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"I Believe in Father Christmas," U2 (Island)

A sparse but stately version of the Greg Lake classic recorded in 2008 is being distributed with the new (Red)Wire music magazine created by The Global Fund for AIDS. It's free, after jumping through the following hoops — you have to sign up at the magazine's website for the two-issue free trial and you have to agree to download and install Adobe's Air application. If you need further persuasion, the same download also gets you a free copy of "Joseph, Better You Than Me" by the Killers with Elton John and Neil Tennant, and you also get videos as well as clean mp3s of the songs. Oh, and I wouldn't wait too much past New Year's Day to do this. This downloadable magazine is slated to come out weekly, with similar free deals from a bunch of name brand artists in exchange for a subscription fee that benefits The Global Fund. Also, you may need to do a global search of your hard drive to find the music and video files once you've downloaded them — the instructions for finding them aren't very clear. Update: Opportunity now past.

An Alternative Christmas, various artists (Alternative Addiction)

This 2008 collection is tapped to benefit some undefined charity and it's a download-only piece. Many of the songs on here have been out before, like Lifehouse's "Silent Night," Thriving Ivory's "Our December," "Merry Christmas Eve" by Better Than Ezra, "She's a Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Christmas" by Patent Pending and Negative Space's "I'll Be Home," but I haven't seen the other tunes anywhere. Ernie Halter does a nice simple two-voice version of "Angels We Have Heard On High," Safetysuit's "Anywhere But Here" is an original miss-you song in that mid-tempo arena-rock flavor, and Honor By August does a downcast ballad with the deceptive title "Happy Holidays." Needtobreathe does a kind of U2-sincere take on "Go Tell It on the Mountain," Honeyhoney offers "The Naughtiness of Me," a jazzy original featuring a 60s-style chanteuse confessing her failures, Schaefer and Ryan Star offer predictable versions of "Last Christmas" and "River," respectively, and Shinedown filters "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" through a 21st-century rock band prism. Evans Blue does a doomy "O Holy Night," and if you download this from the distributor you get a 16th track, "For Christmas" by 16 Frames, a ballad about being with the one you love most. Good collection if you don't have the majority of the tunes already.

… And a Happy new Year, The Maine (Fearless)

These guys don't have their high school days much behind them, but they have a mature, fully formed rock sound. For 2008 they put out this EP with such originals as the ballad "Ho Ho Hopefully," the acoustic lament of lost love "Santa Stole My Girlfriend," the hard rocker "Mr. Winter," and a cover of Wham's "Last Christmas." Nice work.

Hi-Voltage Christmas Rock, Nerf Herder (Cool CDs)

This alt-rock band put out an EP for Christmas 2000 that I copped off iTunes. They were on the disc A Santa Cause with a song that appears here, the comic "Santa's Got a Mullet," and they add to the rock attitude with "I Got a Boner For Christmas," "I Know What You're Getting For Christmas," and a brief thrash through "Deck the Halls." There's also a bit of banter in between tunes, nothing remarkable, but since the tunes are so good, it doesn't matter. Update: I made a typo in the year of release, but Martin Johns kindly pointed out the error.

"Winter Passing," The Academy Is... (Fueled By Ramen)

A wintertime breakup song for 2008 from this Chicago-area band, this has a contemporary arena-rock sound, uptempo and dramatic. Off-topic, but based on their second album Santi their fan club is called Santi's Little Helpers.

"Hajen Juls," Hajen (Knoppar)

This Swedish singer offers for 2008 this plaintive ballad, led by piano and accordion, as a benefit for Stadsmissionen Goteborg, whatever that is. I assume it's a charity in her home town, but since her MySpace blog is entirely in Swedish, I'm just guessing. The song's sung in English in a voice that might remind you a little bit of Bjork. It's an overseas download (and only until Dec. 31), but you can pay for it via PayPal.

Christmas Present, various artists (Lojinx)

Download this free Christmas album from 2008 from the British label's website. Nate Campany kicks things off with "Be Home For Christmas," a ballad with light strings and horns asking a lover to return for the holidays. Nightlights get off a folky original in "Christmas Time (I Wish I Was Near You)," a similar sentiment, and Henrik gets a little help from Nashville songwriter Kim Richey on "It's Christmas But Listen!," a bit of nostalgia for the holiday. The Wellingtons rock out with the power pop song "I Guess it's Christmas" and The Bad Machines break out a fake kiddie choir (sounds more like an adult woman multi-tracked) for "Not This Time," a whispered declaration that she won't be home for Christmas. Farrah bangs out a blue-eyed soul number, "Santa Don't Go," and Caroline Lost wraps things up with a drone-y ballad, "Say You're Mine." This is a nice collection, better than some I've paid real money for.

A Blackheart Christmas, various artists (Blackheart)

This 2008 collection is a collection from the artists on Joan Jett's record label, including her own take on "Little Drummer Boy" that was issued back around 1980 and isn't all that easy to find. Girl in a Coma puts a bit of a country shine on "Blue Christmas" and thrashes out on "I'll Be Home For Christmas." The Vacancies rock out on "The Elf Song" and the Kinks' "Father Christmas" while The Cute Lepers take on Billy Squier's "Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You" and what I think is their own "All I Ever Want (Under the Christmas Tree)." The Dollyrots do a crunchy rock take on "Santa Baby," and rock legend Kenny Laguna turns up with his "Home For Christmas." A full cast rendition of "Silent Night" in a rock waltz time, throwing in some speechifying by Barack Obama along with John McCain's concession, wraps things up, unless Sean Hannity gets wind of this, anyway. If you love rock 'n roll, you'll probably love this.

