" from the Nettwerk album. Update: Another addition to the series was A Very Special Acoustic Christmas in 2003, but as it was made with all country and bluegrass artists I took a pass on it.

Hi-Fi Christmas Party, Vol. 2, various artists (Vandalay)

We gave Vol. 1 a strong recommendation when it rolled out a few years ago, so we had high hopes for this one. (Disclosure: So high we co-sponsored this 2006 release.) Like the last one, sales of this alt-pop Christmas CD raise money for research into Von Willebrand's disease. Dan Pavelich of the Bradburys produces again, gathering up 17 fresh looks at the holiday, nearly all originals except for young Mari Pavelich's brief "Up on the Housetop," the Brothers Figaro Orchestra's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in a New Vaudeville Band vein, and Husky Team's instrumental of "Auld Lang Syne," brought to us by way of Booker T. and the MGs. The Elvis Brothers kick off with "Rock-a-Billy Christmas," no description needed, The Spongetones' "Christmas Boy" gets brushed off for this compilation, and Joey Molland & the Echo Boys contribute "King of Kings" — I'm assuming that's Badfinger's Joey Molland we're talking about here. Lisa Mychols returns from the previous disc with Wondermints in tow for another Spector-esque classic, "Lost Winter's Dream," in which she sounds a bit like Lesley Gore. Other top cuts include The Bradburys' "A Christmas Wish," the Gripweeds' "Christmas, Bring Us," Rob Paravonian's "We're Breaking Up For the Holidays," Sketch Middle's "Turtlenecks & Eggnog," Ed James' "Will You Marry Me (On Christmas Day)?" and Marti Jones' quirky "Snow," written and orchestrated by Don Dixon. Great album, good cause, what are you waiting for?

Hi-Fi Christmas Party, various artists (Vandalay)

Yes, there's a "Seinfeld" fan behind this charity compilation (note record label's name), released in 2002 and still available this year. Proceeds from this CD are being used to fund research into Von Willibrand's disease, a rare condition that prevents blood clotting. The many alternative rock and pop artists involved here rushed to provide their tunes on the request of producer Dan Pavelich, whose daughter has a manageable case of the disease. Most are original tunes except for Mari Pavelich's "The Chubby Little Snowman," the Spongetones' "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" and the Lolas' "Little Drummer Boy." On hand are the Jellybricks with "We'll Be Together," Jim Babjak's Buzzed Meg with "Christmas Morning" from their EP, alt-pop producer Don Dixon with "Christmas Is Saturday," Andrea Perry's "Fat Aunt Bet," and Lisa Mychols' Spector homage on "Listen to the Bells Ring," with the help of Brian Wilson road keyboardist Darian Sahanaja. Ted Ansani cocktails things up with "The Kriss Kringle Jingle," Rob P. and the Qs offer "It's Christmas and I'm Going Home," an uptempo one-man-band performance except for drums, Cool King Chris exhorts us to raise our glasses in a holiday toast with "High Glass Jingle," Bill Lloyd gives us a witty original take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas," October Elsewhere sings about "Christmas Every Day" and they mean it literally. Other acts include Glowfriends, Phil Angotti, John McMullan, Dom Mariani, Jeremy, and The Bradburys. All told, an excellent alt-pop holiday album.

A King Family Christmas, various artists (GarageLand)

I kind of scratched my head at someone who wrote to me asking about King Family Christmas music, since the old-line family chorale approach doesn't loom large at Mistletunes. Then I received this collection. So if my correspondent was referring to this collection, apologies. This compilation from Hoboken, N.J.-area bands, led by members of Better Off Dead, is intended to raise money for displaced and impoverished musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, and these folks are a bluesy bunch of rockers. The recording quality is good, the performances are spontaneous (and a bit of a surprise to the live audiences on a hot August night). Though you can tell these are hometown players rather than international stars, this is quite listenable all at once. Highlights include Big Ed Sullivan's extended take on "Merry Christmas Baby," Christine Santelli's original "Christmastime," Dave Gross and Sean Daly's "Django Bells," which of course is "Jingle Bells" as Django Reinhart might have done it, Better Off Dead's take on "All I Got For Christmas Was Drunk" and their original "Alcoholiday" (sense a trend with this band?), Galea and Popa Chubby's "Blue Christmas" shuffle, Mike Frensley's original "Winter Dreams," and the Cramps-like "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by The Slippery Chickens. A solo slide guitar version of "Little Drummer Boy" by Joe Taino is pretty unexpected, too. The rest is good boozy fun. Update: Free downloads from Better Off Dead to promote this now.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, various artists (WSTW-FM)

Billed as the Hometown Heroes in honor of the WSTW-FM radio show that plays local artists, this is the second outing from an ad hoc group of Wilmington, Del.-Philly suburban area bands and singers on behalf of Toys For Tots. Last time around the whole cast gathered for a Band Aid cover, and this time they doubled up with "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" with a modern crunchy percussion track, returning later in the CD for a hard-rock version of the Jackie DeShannon hit "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," which I guess became a Christmas song when Annie Lennox and Al Green dueted it for the Bill Murray flick "Scrooged." Also like the last time, a few originals sneak in among the covers, among them Gina Degnars' "With Light and Love," a piano ballad with just a hint of Tori Amos; Mary Arden Collins sings the folky "Christmas Dream," a finger-picked lilt about the guy she's missing; the also-folky "I Think I've Been Good This Year" by Erik Mitchell; Lori Citro brings us the waltz "Perpetually 25," about people who don't grow up at the same rate; and Otisunk performs the garage-rock "Shopping Wonderland (Egg Nog's Revenge)," with buried lyrics about the hell of Christmas shopping. Among the covers, notice Yes Virginia's faithful "I Believe in Father Christmas," The Atumn Affair's U2-ish "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that closes the CD, and Lights Out's doo-wopped "Silver Bells." There's a bit of jazz on here as well, with Jabari's "Little Drummer Boy" and a fusion-sounding take on "Santa Baby" by Laura Cheadle. Good value for money if you know anyone in Delaware.