"This Christmas," Sariah (Alternative Addiction)

A free download from her label, this is a straight cover of the Donny Hathaway classic from 2008. Sariah is a dancer/singer, formerly of Massachusetts and now of New York, who emphasizes a dance/r'nb style in her non-holiday work and is preparing her first album.

Kindercore Presents Xmas 4 and … Hanukkah!, various artists (Kindercore)

The indie alternative label Kindercore has had three previous Christmas collections on CD. For 2008, they kept their hand in with four downloadable tracks. "Wrap It Up" is by The Sad Cobras and the Magic Twig Family; it's a bit of busking with guitar and chimes about "Christmas in my heart." Grape Soda contributes the Hanukkah portion of the title with two songs, "Rock of Ages" and "All Walls Fall," the former sounding like a quick improvisation and the latter being a bit of electronic pop that sounds like a traditional song for that holiday. The Young Sinclairs wrap things up with a shambling cover of Tom Petty's "It's Christmas All Over Again." Check 'em out while they're still free.

Xmas 3 — The War on Christmas!, various artists (Kindercore)

This is Kindercore's third Christmas compilation of alt-punk-rockers taking on the holiday, released in 2007. Kicking things off is a hardcore "Carol of the Manbarks" by Rump Posse, the one that's normally about the bells. Folklore busks on the whimsical "Xmas Ape Goes To the Moon," The Observatory goes to the toy piano for "Xmastime (Is Xmastime)," and Fabulous Bird confirms with "Everybody Knows It's Christmas Time Again," more of a power pop ballad. Ruby Isle takes on "Jack's Obsession" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," rendering it in a more rocked-out version, and The Buddy System celebrates "Xmas on TV" with some of your favorite specials getting name-checked. And you gotta sympathize with Je Suis France when they plead, "Baby Please Don't Get Stoned (It's Xmas)," especially the lyric, "You can give your gifts to charity / All I want is your clarity." Another great line is in Bunnygrunt's "Got the Blues For Christmas": "Happy birthday Jesus, guess I'll have another beer." There's quite a bit more, so you may want to wade through this yourself.

Xmas Snertz: Have a Very Gulcher Christmas, various artists (Gulcher)

From 2003, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of information still around about this collection other than its status as a group of artists who share a label. It's a bunch of alt-rock-punk performers celebrating the holiday, and five years on it still sounds fresh. Phil Hendricks and The Stiffs (UK) take on Elvis Presley's "If Every Day Was Like Christmas," giving an Elvis-like delivery over an uptempo rock beat. Crawlspace rumble through the Beatles' "Christmastime Is Here Again," Mach Bell & His Elves offer "Come On, Santa," a walk through a Christmas list harkening back to the surf-rock days, and Kenne Highland and his Vatican Sex Kittens ask "Can I Please Crawl Down Your Chimney," complete with unwanted advances at the end. Angel Corpus Christi open things with the gentle "Still Feels Like Christmas," the Automatics' "Merry Christmas" makes another appearance here, as does Pansy Division's "Homo Christmas." Monsterpop is "Coming Home For Christmas" and MX-80 says "(I Spent) Christmas With the Devil," with its deathless line, "Satan says Santa came from the same folks who brought us Coke," which is not that far from the truth. X-Ray Tango give us a surf-rock take on "We Three Kings" and The Walking Ruins wish us a "Happy Hardcore New Year," thrashing to the melody of "Auld Lang Syne." Some tunes don't bear a second listen, but the majority of this is quite listenable. Gulcher Records is almost impossible to find online, but this is on iTunes.

Snoop Dogg Presents Christmas in tha Dogghouse, various artists (Doggystyle)

Some more fresh hip-hop holiday music, this time from tha Doggfather and his pals, for 2008. Following a Snoopified intro, J-Black kicks off with "Xmas On Soul," a smooth groove with a Snoop rap over the bridge. "This Christmas" by Tha Dogg Pound with Chris Starr is more of a rap over backing singers, though it picks up the riff from the Donny Hathaway classic. "A Gift That Keeps On Giving" is love, says Damani with Chris Starr again, although the story line to this tune is rather darker than that sentiment. "Twas the Night Before Xmas" is also by Damani with Snoop Dogg, though I'm not sure if this is the same performance that was out a decade ago under Snoop's name. Soopafly's "I Miss Those Days" puts a little nostalgia over the gangsta groove, and Bad Lucc raps about "My Little Mama Trippin' On Xmas." Snoop wraps things up with an outro followed by "The Pimp's Christmas Song." Other artists on hand include Half Dead and the Twinz, Lil Gee, Kurupt, The Hustle Boyz and Uncle Chucc. Every song is tagged "explicit" on iTunes, although I think there's also a clean version.

"Fuck Christmas," Eric Idle (self-issued)

The Monty Python stalwart put this up on iTunes for 2006, but I just stumbled over it this year. If you're familiar with that comedy team's songcraft, you know what to expect, and this is an ever lovin' hoot.

"When I Get Home For Christmas," Snow Patrol (Jeepster)

This goes all the way back to 2000, an original grungy rock ballad by this popular modern rock band about returning home for the holiday, a universal sentiment in a suspenseful setting.

"Run Rudolph Run," Joe Perry (self-issued)

The guitarist from Aerosmith pulls a Keith Richard and puts this version of the Chuck Berry classic up for a free download at the band's website. Near as I can tell he appears to have played all the instruments, and if so he did a great job. Even if he didn't, most rock fans will like this a lot, as he puts his own stamp on what otherwise appears to be an attempt to recreate the original arrangement.

"Christmas In Suburbia," Martin Newell (Pipeline)

I've had this little number since its 1993 release and completely forgot about it until I saw a mention of it on the Power Pop blog the other day. The poet and author is also a power popper, and this sweet little bopper is from his first solo album, The Greatest Living Englishman, produced by Andy Partridge, who knows a thing or two about Christmas singles himself. Points for mentioning "saturnalia" in a song otherwise about a too-conventional holiday just outside the city.

"Wonderland," Huey Lewis and the News (self-issued)

The popular 80s band had this out originally on a limited basis in 1984 and it's on their website for a free download in 2008. It's a straight a capella performance of "Winter Wonderland," not quite doo-wop but definitely not glee club either. Definitely worth having.

"Call Me For Christmas"/"We Wish You a Merry Christmas," Gary U.S. Bonds (self-issued)

The early rock-era star whose big hit was "Quarter to Three" still pops up from time to time, last being heard on a solo album produced by Bruce Springsteen with "This Little Girl." Over at his website you can pull down these two songs, the latter being a "Quarter to Three"-styled takeoff from the original carol that appeared in a TV show and the former, "Call Me," is a soulful ballad from an album released in 1995, Take Me Home to New Orleans, but it sounds like it was from back in the day. Both tunes sound like they could be off the Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns Christmas album.

"Joseph, Better You Than Me," The Killers (Island Def Jam)

The Killers maintain their Christmas single streak with their third entry in a row for 2008, this time bringing along Elton John and Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys for the ride. Starting with just voice and what is almost certainly Elton's piano playing, this remarkably insightful song builds to a big rock ballad climax with strings and horns. The guests almost hijack the band's big moment, but what the heck, it works. Proceeds benefit the Global Fund for AIDS.

… From All of Me, Vibeke (Pop Detective)

This is my first exposure to Vibeke Saugestad, a Norwegian singer-songwriter who's been active in bands since 1992 and went solo in 2001. This 2008 EP features five holiday originals, all or partly written by Vibeke, and you power pop fans will be excited to get your hands on this. It's quite the rock 'n roll workout, with four of the five being midtempo or faster. "A Christmas Carol (For the Losers in Love)" starts out a little reflective but picks up the beat quickly behind this tale of lost love on the holidays. "Jingle Jangle Christmas" is practically self-explanatory, "I Must Have Been So Good" opens the disc in grand style, with the gift of love, and "Mistletoe Kissing" is a galloping rave-up. The disc ends downtempo with a guitar ballad, "Christmas Is Calling Me Home." Only place I ran into this was at Not Lame, and it's worth whatever effort it takes to track it down.

Christmas Time, The Beagle Ranch (Blue Star Records)

This Canadian band ("where it snows until June," says the liner notes) put out a pop-rock EP for 2008 that is just the bee's knees, though only the title song is a holiday tune. It's a nice mid-tempo song about holiday anticipation, worthy of a mix disc berth. The rest of the tunes are in the same vein, a mix of acoustic and electric guitars offering a mellower version of power pop. Found this at Not Lame while I was snapping up Vibeke's disc.

"December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)," George Michael (self-issued)

This pop ballad starts out with a Percy Faith Singers-style choral opening before the band strikes up. George's voice is recognizable as always as he evokes holiday memories on this, his first holiday tune since his Wham days. Well done but definitely adult contemporary. Update: The free download period has passed, haven't seen it anywhere else.

"Christmas Tree," Lady GaGa (Interscope)

Lots of hip-hop attitude in this pastiche of carols and single-entendres, all told, pretty good fun without getting into Parental Advisory territorry, though there's never any doubt what she's actually singing about. The dance diva and singer-songwriter put this out for 2008.

Winter, Adrienne Pierce (Insect Girl)

This Canadian songstress, recently dumped by a major label, put this holiday EP out for 2008. Four originals, "All That We Want," "Raise Our Voices Up," "Making Angels" and "Joy Is Within Reach" are joined by a cover of "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Put a Little Love In Your Heart," the Jackie DeShannon song that became associated with the holiday through the Annie Lennox/Al Green duet in the movie "Scrooged." Pierce has a "girly" voice and she sets it to mainly upbeat sounds, a trait that got her onto the soundtrack of "Grey's Anatomy" (that show's coming up a lot here lately). "Making Angels" is the single here, with its distorted piano and electronic drums propelling the tune along nicely.

"City of Christmas Ghosts," Goldblade with Poly Styrene (Damaged Goods)

This vinyl single from 2008 marks a return for X-Ray Spex's lead singer Poly Styrene, who joins this Manchester band for a punk rock duet with just a taste of spaghetti western backing for the holiday. There's a little bit of the approach to Poly's best-known single "Oh Bondage Up Yours" as well. It's a British import, can't download it as far as I know, but you can listen to it on MySpace.

"This Christmas," Slim (M3 Productions)

This 2008 single isn't Donny Hathaway's classic — it's an original holiday slow jam, and a nice one at that. Slim is from the Grammy-winning R'nB group 112, and this comes hot on the heels of his solo album Love's Crazy.

"Christmas," Teddy Thompson and Family (Verve)

The son of folk-rock guitar-songwriting whiz Richard Thompson pulls together members of his family — that would be dad, mom Linda and sister Kamila — for this fine original reggae/calipso look at the holiday. And it's a fundraising instrument for Amnesty International as well. From 2008.

"The First Snowflake," The Boy Least Likely To (+1 Records)

This alternative duo brings us a quiet folky ballad about being alone at Christmas for 2008, with lots of holiday instrumental touches. Listen closely and you'll hear a few familiar riffs, including one from "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."