The Perfect Christmas: Holiday Music 2006, various artists (Rhino/Universal)

I figure it never hurts to let folks know when big chain stores do Christmas comps. This one is from Bath & Body Works for the benefit of Make A Wish, and it’s a double-disc set for $10. No great surprises here, but there's only a minimum of country artists and a few token classics like Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day. Stuff it has that I don't include the Pussycat Dolls' version of "Santa Baby," which is pretty good, faithful to the Eartha Kitt original; India.Arie and Stevie Wonder's "The Christmas Song" duet; Gia Farrell's "Christmas Everyday," not the Smokey Robinson tune but not bad, very modern-Spectorish; the very catchy "My Girlfriend (Forgot Me This Christmas)" by Click Five; and Jason Mraz' "Winter Wonderland." Also aboard are Barenaked Ladies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Shemekia Copeland, Jimmy Eat World, Mary J. Blige, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Chris Isaak, The Pretenders, the Ramones, Something Corporate, and more.

From All of Us, various artists (

I guess it's a sign of my provincial nature that I'm so easily impressed when somebody sends me a disc from some far-flung non-U.S. locale. This year's winner of the farthest submission prize is Sweden, courtesy of the baker's dozen of recording artists who created this disc, not to mention producers Larry Forsberg and Erik Süss. It's a benefit album to raise money to support the homeless in Gävle, and it's a bit of a melange of progressive and classic rock, pop and folk. It kicks off with the progressive-sounding "It's Chrismas" from Ariel Kill Him, swings into Andy Juveson's poppier "Winter Rain" and the organ-driven "One Stop Past My Destination" from Bootcut and Anna Frank. Petra Rydgren goes to the torch song well with "Blue December," Monastir brings in the hard rock with "December Depression," and Katyusha takes the antique folk approach with "Bert Mabbit's Eyes." A Friend of Mine tries a sort of Waitresses-like approach with "Gloria," talking about hooking up while choruses and orchestras riff in the background. Myles With Feet has that sort of post-hippy 70s vibe going in "There Ain't No Santa Claus." My favorite is Liondub's reggae take on the Rudolph story, "Rudie, Come Home." A little much all at once but a fair number of good mix disc cuts. Update: By the way, those of you who labor under the notion that the Swedes are dour folks because of all that light deprivation should check out this story about the good folks who live in Gävle.

From All of Us Too: Merry Christmas, various artists (

Our friends from Gävle, Sweden, who brought us From All of Us last year, are back with another effort from local musicians to benefit homeless services in 2007. This year they've got a MySpace page, too, from whence this can be ordered. This is a fairly eclectic sampling of rock styles, from the piano ballad "This Sacred Night by Stefan Bjorling to the "American Idol"-friendly "Where R U? Come Christmas" by Emile, an r'nb handclapper. In between are the electro-pop ballad "Christmas Fire" by The Deertracks, Geemo's power pop jangler "Christmas Day," Bob & the Pop's quasi-music hall "Christmas Carol," La Corriente's breathy lament "Christmas in Denial," Chican's profane folk-pop "Scum and Loitering," Derry Quay's semi-Celtic "Deviest Molly," The Ballrom Bettys' punky "Homemade X-Mas Cards," and topping it all off is the epic progressive rock story of "And Terry Takes the Christmas Route" by Beardfish, which no doubt has Jack Black green with envy. Another great job by the guys from Gävle.

Christmas in the Northwest 9, various artists (Children's Music Fund)

This album, and its eight predecessors, raise money for the benefit of children's hospitals in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Bend, OR. As you might guess, it's a well-organized effort with sponsorships from a dozen radio stations and several community businesses and institutions. This isn't a rock-out kind of album, but it's very contemporary in an AAA-Americana kind of way. The Coats' "Deck the Halls" is a Rockapella sort of approach, only with instruments; RyeHollow's "I Saw Three Ships" is a slow rocker; "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Ian McFeron is a country polka; and Late Tuesday's "Up On the Housetop" might remind you of Cowboy Junkies. Horror of horrors, Kenny G turns up here with "Winter Wonderland." Katie Freeze writes two originals for this disc, "How Many Angels" by Catherine Hessler and "Baby in a Manger" by The Hope, both ballads. Doxology goes funky on "My Favorite Things" and Brenda White wraps up with yet another ballad, the title song. Good music for a good cause.

Christmas in the Northwest 10, various artists (Children's Music Fund)

Time for the 2007 edition of this Seattle-based tradition to raise money for children's hospitals in Seattle, Portland and Bend, Ore. This is far more pop-oriented than most of what you see on this site, in various flavors ranging from jazz-flavored through the kids' choir genre, with a fair number of acoustic folk-pop items reaching ever slightly toward country. Some rock-oriented things sneak in like King of Hawaii's surf-guitar "Greensleeves," Marika's "Christmas Came Early" and "I Wanna Be Blake" by WannaBe Idolz, which is a literal paen to being an "American Idol," namechecking not only Blake but Sanjaya. Stacy Errico provides a soulful "Blessed in the Northwest" that essentially serves as this collection's near-title song, though a few others give the Northwest shout-out as well. For the most part, the artists here get credit for doing mainly original tunes, and it's a good cause, but again, it's a far more pop than rock collection.

A Holiday Feast: Creme de la Creme, various artists (Hungry For Music)

For a number of years now, Hungry For Music has been compiling discs of performances by Washington, D.C.-region acts to raise money for keeping music in schools for young people. It's a great cause, more so because they've compiled eight volumes of nothing but Christmas music. Because I just caught up to them this year, I pulled down this two-disc set of highlights from the first seven compiled in 2003. Although they're regional acts, you might have heard of at least a few of them, folks like The Kennedys, Bill Kirchen, Eva Cassidy and Eddie From Ohio for starters. There's a pretty good spread of genres, although roots music predominates -- blues, gospel, country, western swing and folk -- but there's a fair amount of rock, and the first disc kicks off with reggae from Junk Yard Saints, "Christmas Is Everyday." Original tunes are a big part of this collection too. Gotta flag 52 Pickup's "Christmas Hot Rod Race," a near-swipe of Commander Cody's "Hot Rod Lincoln," the rocked-out "Come On Santa" from The Graverobbers and "Christmas Really Rocks" by Rhodes Tavern Troubadours, the country lament "Who Gets the Fruitcake This Year" from Honky Tonk Confidential, Squeeze Bayou's accordion-led stomper of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Reverb's doo-wop "Jingle Bells," Georgia Ray's "Dear Mr. Santa," and Monsters From the Surf's cover of the Sonics' "Santa Claus." Good cause, great music -- and you might find it worthwhile to paw through the whole collection, which also includes a series of baseball-themed CDs and a few other compilations.

Holiday Heart, various artists (Volunteer)

This is the sequel to Ho Ho Hospice, the double-disc set of a few seasons back that compiled a couple holidays' worth of modern original rock and pop Christmas songs into a single convenient package. Like its predecessor, Holiday Heart benefits the St. Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center in New Jersey, a nonprofit hospice, and it too is a 2-CD set. And like before, you'll probably find the 44 tunes here a melange of tunes you might have heard before with others being, at the very least, new to you. Some that are new to me, and pleasant surprises too, include "Why Christmas (The Longest Day of the Year)" by Paula Kelley, "Merry Christmas I Love You" by Mark Bacino, "12 Days" by the Bitter Hearts, "Christmas Lights" by the Montgomery Cliffs, "It Must Be Christmas" by the Renovators, "So Glad It's Christmas" by Dan Pavelich and the Brazilian vibe of Project: Pimento's "That's Christmas." Some tunes previously mentioned on this site include those by Catherine Harrington, Mary Karlzen, Ron Sexsmith and Huffamoose. I think I detect a mellower vibe on this collection, with a bit more country/folk and plain old pop and a little less rock. Still, this is a great bargain and you're sure to find some favorites on it. Update: Now offered at a bargain price; see here.

Ho Ho Ho Spice, various artists (Volunteer)

This benefit for the Hospice Awareness and Benefit Project, organized by the St. Barnabas Health Care System of Millburn, N.J., not only supports a really good cause, but it's the absolute bar-none deal of the century if you like alternative rock and Christmas music. I've got tons of the songs on this 2-CD collection and yet there's a ton more I don't have. Let me just rattle off some of the artists on this: Chris Stamey and the dBs, Stewart Copeland of the Police, NRBQ, 5 Chinese Brothers, Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx, Wednesday Week, Brave Combo, the Cucumbers, Jim Babjak's Buzzed Meg, Flat Duo Jets, Better Than Ezra -- that should give you an idea, and that's only about a quarter of the cuts on this album, which lists for $16 if you can find it. Update: Try $5 for this and the above mentioned Holiday Heart. See What's New for details.

Viva Noel: A Q Division Christmas, various artists (Q Division)

This benefit compilation from 1999 features a bunch of Boston-area alt-rock-folk acts with their take on the holiday in service of the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, which provides music education programs in Massachusetts schools in memory of the late singer/2-string bassist of the band Morphine. Jules Verdone gets off the only full original here, "Little Christmas," a 6/8 ballad with a downtempo outlook. Two versions of "The Christmas Song" appear, Jen Trynin's being studiously lo-fi in approach while Aimee Mann gives it the full Christmas TV special approach. Merrie Amsterburg uses mandolins to approach the sound of a harp on her version of "2000 Miles" and The Gentlemen do a straight Elvis cover of "Blue Christmas." "Let it Snow" by The Sex Foxes and Senor Happy's "Christmas Time is Here" are old-school lounge music. Brian Stevens medleys "The Christmas Waltz" with his own "Tinsel," sounding like a John Lennon outtake from the third Beatles Anthology. The Sheila Divine puts a folk-rock sheen on "O Holy Night" and the Gravel rock out "Marshmallow World." The Fly Seville does a bluesy take on "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and The Sterlings do a faithful cover of "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me." A fun "Mele Kalikimaka" by The Gravy wraps up the CD, complete with Spike Jones touches.

Maybe This Christmas Tree, various artists (Nettwerk)

The third in the "Maybe" series, this 2004 Nettwerk compilation benefits Toys for Tots. It gets off to a fine start with the Polyphonic Spree, whose 24-person lineup is perfectly suited to a cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." The Raveonettes contribute their own "The Christmas Song," not the Mel Torme chestnut, a garage-punk drone that was briefly offered as a single last year. Death Cab for Cutie take on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" from the Phil Spector album, sounding a little punch-drunk but otherwise in fine fettle. Belasana contribute their own lost-love lament "Bittersweet Eve," Jars of Clay do a bucolic cover of "Christmas For Cowboys," and Lisa Loeb's "Jingle Bells" makes another appearance here. Pilate covers "Fairytale of New York," somewhat less gritty than the Pogues' version and Royal Crown Revue recruits Vicky Tafoya for a typical take on the lounge-jazz standard "Baby It's Cold Outside." Copeland does the stately rock ballad version of "Do You Hear What I Hear," throwing in a little beat-box and some vocorder effects. Ivy's "Christmas Time Is Here" plays around too much with the old surface noise gag, though the arrangement is interesting, and "Wonderful Christmastime" by Tom McRae is a little too much drama for this particular song. A nice rock collection, similar to Nettwerk's previous efforts.