"Holly Jolly Hollywood," The Wedding Present (self-issued)

This popular British alternative band gives us two versions of this original Christmas song for 2008. "The Klee Remix" is the poppier, radio-ready version of the song, but the standard version has its own subtle charms. I'd guess the remix will pop better on mix discs, but I think folks will better enjoy the song in the standard version. A stripped-down "White Christmas" rounds out the EP, which is a download-only release.

That Fuzzy Feeling EP, The Arctic Circle (Static Caravan)

British band The Arctic Circle is a rotating collective of artists, and this 2008 EP (download, but a limited number of physical copies are available over the Web) features Josh Weller, Emily Barker, Ted Barnes, Dale Grundle, Paloma Faith and the Puffin Voices performing five original takes on the holiday. These folks achieve a kind of alt-pop-folk ambience not dissimilar to Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst or Sufjan Stevens. "It's Christmas and I Can't Find You a Present" starts out downbeat and gentle with a declaration of love, then the mood turns with "It's Christmas (And I Hate You)," in which Paloma Faith and Josh Weller argue musically in a kind of folk-jazz "Baby It's Cold Outside" gone badly. "This Ole World Grown Quiet" is a cello-led lament, and "Unreasonable Dream: Christmas Night" is sung against an orchestral pad and banjo, slowly at first, then it picks up in the middle to tell its dreamy story. Mustn't forget "I'll Save the Bathwater For You This Christmas Time," a great title for what is a love ballad veiled in a bit of dry humor, you should pardon the pun. While researching this review, I discovered there was a That Fuzzy Feeling album last year, but with all different songs and artists; will have to track that down later.

A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss), Glasvegas (Columbia)

This Scottish band is just putting out their first album in 2008, but they're including with it a Christmas EP. On iTunes, the new album includes the EP as "Bonus Tracks Edition," but the band is promoting it as a separate entity, though it's apparently being given out with the album. The songs are all originals except for a version of "Silent Night (Noapte de Vis)." The opening song, "Careful What You Wish For," sets a skeptical tone for the holiday. The title song feels like the breakout tune, an ethereal ballad of wonderment with a chorus lyric punned on a Phil Spector tune. "Please Come Back Home" is self-explanatory with a U2 sound, "Cruel Moon" is a song of isolation at the holiday, and that leaves "F**k You, It's Over," a holiday breakup song that mutes the holiday references in the repetition of the title. The song is well done, if a bit depressing. Can't think of a time when a new band went right to the Christmas goodies, so let's give them credit for that, too.

An Indiecator Christmas, various artists (Indiecator)

Another independent label compilation for 2008, this one is for sale at their website. The liner notes take pride in noting that all 17 cuts are original holiday tunes and even optimistically hope there are some future standards on the list. That's up to listeners, of course. Remington Super 60's "Here Comes Christmas" and The Very Most's "This Year, Christmas Came on Nov. 4" have been reviewed here before, the latter on Cherryade's 2008 compilation. Nina Hynes offers the breathy "Twinkle," a kind of 60s chanteuse performance. Bill Baird's "Christmas In Jail" is another in a series of similarly themed songs, this one a little more ethereal than its predecessors. Idaho posits the proposition that "Santa Claus Is Weird," though the artist admits he held onto his Santa belief through the age of 13, so I guess it's all a matter of degree. Normandy offers what I believe is a first of its kind, "Merry Christmas, Blogosphere!" Great opening: "Santa bring to me / credibility." Loxsly discovers that "Santa Got the Spins," which is to say the eggnog was spiked and a fake, drunken Santa ruined Christmas. Jape and David Kitt sing "I Will Cry This Christmas," a synth-pop dirge of loneliness and alienation on the holiday. The Specimen "Wish It Would Snow" so they could get out of going to school, Nonstop Everything sticks it to Idaho, above, with "There Is No Santa, Little Boy," which ironically is a clattery, shambling instrumental, and My Teenage Stride gets a little low-rent Spector ambience on the uptempo "Is It Christmastime Already." A solid indie-rock Christmas collection.

Santastic 4, various artists (djBC)

Another compilation of DJ skills offering holiday mash-ups for 2008. The Ramones get sound-checked with "Christmas Bop" by Smash-Up Derby and "Blitzkrieg Santa" by Divide & Kreate, both playing off "Blitzkrieg Bop", the latter superimposing the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." "You Should Be a Freaky Christmas Baby" by ATOM combines what sounds like Chuck Berry's version of "Merry Christmas Baby" along with "You Should Be Dancing" by the Bee Gees, and there's a bunch of other things ladled in there as well. Mojochronic, of "Yuletide Zeppelin" fame, is back here with "Whoville (Won't Get Yuled Again)," combining the Who with the scourge of Whoville himself, the Grinch, and also smashing "Baba O'Reilly" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" together with a James Brown Christmas song, the "Theme From Shaft," "Back Door Santa," "Freddy's Dead," the Beach Boys and more on "Xmasploitation (Santa's Badass Revenge)." Props for the grab of "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag" from the Bobs on that one, the bit spoken by "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist." Go Home Productions offers "High Tides and Blocked Peace Pipes," combining "The Tide is High" by Blondie, "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Pipes of Peace" by Sir Paul. djBc turns "The Night Before Christmas" into a fast-paced rap over an electropop bed. My favorite from this might be "A Message To You Santa Claus," mashing the Specials with Augie Rios' "Donde Esta Santa Claus." There's so much going on here, and the nice thing is that it's a free download.

"Candy Cane," The Jigsaw Seen (self-issued)

This band previously had "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," a Rolling Stones-soundalike version of the carol, and for 2008 they've got this poppy confection, a sweet little single and apparently a holiday revision of an existing song. A previous song, "What About Christmas," escaped my notice until now, a grungier sounding holiday tune, but perfectly in tune with the band's garage ethic. All three tunes mentioned here are downloadable at iTunes, but you need to find their iMix. To do that, search "Jigsaw Seen" when you're in the store, look under "Top Rated iMixes" and click on "the jigsaw seen holiday favorites."

Christmas With Weezer, Weezer (DGC/Interscope)

This band had a pair of Christmas originals out for many years. For 2008, they dished up this group of carols, apparently for use in the iPhone game "Tap Tap Revenge" but available for download separately as well. This time around, they left the songwriting pen in the quill, opting for half a dozen classic carols in the inimitable Weezer rock 'n roll style. This EP includes "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "The First Noel," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "O Holy Night," "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

A Very Cherry Christmas 4, various artists (Cherryade)

Having caught up to the Cherryade label's past holiday compilations this year, we can now bring you the 2008 edition. Once again, a group of mostly British alternative rock bands bring us 18 mostly original holiday tunes. Fever Fever opens the disc with "Hallelujah Carol," which starts out with a taste of AC/DC and renders its lyrics in almost a rap fashion. Idaho's Very Most offers "This Year Christmas Came Nov. 4," and though it's not overt, the band admits it's about the 2008 presidential election. "Xmas Song" by Little My is a happy little ditty about a sad, sad Christmas, and Gayla Peevey is finally trumped by The Lovely Eggs, who want a "Tyrannosaurus Rex For Christmas." Take that, hippopotamus! "Perfect Christmas Snow (Perfect Christmas Kiss)" is an epic-length ballad of love found and lost on the holiday by The Gresham Flyers, and the same territory is mined, more briefly and at a faster tempo, in "It Was Christmas That Killed Us" by Hearts!Attack. Penny Broadhurst considers a terminal patient's last Christmas in "The End," and Ste McCabe offers the brief punk thrash "Christmas Time For Sanctimonious Swine." The Seven Inches write their own take on "12 Days of Christmas," jumping off from the familiar carol to add their own observations. Detox Cute and the Beauty Junkies offer the synth-pop "Alarm Bells bw Silent Night," a lover's quarrel segueing into a version of the carol named in the title. Stark Palace offers "Saw What Your Momma Did" in reference to an incident under the mistletoe, a performance that sounds like an outtake from "Nightmare Before Christmas." And the Pocket Gods wrap up with a bit of sci-fi in "Alien Xmas Song." All told, another interesting collection from the Cherryade folks.

"White Winter Hymnal," The Fleet Foxes (SubPop)

Not really about Christmas, but the winter season thrust of the song makes this 2008 tune by this rising indie rock band a nice change of pace for your mix tapes. I've been hearing this a lot on adult alternative radio, so I might not be the only one thinking this way. This is from their eponymous debut album, and there's a download of the tune at SubPop's site.

"30 Days," NeverShoutNever! (self-issued)

This indie band — actually 17-year-old Christopher Ingle — offers a sweet love ballad for the holidays via download services. The singer is taking 30 days to list the ways his girlfriend has made his life better. An interesting take, and one that could have wide appeal if it made the radio. On iTunes.

"It's Christmas," Davy Jones (Formative)

Offered in three different mixes, including karaoke, this is indeed the former Monkees singer offering a new holiday song for 2008. The "indie" mix, which I have, pushes the voice down a bit in the mix in favor of guitar; check out all three mixes before you make your choice. Found this on Amazon MP3, don't think there's a physical disc.

"Carol For the Lonely," Sofia Talvik (Makaki)

The Scandinavian singer-songwriter spares a thought for the dispossessed, the needy and the homeless on the holiday with this 2008 ballad that's a free download from her website. Compared to her previous "Christmas" song, this tune is not quite as dark as that one. She wrote the song and played all the instruments on this performance.

"It's You and Me This Christmas," Deni Bonet (M*R2)

Deni's rocking 2008 ode to the holiday consists of packing the kids off to relatives on the holiday and retreating with her man for a more intimate holiday. "Let's pretend it's Valentine's Day," she sings, intent on hoarding the holiday cheer instead of spreading it around. Many will sympathize, others will simply rock out.

Winter Collection, Polaris At Noon (self-issued)

This California band has a unique way of presenting itself — it puts out songs a week at a time over a period of time instead of holding them for an album. This collection of holiday covers is a free download for 2008, featuring hard rock takes on Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," Wham's "Last Christmas," and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas." They're all well done and worth a listen.

Comfort & Joy, Decemberadio (Slanted)

From 2008, this Christian band put together a downloadable EP of holiday tunes, featuring an instrumental of "Away in a Manger," a slow shuffle of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a strong modern take on "Run Rudolph Run." Good work, guys.

"Christmas in Japan," The Kyoto Collection (self-issued)

Can't quite get a handle on this band. They do electronic-pop music, they claim to have Japanese influences, and their website is bilingual English-Spanish. Given that their gigs list shows concerts mostly in Argentina, I'm going to guess that's where they're from. As to this free download, it throws the holiday into the mix of above influences to create this Christmas ballad for 2008. Check it out.

"Everything I Need This Christmas, JD Webb (Infinite)

Webb used to be part of a Christian rock group called Raze, and this is him being a blue-eyed soulster for the holidays on this radio-friendly possible future carol from 2008.

"A Christmas Duel," The Hives vs. Cyndi Lauper (A&M/Octone)

Now this was worth waiting for. A broken relationship song, in which the man starts out by admitting he was a bad boy to tinkling piano, and Lauper chiming in that she was even worse over a big-room rock beat. How much worse? Well, this hot little number is in Parental Advisory territory for language. Ah, go ahead, put it on your mix disc anyway. Was a free download over the Thanksgiving weekend, ahead of migrating to all the usual pay-download sites.