Maybe This Christmas Too?, various artists (Nettwerk)

The Canadian label Nettwerk does a hat trick for 2003 with its third Christmas compilation, pulling together a fairly diverse crew both musically and internationally to benefit Toys For Tots. Some songs on here have been heard elsewhere, like Flaming Lips' "White Christmas," Dave Matthews' original "Christmas Song" and Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna & Blitzen." Barenaked Ladies' "Green Christmas," heard on the Grinch movie soundtrack, is a different version on this album, a more folky approach. Frustrating spellcheckers everywhere, we get a duet of "O Holy Night" by Avril Lavigne and & Chantal Kreviazuk, a fairly conventional reading, but the two chanteuses kick it up a notch when they finally start singing together toward the end. Rufus Wainwright offers the original "Spotlight on Christmas" with the help of sister Martha and fellow folkie scion Teddy Thompson. Eisley's "Winter Song" is a nice piece of work, while Lisa Hannigan writes her own, darker take on "Silent Night," sung a capella. Rilo Kiley keeps the proceedings downbeat with the delicate downward spiral of "Xmas Cake," then Guster lightens things up with their version of "Donde Esta Santa Claus." Be Good Tanyas do a witty pastiche of familiar carols to tell the sad story of "Rudy," and Oh Susanna embellish "Go Tell It on the Mountain" with some original lyrics while keeping its gospel core. Martina Sorbara dirges up "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" with interesting results, and Sixpence None the Richer, slowly approaching enough cuts for their own Christmas album, does a minor key take on "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Another good collection from north of the border. Update: The iTunes Music Store is offering for 2003 A Winter's Night, an album that compiles 10 songs from both of Nettwerk's Maybe compilations, if you'd like to pick and choose.

Maybe This Christmas, various artists (Nettwerk)

Canadian content rules apply once again as Nettwerk brings us its second Christmas album in 2002, set to benefit Toys For Tots. Like the previous one, it skews more toward pop-folk than straight-up rock, and like the first one it reprises the Sarah McLachlan-Barenaked Ladies' "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." An unnecessary shortcut, but since it's here, I'll recommend this one over the first one, as it has a more interesting, even worldwide, selection of artists. Original tunes are offered by Ben Folds with "Bizarre Christmas Incident," in which Santa meets his maker in the chimney; Neil Finn with "Sweet Secret Peace," a nice, if ambiguous anthem; Jimmy Eat World's "12/23/95," a little less rocking than you'd expect; Ron Sexsmith's nice "Maybe This Christmas"; Loreena McKennitt's "Snow," in keeping with her New-Agey vibe; and Dan Wilson's "What a Year For a New Year." Covers include Jack Johnson's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with some extra, original lyrics, Coldplay's solo piano "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Bright Eyes with "Blue Christmas," Phantom Planet's folky "Winter Wonderland," Vanessa Carlton with "Greensleeves" and Sense Field with "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)."

Greatest Hits, Holiday Express (Oglio)

Holiday Express is a group of semi-pro musicians and other volunteers from New Jersey who perform shows of Christmas-oriented pop music every year to benefit various charities, including the homeless, hungry, elderly shut-ins, children and adults with terminal diseases, and so on. Their reputation spread regionally to the point that they were able to get Oglio to release their first album this year, also to benefit charity. Considering the group doesn't consist of household names, they do a good job here. However, there are very few surprises in terms of arrangements and song choices; they're mostly covers of performances you see reviewed here at Mistletunes. There is one surprise worth buying the whole album for: "Disco Santa (N.O.E.L.)," a parody of the Village People's two biggest hits. Laugh it up with this cut, and consider the rest your good deed for Christmas. The group also has released a live album of a 1999 performance at Columbine High School in Colorado.

A Santa Cause: It's a Punk Rock Christmas, various artists (Immortal)

I guess these folks who donated tracks to this benefit album are what the business considers punk rock, but there's actually a bit of a spread in musical style here. Not everybody is thrashing it old school punk on this collection. Nevertheless, today's audience will recognize a lot of these acts as part of the genre. Quite a few originals are part of this package, which alone makes it worthwhile. I had a little trouble figuring out the story behind "Mookie's Last Christmas" by Saosin, but enjoyable originals are turned in by Something Corporate with "Forget December," MxPx offering "Christmas Night of Zombies," The Matches with "December is for Cynics," New Found Glory with "Ex Miss," Jason Gleason with the almost lounge-y "Sleigh Bells and Wine," Punchline's "Icicles," and Mighty Mighty Bosstones' "This Time of Year." Plenty of covers too, with Acceptance doing "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (credited as "So This Is Christmas" on the cover), The A.K.A.s doing Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," Far featuring Chino Moreno doing Band Aid's "Feed the World," and so forth. Gatsby's American Dream does the least sappy version of "Christmas Time is Here" I've heard, Stand Still joke around with "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus," and The Red West take us out with "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear." Well, almost; the hidden cut on this album is Nerf Herder's original "Santa's Got a Mullet," possibly the best thing here. The album benefits the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

A Santa Cause Volume 2, various artists (Immortal)

Like the previous volume, this collection is being sold as a benefit for pediatric AIDS. This time around, there are a bumper crop of performers resulting in 26 cuts, good value for money. Dave Mellillo kicks things off with a rocked-out version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas," followed quickly by "January," a New Year's cruncher by Tyler Read. (Usually you save the New Year's cuts for the end.) Sugarcult gives the Ramones treatment to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," It Dies Today gives the thrash treatment to "Feliz Navidad," and homage-style arrangements are featured on Action Action's "Father Christmas," "Wonderful Christmastime" by June, and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by Hot Rod Circuit. Among the original tunes is Spitalfield's "It's Cold Out There" and "Not Giving In" by Rediscover, a couple of Beth Orton-ized acoustic ballads; "Stay" by Down To Earth Approach features the singer apologizing to a Christmas tree for cutting it down; "Gary the Green-Nosed Reindeer" by MC Lars is an acoustic hip-hop romp in which Gary, Rudolph's half-brother, makes his holiday bones when he saves Xmas from Osama bin Laden; and quite a bit more, actually. This is sold mainly as a download from the label only, but there are some CDs floating around in which Vols. 1 and 2 are packaged together. Either way, a good deal for alternative rock holiday music.