Hush the Herald Angels Sing, Oh, Hush! (self-issued)

These guys are a MySpace phenomenon based as much on their refusal to divulge much about themselves as on the music. The band is supposedly the side project of people from other bands we've heard of. This EP features five holiday songs, "Last Christmas," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night" and "Sleigh Ride." "Faithful" and "Sleigh Ride" are hard rockers, "Last Christmas" and "Santa" are more synthesizer pop-rock, and"Silent Night" is a folky rendition with a female singer. Nice work, and I'll update if we learn any of this band's secrets.

"Santa's Coming Over," Low (SubPop)

The Minneapolis band who made a mark on rock Christmas history with their 1997 album Christmas is back for 2008 with this 7-inch single. (They'll let you download it if you order the vinyl artifact.) The A-side is kind of doomy and desperate-sounding, begging Santa not to overlook the needy children. Flip it over and we get "The Coming of Jah," another holiday tune with a reggae beat based on the Biblical story of Christmas. I kind of like the B-side better, but then I used to flip singles over in my radio days, too.

Christmas On Mars, The Flaming Lips (Warner Brothers)

After several years of whispered promises, the band's long-awaited movie is here. Unfortunately, it comes to us without any new Christmas songs, unless you count Fred Armisen singing "Silent Night." The soundtrack CD consists entirely of instrumental background music from the film, which is kind of neat in a cheap sci-fi way, but it will never pass for holiday music. As for the film, you can tell it was made by a small crew of first-time moviemakers on a small budget, but since it was made as a kind of homage to cheesy old-school space movies, that's really not a handicap. The plot eventually revolves around people on a Mars station slowly losing their grip on Christmas Eve, including a guy who commits suicide in a Santa suit. The mood is attributed to a combination of a faulty oxygen supply and the notion that "humans weren't made to live in space." A mute alien lands at the station and takes over the Santa suit, and his presence appears to bring calm to the station. There are a lot of disjointed narrative points along the way, and the dialogue is weighed down by a surplus of delete-able expletives. Also, there's a bit of an obsession with vaginas, including people who have them for heads in a dream sequence. My guess is that folks who are excessively fond of 50s space and monster movies will catch a lot of homages — I noticed the opening scene with the woman inside a plastic bubble bore a slight resemblance to "Barbarella" — and Flaming Lips fans will find meaning in this that many others won't. The Lips do offer some additional Christmas music, but you have to go to their site and order the vinyl version, which throws in a single with "Silent Night," "It's Christmas Time Again" and "Lord, Can You Hear Me."

Christmas Chill, Peas w/Rachel Leslie (Quango)

"Peas" is the nickname of Peter McEvilley, a DJ and musician who works in film, TV and jingle music, and Leslie is an independent singer who has worked with Peas before and toured with Jennifer Lopez. They came together to perform this electro-pop-dance tribute to the holidays. No surprises in song selection other than the Latin hymn "Dona Nobis Pacem," the rest are classic carols plus "Auld Lang Syne." These are mostly rendered in mid-tempo dance beats, except for ballad treatments on "Joy to the World," "The First Noel" and "Silent Night." Leslie has a good set of pipes and she doesn't diva up the proceedings, and though there's not a lot of variety in approach here it's quite listenable. From 2008.

I'll Stay 'Til After Christmas, various artists (Animal World)

Not much information is available about this 2008 collection of indie-pop-rock performers except that the album is raising money for Amnesty International. Haven't seen it anywhere except as a download from Amazon and iTunes. Sally Shapiro returns with "Anorak Christmas," only this time a piano-led version that's also missing the Eurodisco beat of the original. The overall vibe of this collection is downbeat and experimental, with the almost-inaudible "Shenandoah" by Le Loup and My Brightest Diamond's "Nature Boy" requiring a bit of work to connect with the holidays. Au Revoir Simone kicks off things with the Peanuts song "Christmas Time Is Here," Parenthetical Girls get all Facebook-y with "Festive Friends (Forever)," No Kids put a bit of electrobeat behind the folky "Another Winter In a Summer Town," and Radar Bros. do a kind of bent Everly Brothers take on "Baby Jesus." After most of those tunes, the finger-picked guitar behind Blitzen Trapper's "Christmas Is Coming Soon" is sprightly by comparison, and Man of Arms' "It's Christmas Time and Every Thing's Wrong" is a nice holiday protest song, with just a hint of horns adding a Salvation Army flavor to the proceedings. Papercuts leads an instrumental "Go Tell It On the Mountain" off with organ, but never quite takes it into the gospel realm a listener might expect. Kind of a mope-y approach to the holidays taken in total, but it's for a good cause and there are good songs on here.

It's Christmas Baby!, various artists (Ecko)

This is a 2008 re-release of a 2006 EP with additional songs from the roster of this gospel and R'nB label. I'm just catching up to it this year, and well, this sucker just makes me smile. It's old-school soul music of the 60s variety, less like Motown and more like Stax. I got a little confused trying to identify the title song, as there are two versions of "It's Christmas" by Rick Lawson and O.B. Buchana, but the real title song is "It's Christmas Baby" by Ms. Jody, more of a big-band blues number in which we are invited to jingle the singer's bells. Yeah, we get a lot of those single-entendres here, but that's a feature, not a bug. Just check out "I Need a Man Down My Chimney" by Barbara Carr, Sheba Potts-Wright on "I Need a Lover For Christmas," or the return of Ms. Jody on "Humping Santa," the latter set to an Al Green beat. Lee Shot Williams also has only one thing on his mind when he sings "I Ate Too Much Over the Holidays." If a soul Christmas gets your Yule log burning (now there's a double-entendre), you need this collection.

Ten Out Of Tenn, various artists (Ten Out Of Tenn)

This is essentially a musician's club featuring 10 Nashville musicians who have banded together to get their alt-pop-rock music heard in a city that specializes in two other kinds of music. They have a couple of compilations out of their non-holiday music, and now they have this one for 2008. Aussie transplant Butterfly Boucher kicks things off with her own "Cinnamon & Chocolate," a ballad of holiday hope; Jeremy Lister's "Santa's Lost His Mojo" has the jolly elf dealing with job burnout; Katie Herzig does a folkie "Silent Night"; "Raise the Tree" is a nice holiday ballad by Trent Dabbs; K.S. Dabbs asks "Why Are Mom and Daddy Fighting on Christmas?"; Erin McCarley renders a downtempo and portentious "Little Drummer Boy"; Andy Davis strums out a nice original, "Christmas Time"; Tyler James borrows the martial beat McCarley wasn't using on her performance for his own "Sentimental Christmas"; Griffin House puts a mildly country spin on "O Holy Night"; and Matthew Perryman Jones does an almost David Lynch treatment on "O Come O Come Emanuel." This is a listenable collection from people we hope we'll hear from again.

"Christmas In Hollywood," Hollywood Undead (Octoscope)

A nice jokey rocker with hip-hop touches and Hanukkah references, along with a Parental Advisory for lyrics, starting with an overly familiary response to mistletoe, if you catch my drift. Don't know much about the band, but this 2008 single is a strong and profane modern rocker the more adventurous among you will want on their mix discs.

"Christmas in Los Angeles," Kennedy (Magic Bullet)

Gotta love the chorus line "All I want for Christmas is a bulletproof vest," and this Oklahoma band takes a look at the holiday from the mean streets of California's largest city. Grab this 2008 single from iTunes, and if you play drums, the band was looking for a drummer at this writing.

"Christmastime On the Beach," Roy Holliday (self-issued)

It's been a decade or so since Jimmy Buffett did his Christmas album, so if you need an update on your sun-drenched holidays Roy is here to give it to you on this 2008 single. And yes, Roy's website is part of the Parrothead Web ring, just in case you need it spelled out for you. It's a nice little number with a touch of calypso to it that wouldn't be out of place on Buffett's record.

"Baby, It's Christmas," The Singles (Sound Artifacts)

This 2008 single is good old power pop from this Detroit trio, and if you like this they're rolling out some more non-holiday goodies in the new year. A lovesick plea to a girlfriend, offering to give up the gifts in favor of the girl, all set to jangling guitars. Unique it's not, but catchy it is.

Takin' Care of Christmas, Randy Bachman (Avalon)

The title song from this collection has been knocking around for a few years now, an enjoyable retinseling of the 70s hit "Takin' Care of Business" by its creator, the former Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist, singer and songwriter. The rest of the album comes to us for 2008, a collection of classic carols and popular songs with one more original from Randy, "Shop Till You Drop," a nicely rocked-out anthem to the commercial side of the holiday. And though the rest of the songs reflect a fairly conventional take on the holiday, the journeyman rocker puts plenty of effort into it, keeping the whole thing nicely uptempo all the way through. "Frosty the Snowman" is a particularly driving number, and he puts a mild reggae beat behind a spaghetti-Western instrumental take on "Sleigh Ride." He even trots out "Merry Merry Christmas Baby" in a crunchy BTO-styled take on the old doo-wop classic. If you haven't thought much about Bachman since his big hit days, you'll pick up right where you left off with this.

Punk Rock Advent Calendar, Severe (Plastic Punk)

I'm reviewing this unfinished project because I'm operating under the same constraints the rest of you are — this is a free song a day from Dec. 1-25, 2008, from the label's website. So far, the band has offered thrashed-out versions of Jona Lewie's "Stop the Cavalry," "Blue Christmas," Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy," "Santa Baby" and the old Jim Reeves chestnut, "An Old Christmas Card." Well done, and the price is certainly right. Update: Add to the above "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S," Gary Glitter's "Another Rock 'n Roll Christmas," "Jingle Bells," "Wombling Merry Christmas," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night." And more to come. Further update: Add "Senor Santa Claus," "Frosty the Snowman," "Mary's Boy Child," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to the playlist. Finally: Fill out the playlist with "Merry Christmas Polka," "Silver Bells," "Once In Royal David's City," "When a Child Is Born," "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day," "Mistletoe and Wine," and "White Christmas." Check it out before the link goes dead.

XPN Local Volume 2, various artists (WXPN-FM)

The Philadelphia home of the popular "World Cafe" radio music series rolls out music compilations from time to time, and this is the second of their Philly Local series, featuring only bands based in Brotherly Love-ville. It appears here because the last three songs on this 2008 disc are holiday-oriented originals. Hoots and Hellmouth offers "A Song For Solstice," a non-Christmas Christmas folk song; Dan May performs "Christmas in My Hometown," a folk-rock meditation on the title by a guy whose voice evokes a little bit of Gordon Lightfoot; and Fooling April gives us the piano-led ballad "Every Single Christmas." Nice work, though all three are on the slow side. The disc also features non-holiday fare from such folks as Mutlu, Amos Lee, Dr. Dog and The Hooters — yeah, the same '80s band you're thinking of.