Christmas Eclectic, various artists (Media Creature Music)

This CD benefits the inner-city mentorship program MOSTE. More dance/house/trance holiday music from 2003, bracketed by three versions of "Snowflakes Falling" remixed by JT Donaldson, Juan Atkins and Ming & FS, which are used to mark the three "movements" of the album. "Jingle Bell Hop" kicks off with the song being played on a phone's touchpad, leading into a funked-up rhythm track and percussive orchestra hits. "Midnight" by Daz-I-Kue with vocalist Rasiyah deconstructs "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" into a jazz melody over percolating beats, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Platonic is anchored by a violin melody, while speedy beats and whooshes underpin DJ Motiv8's version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." "We Three Kings" by Josh One vamps over a sample of the song by Cool John Ferguson, a jazzy organ air over a funky handclapping beat. And there's a good old fashioned dub version of "Silent Night" by Ein, a style updated to the modern day. I freely admit it can be tough to tell multiple albums of this stuff apart, but many folks would enjoy having some of this style of music for the holidays, especially anyplace where dancing is on the card.

Yo, It's Christmas, HeatherSong (self-issued)

I'm not sure if HeatherSong is an actual band or just a bunch of people who got together to make this CD. Also, it turns out the folks who are marketing this are encouraging non-profits to buy it in bulk and resell it to raise money. So it's not strictly a fund-raising vehicle, though it's well within the bounds of free enterprise. As for the music, it's kind of a melange of modern styles, mostly hip-hop and R'nB, and it's all covers of familiar carols. The opening track of carolers singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" over a drum machine isn't promising, though it picks up with "Good King HipHop," or Wenceslaus as we know him, a kind of talk-sing of the carol, and is followed up with "Housetop HipHop" or "Up on the Housetop" as we know it. There's a lightly reggae "Feliz Navidad," and the style returns with "Away in a Manger," called "A Reggae Prayer" here. An R'nB "Go Tell It On the Mountain" features Bootsy Collins-style bass playing and "Jingle Bells" gets back to hip-hop. It's mostly well played but has a kind of amateur vibe that works well with alt-rock, less well with R'nB and hip-hop. Update: Heather of HeatherSong lets us know there are no drum machines on her record, and that "Feliz Navidad" is more of a rhumba.

To: Kate, various artists (Western Beat Entertainment)

This is as close to country music as this site is likely to get, but at least it's for a good cause. Kate and Caroline Kirk, ages 3 and 6, are afflicted with Niemann-Pick disease type A/B, and though Caroline is too far gone for treatment, Kate recently received a life-saving cord blood transplant at a cost exceeding $100,000. Friends of the family, including E Streeter Garry Tallent, put this 2005 CD together with artists the trades call Americana, folks who cross country, folk and rock indiscriminately. So you've got everybody from BR549 to Buddie and Julie Miller, Rosie Flores to Raul Malo, a duet with Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, Jason and the Scorchers and Joe Ely among others. There's also a song by John Corbett, the star of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Sex and the City" and "Northern Exposure." There are lots of good performances here, and I’m partial to the Scorchers rocked-up "Oh! Holy Night," Malo's "Pretty Paper" (I would have bet money he'd do it), and The Big Happy's "Gift Wrapped Boy" is pretty cute, as is Flores' "Christmas Everyday" (not the Smokey Robinson song). But the preponderance of music on here is more country than anything else, so keep that in mind. Two more things: the CDDB listing had the songs in the wrong order, so I resubmitted it (no, don't thank me), but I don't know what you can do if you're presented two options to download the titles. And "Gift Wrapped Boy" is reprised as a bonus cut with a little girl's voice. Is it Kate? They don't say, and she sounds too good to be only 3.

Kevin and Bean's Fo' Shizzle St. Nizzle, various artists (KROQ)

Southern Californians go big for these holiday CDs compiled by KROQ jocks Kevin and Bean, given their combination of comedy bits by big name comedians and rock bands' holiday contributions. On this collection we get Hoobastank with "Santa's Coming," Chris Gentry's title rap, Andy Dick's "Santa's Pissed Off," Good Charlotte's "Christmas By the Phone," Rancid's "Xmas Eve (She Got Up and Left Me)," Jimmy Fallon's "Snowball," Nick Hexum from 311 doing "Mele Kamikimaka," The Shout's trailer park slice-of-life "Mullet Christmas," the thrashy "Alone This Holiday" by The Used, "The Only Gift I Need" by Dashboard Confessional, Cousin Oliver's "Naked Christmas," Simple Plan's "My Christmas List," Jack Johnson's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Forget December" by Something Corporate. Comedy stars who do bits include Ray Romano, Lewis Black, David Alan Grier, Jay Mohr, Craig Kilborn, Jimmy Kimmel and the Armenian Comedian. There are also a few sketches involving SpongeBob SquarePants and an Anna Nicole Smith parody, among other things. A bunch of these turned up in cutout bins on the East Coast this season, so don’t pay eBay prices for this one.

Let Them Know It's Christmas, various artists (WSTW-FM)

This collection of tunes came from a group of musicians in the Wilmington, Del. area for Christmas 2004 as a benefit for Toys For Tots. Hopefully they'll roll this out for another holiday season. Quality-wise it's right up there with most regional music compilations, a mix of mostly covers and traditional carols with a few originals thrown in by some of the more ambitious acts. Cover credits are inconsistent, but I'm guessing "A Day Like Christmas" by Cliff Hillis is an original. It's nice and hooky with jangly guitar, handclaps and toy piano to carry it along. Nik Everett's "No More War (At Christmas Time)" appears to be his own tune, a moderate rocker with an end to social strife on its mind. David Zumsteg's "Christmas Snow" is an instrumental in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra vein, as is Yes Virginia's version of "Silver Bells," and Lamont Penn's original "Christmas Is a Birthday" is a funk-jazz-soul ode to the title sentiment, and "The Day After Christmas" is a pop-folk original by John Pollard. Kicking off the CD is a full-cast version of "Do They Know It's Christmas," a little too on the nose and reverent of a cover, but This Year's Girl make up for it with the very next cut, a rocked-out "Here Comes Santa Claus." Seven On Sunday do a hard-rock "We Three Kings" and Smoky Greenwell and Johnny Neel knock out a harmonica-piano blues instrumental of "Away in a Manger."

O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock For Choice, various artists (Columbia)

Some might find a bit of irony in Rock For Choice sponsoring a Christmas album, but that's a discussion for some other site. Personally, I found this 1996 album a bit weak, partially because two of the better cuts appeared on other albums previously: Henry Rollins' "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was on A Lump of Coal and Juliana Hatfield's "Make It Home" was already on Atlantic's You Sleigh Me. Sponge brings "Christmas Day," Bush offers "Good King Somethingorother" with a taste of "Hey Joe" thrown in, Luscious Jackson perform "Queen of Bliss," the Cranes take on John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," Face to Face do "Blue Christmas," the Presidents of the United States of America's "Christmas Piglet" is slight even for them, but a nice female Ramones cop comes from Dance Hall Crashers on their own "I Did It For the Toys." Hanukkah alert: Shudder To Think perform "Al Hanisim."

Just Say Noel, various artists (Geffen)

Another good-cause album from 1996, this one benefits Witness. Lots of big-ish names here, a little better than Rock For Choice's album, although Beck's "The Little Drum Machine Boy" and Sonic Youth's "Santa Doesn't Cop Out On Dope," a cover of the Martin Mull classic, failed to live up to my expectations. And "Thanks For Christmas" by XTC has appeared elsewhere under the name The Three Wise Men (produced by The Good Lord). But Aimee Mann and Michael Penn's "Christmastime" is nice, Elastica take on "Gloria" and Southern Culture on the Skids does one of the better arrangements of "Merry Christmas Baby" I've yet heard. And in the "whatever happened to" department, Prince protégés Wendy and Lisa reappear here as The Musical Cast of Toys with "The Closing of the Year." Ted Hawkins' "Amazing Grace" didn't seem to belong, however.

You Sleigh Me!, various artists (Atlantic)

A benefit record for Hale House, which cares for drug-addicted and HIV positive babies, this 1995 album is mostly cover versions by Atlantic artists. It's very listenable, especially if you enjoy alternative rock. Original tunes are Juliana Hatfield's "Make It Home," Donna Lewis's "Christmas Lights" and Everything But the Girl's "25th December." Jill Sobule does great justice to Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From the Family," Mary Karlzen is the first female singer I know of to cover "Run Rudolph Run," Collective Soul puts a Bo Diddley spin on "Blue Christmas," Tori Amos does her ethereal thing on a solo piano version of "Little Drummer Boy" and Victoria Williams can't be mistaken for anybody else on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A worthwhile collection for a rockin' Christmas.

So This is Christmas, various artists (Atlantic)

This is a promo-only item from 1996 or so, consisting mainly of cuts from the above-mentioned You Sleigh Me. However, there are a few tunes that don't appear on that album: two versions of "Silent Night," one by Bad Religion and another by Evan Dando; and "The Christmas Song" by Hootie and the Blowfish, the same one that turned up on A Very Special Christmas 3.

It's a Cool, Cool Christmas, various artists (Jeepster)

A British compilation from 2000, this record benefits The Big Issue Charities, which helps homeless Brits get back on their feet. A pretty good bunch of choices too, with some this site hasn't encountered before. Among those discussed elsewhere on this site are The Dandy Warhols with "Little Drummer Boy" and Low's "Just Like Christmas," and El Vez's "Feliz Navi-nada." Other good cuts on here are "Everything's Going To Be Cool This Christmas" by the Eels, Saint Etienne's version of the Billy Fury song "My Christmas Prayer," The Webb Brothers' "Every Day Is Christmas" and Teenage Fanclub's short instrumental "Christmas Eve." Six By Seven do an OK, but not particularly unique "I Believe in Father Christmas," the ELP number, Belle and Sebastian do a fairly straight "O Come O Come Emanuel," and the Flaming Lips do a Tom Waits impression on "White Christmas," missing on the vocal but closer on the instrumental. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci do the Welsh number "Hwiangerdd Mair," which sounds nice but I can't tell you a thing about it otherwise. Lauren Laverne's "In the Bleak Midwinter" is a distant sounding electronic number, rather than the antique madrigal it often is rendered as. Morgan gives us a lounge-style "Christmas in Wakiki" instrumental. And Departure Lounge tells us about their "Christmas Downer."

The Mother of All Flagpole Christmas Albums, various artists (OrtTone)

A 1993 compilation of songs from three years of the annual Christmas album organized by Flagpole magazine of Athens, Ga. to benefit that city's charities, this one represents good value for money. Better-known artists like Flat Duo Jets, Vic Chestnutt, Michelle Malone and Kevn Kinney mix with local Athens bands to perform originals and some smart covers. Allgood gets points for the first cover of Spinal Tap's "Christmas With the Devil," a fairly faithful one, too. Labrea Stompers take on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" with a bizarre pair of pre-songs in front of it, and Seersucker tries JB's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," a little less tunefully, but the jagged guitars are a nice touch. Michelle Malone does a serviceable "Santa Baby," though the original is still the greatest. But give this bunch credit for writing 15 of the 22 songs on this CD, with titles like "Christmas in August" and "Just Think About Christmas (And Sing What You Want)." There's also a case of dueling Tom Waits impressions by the Opal Foxx Quartet and Porn Orchard, although the former probably was unintentional. Hanukkah alert: Hetch Hetchy's "Candles and Miracles." This one's probably not easy to find unless you live in Athens.

Santa's Got a GTO, various artists (Dionysus)

The subtitle to this 1997 album is "Rodney on the ROQ's Fav X-mas Songs" and it was assembled by Rodney Bingenheimer, the Georgie Jessel of the Los Angeles punk-pop music scene. It's kind of a benefit album, in that Rodney's using the proceeds to pay off the probate on his mother's estate. Nevertheless, there are 21 cuts on this album, which means Rodney's made a lot of friends in his illustrious career as LA scene-maker. Some of his friends are pretty well-known themselves, like Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos, who sings "Frosty the Snowman" with froSTed; Nina Hagen, who performs "Mary Xmas"; Redd Kross, making their second Christmas appearance this year with "Super Sunny Christmas; and Wednesday Week and the Cranes. Other notable cuts are Pencil Test's "Runaway Christmas," the only Christmas song dedicated to Joan Jett's first band; the title song by The Ramonas; "Santa Doesn't Come to Little Jewish Children's Houses" by the Yid Kids, which earns a Hanukkah alert, along with Velouria's "Til Next Hanukkah"; and The Boss Martians' "Christmas Time," a Sixties homage although, liner notes to the contrary, it doesn't really sound that much like the Beach Boys. The Jigsaw Seen's "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" was originally on Stuff This in Your Stocking, but it's still good, as is Methadone Cocktail's "I Don't Believe in Santa Claus." Overall, a strong compilation, especially if your taste leans toward modern pop-rock.

Little Drummer Boys, Mark and Brian (Oglio)

Mark and Brian are disc jockeys for KLOS-FM 95.5 in Los Angeles, and they stage charity concerts at Christmas time every year with some famous and not-so-famous names performing. This double CD also includes comedy bits from their radio show, and it too is a charitable effort, sending funds to the duo's scholarship fund for foster care children and music for kids program and also to the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The first CD is all live renditions from the holiday shows from 1991 to 1999. There aren't any major standouts here, but the live aspect is nice. Performers include Chicago, Gary Hoey, Jose Feliciano, Peter Frampton, Eddie Money, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Collective Soul, Rockapella, Dramarama and Mel Torme doing his classic "Christmas Song." The Tories do "Wonderful Life," based on the movie. The Jenerators with Sarah Taylor do her "I've Got Some Presents for Santa," and Barry Manilow duets on "Baby It's Cold Outside" with the winner of a Mark and Brian Show contest. Oh, and Marc Bonilla does a nice version of "Nut Rocker." The comedy disc is typical morning radio stuff, although there's a version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" featuring old-time Hollywood stars, plus a hidden cut that really isn't worth the hassle of finding.

A Home for the Holidays, various artists (Mercury)

The star-studded, purpose-built Christmas compilation concept that has served the Special Olympics so well has been pressed into the service of Phoenix House, the largest non-profit drug abuse services agency in the country. This 1997 album makes quite an effort to find something for everyone, with young artists and established ones, rock and rhythm 'n blues going for the Christmas vibe. Like this year's Special Olympics album, however, most of the songs are on the serious side, with only The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Redd Kross and Marshall Crenshaw going uptempo and lighthearted in approach. Crenshaw gets collectors' points for faithfully covering Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me, Santa," while the Bosstones and RK contribute original tunes. Also coming across with originals are the Lovemongers, aka Heart's Wilson sisters, Bon Jovi and Tony Toni Tone, who do the only rap tune on the album. Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora contributes "O Come All Ye Faithful" and up-and-coming folkie Dar Williams does an elegant "What Child Is This." OMC perform the non-Xmas tune "My Favorite Things" for no apparent reason. Also on hand are Aaron Neville, Vanessa Williams, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Wendy and Carnie Wilson, Gloria Estefan, Suzanne Vega and Joan Osborne, whose "Children Go Where I Send Thee" is grittier than Natalie Merchant's pop-gospel version on A Very Special Christmas 3. Caution: not all of these cuts were recorded especially for this album; some are from the artists' previous Christmas albums.

Santa's Swingin' Sack, various artists (KROQ)

Sometimes you think you're gonna hurl the next time you run across another "top tunes from your favorite local radio station" disc that turns out to be crammed full of the same stuff every other such disc holds. Not so this sweet little 1998 compilation from KROQ-FM, Los Angeles' home of alternative rock, featuring morning guys Kevin and Bean. They have the good sense to limit their actual appearances on the disc, leaving more room for a great array of novelty and alternative Christmas/Hanukkah performances from Barenaked Ladies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Save Ferris, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Brian Setzer, Everlast and so on. Jerry Springer makes an appearance with "Jerry Christmas," in which Santa and Mrs. Claus do the Springer show, with predictable results. Ralph Sinatra does an imitation of his namesake on "Christmas When You're Dead" and Cherry Poppin' Daddies introduce us to "Butch the Gay Santa Claus." And Save Ferris cover the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" with a Hanukkah twist, although the net result fails to improve on the original. Don't forget to check out 1000 Clowns' "I Hate Fruitcake." Ben Stiller, Tyra Banks and Ben Stein make cameo appearances too. As a non-Californian, I had to buy this off eBay, and my wallet still smarts.

Kevin and Bean's Last Christmas, various artists (KROQ)

The 1999 edition of the Los Angeles radio duo's charity Christmas album is the usual mix of comedy items and rock bands. Bands on hand are Unwritten Law with "Please Come Home For Christmas," Linda Polley and Moby on "Listen to the Angels," Korn's original "Christmas Song," another of the same title from the Dave Mathews Band, Blink 182 with "I Won't Be Home For Christmas," Long Beach Dub All-Stars with "I Saw Mommy Jockin' Santa Claus," Pennywise with "Christmas in Hell" and Lit with "Snow Blind." Also on hand are "Christmas at Ground Zero" from Weird Al, Tori Amos' "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," mistitled as "Christmas in Space on the cover, and Save Ferris' "Christmas Wrapping" for the second year in a row on a Kevin and Bean album. Bruce Springsteen gets parodied on "Christmas Blues (Are Getting Me Down)," and Puff Daddy, Al Gore, Larry Flynt, Bob Hope and Karl Malone are also lampooned. Best comedy cut is "A Very Heston Christmas," as in Charlton.

The Real Slim Santa, various artists (KROQ)

Kevin and Bean, morning jocks, return with another charity compilation for the 2000 holiday season. Fittingly, the album opens and closes with Eminem parodies, the title song at the front and "Stanley" at the back, the latter done by "Man Show" host Jimmy Kimmel. Parodies of Don King, William Shatner, Dennis Miller and Shaquille O'Neil join actual items from Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bobby Slayton and Bobcat Goldthwait. One of the better cuts is "Santa Claus: Behind the Magic," based on the VH1 "Behind" series; one of the more unnecessary is "The Night Before Christmas" as done by a Dennis Miller impersonator; apparently the perpetrator of this item is unaware that Miller and Dana Carvey did this exact same thing on Saturday Night Live a decade ago. Contributing original Christmas songs are Linkin Park with "My December," Andy Dick with the cute but blasphemous "Gassy Jesus," Weezer with "Christmas Song," MXPX with "Coming Home For Christmas" and Orgy with "Santa's Creepy Secret." U2's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" appears here again, and Fenix TX does a sexed-up "Feliz Navidad," Save Ferris cover the Kinks' "Father Christmas," Eve 6 do "First Noel," Travis cover Joni Mitchell's "River," Fuel performs "We Three Kings," 3 Doors Down does an acoustic "Jingle Bells" and Blink 182 gets their audience to sing "Silent Night." Victoria Silvstedt's "Santa Baby" is mediocre, although it becomes a classic when she does it naked, right?

Holiday Band Aid, various artists (RBM)

An Atlanta-based record label got local bands to put together this album of Christmas tunes to benefit the Red Cross for 2001, a popular choice in the wake of 9/11. This has Another Man Down's "Dreidel Song" and that tune is a good harbinger of the other treats in store on the album. The Dan Adams Band does a 90s "Unplugged" version of "O Holy Night," Big Sky's "Happy Skalidays" is a great holiday party song with licks of other carols snuck in, Adam Hood does a more countrified "Merry Christmas From the Family," Three 5 Human does a hard-rock vocal "Carol of the Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock" gets an even heavier treatment from Forced Entry. John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" gets a capable reading from Marathon, and Cornbread sneaks a little "Let It Be" into "The First Noel." Nice work for a good cause.

River City Christmas, various artists (Arbor Records Ltd.)

A local compilation from Winnipeg, Manitoba circa 1999 featuring local musicians raising money for that city's Children's Hospital Foundation. Of 15 tunes, only four are traditional carols, one of which is hometown faves Crash Test Dummies with their previously recorded version of "The First Noel." Sirens knock out a sprightly, heavily syncopated "O Come All Ye Faithful" worthy of a more tropically oriented band. Rosalie Rattai puts a little blues mama into "Oh Holy Night" and Winnipeg Youth Chorus does a youth chorus version of "Away In a Manger" to the melody of "Greensleeves"; I thought that's what we had "What Child Is This" for. Natasha Christine Kaminsky is a busy little Christmas elf on this album, writing, producing and performing on several numbers. Her "Do the Snowflake" is a nice little rocker, and she writes or co-writes the ballads "Santa's Gonna Swing By Tonight" by Marcie Campbell, a jazz-tinged number, "Voice of Angels" by Danishka Esterhazy, a folky number, and "Little Miracle" by Kimberly Spears, no relation I'm guessing, a more pop performance. Chris Bigford sings Natasha's "So Close To Christmas," a blues shuffle, and her production of her own "Kiss Me Christmas Eve" by Off The Wagon is a nice country rocker. Straight-out country swing comes from the Foster Martin Band in "Santa Don't Drive No Pickup Truck" and The Swing Cats give us a, wait for it, swinging, "Christmas Cheer." You might have a little trouble acquiring this, as Arbor Records specializes in Native American music and an employee e-mailed me to explain how this isn't that before she would process the order.


Eras: The Beginning, The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Genres: Reggae, Soul/R&B, Rap, Blues, Punk, Surfin' Xmas, Tropical

Novelties: Fifties and Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Compilations: Regular Comps, Charity Comps, Soundtracks

Special Reports: Recent Releases, Hanukkah, Miscellaneous