The Ultimate Gift, Rahsaan Patterson (Artistry)

This is my first time hearing Patterson's work, and I'm impressed. It's very modern R'nB singing and songwriting. Not bad for a former denizen of "Kids Incorporated." "Holiday" and "Christmas at My House" are very Prince-like songs, with synthesizer work harking back to the Purple One's 80s heyday. He gets off an original arrangement on Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me," though the vocal evokes the author's distinctive sound. "This Is the Season," "Peace and Joy" and "First Christmas" are original slow ballads, then he puts together a remarkable jazz-funk arrangement on "Angels We Have Heard on High." Patterson also does a fairly faithful take on Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime," though he wrings the slapdash elements out of the original and puts a studio sheen on the proceedings. And "Little Drummer Boy" emphasizes the percussion, but in a modern R'nB way. This is my favorite of this year's soul Christmas crop so far. From 2008.

This Time of Year, Project 86 (self-issued)

Not that familiar with these guys, but this 2008 EP is quite the doomy take on the holiday; I could see Trent Reznor hanging tinsel to this. The title song is portentious, while "Wrought on This Holiday's Eve" is more upbeat musically, but still doomy lyrically. They also cover "What Child" and "Misfit Toys," and throw in another original, "Shiny Skin."

"Thank You Christmas," Stratocruiser (Just Plain Lucky)

We've had their EP and previous holiday single "Last Christmas Girl" on the site before, and for 2008 they rolled out this new song, mid-tempo power pop, that is part of a reformulated version of the EP that adds this song and subtracts the cover of the Cowsills' "Crazy Horses." If you missed out on the previous EP, here's another, better, shot at the same thing. They also offer this song free when you sign up for their mailing list.

A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas, Substance W (Worst Kitchen)

I have no idea who these guys are, other than a bunch of people with access to musical instruments, but this is great fun. There are 28 cuts on this album, including eight different versions of "O Christmas Tree" tagged with various descriptions, from "Midnight Martini Mix" and "Hooked on Xmas Mix" to "Slap My Bass Mix" and "Dead Kringles Mix." Needless to say, they're different musical styles, the Kringles being punk, the Martini being lounge, and so on. "Switched On Bethlehem" is the little town carol done in "Switched On Bach" style, "Good King Wenceslas" wavers from electro-handclaps synth-pop to antique carol style, and "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" sounds somewhere between Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. "Silver and Gold" is basically the voice of your annoying Uncle Elwin as producer, complaining about the band the way he might complain about the check-out girl at the supermarket. Much of this is various shades of synth-pop, but there's enough going on to get your attention and maybe even a few giggles.

Wishing You a Rave Christmas, The Raveonettes (Vice)

Previously on the Christmas tip with their original "The Christmas Song," the duo returns with four more Christmas songs on this 2008 download-only EP. They make "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" into a dirge, and add three originals. "Come On Santa" fits right with the vibrato- and echo-drenched sound they've honed over several albums, "Christmas Ghosts" is a ballad with whispery vocals that I'm still trying to parse, and "Christmas in Cleveland" rounds things out. Oddly, they left out their previous holiday tune, but it's easy enough to download that while you're downloading this.

This Christmas, Martha's Trouble (self-issued)

This transnational folk-rock group (they split their time between Ontario and Alabama) has released its second holiday disc in 2008, and it's more of the same following on from the first, mostly classic carols in their acoustic rock-folk style. That said, their cover of Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime" adds a bit of martial drumming and folky drone that makes this a better-than-average interpretation of this song. The title song is the band's own original, a nice mid-tempo rocker that highlights Jen Slocumb's folk-diva singing style well. The other original is "Christmas in the City," another mid-tempo rocker. Just eight songs, but it's a keeper. As their previous holiday outing had only six songs, I'd bet that a future Christmas season will see both reissued on a single disc, especially if a major label picks them up eventually.

A Foggy Holiday, Carols From the SF Scene Vol. 2, various artists (Talking House)

Just got hold of Vol. 1 this year, and for 2008 we get Vol. 2, another collection of Bay Area bands contributing Christmas songs to benefit MusiCares, the Grammy Foundation's fund to aid needy musicians. As last time, these alt-pop-rockers give us a wide selection of covers, some fairly faithful to the originals, others reimagined in a variety of ways. The Lovemakers' "Melekalikimaka" is a cover of the Beach Boys song of the same name, incorporating backing vocals from the Boys' early song "Hawaii." "Do They Know It's Christmastime" by Apside takes the Band Aid song and applies a bit of a country shuffle to it. "Happy New Year" by The Matches covers Tilly and the Wall, The May Fire turn "It's a Marshmallow World" into a dirge, Overview puts a bit of Eastern drone and stomp behind "I Believe in Father Christmas," and Scissors For Lefty lay down a fairly disorienting backing for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Topping things off is a hoedown version of Mel Torme's classic "The Christmas Song" by I the Mighty that turns into a rock rave-up at the end. Another great effort from the folks at Talking House.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, Stephen Colbert and Friends (Comedy Central)

America's favorite fake pundit steps away from the desk to host the greatest Christmas special of all time (just ask him). It is quite a hoot, as Colbert takes off on the old-school Christmas variety special that used to clog the airwaves at Christmas time back in the day. As one of the features of such shows was a cast of big stars "coincidentally" wandering onto the set, Colbert follows the blueprint with the help of Elvis Costello, John Legend, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Feist and Jon Stewart. Colbert himself gets things going with "Another Christmas Song," a big-band song about writing the perfect Christmas carol, and wraps up with "A Cold Cold Christmas," a song of lost love. Toby Keith sings "Have I Got a Present For You," which is the ultimate War On Christmas song (listening, Papa Bear?). Feist cracks us up with "Please Be Patient," a take-off on "Angels We Have Heard On High" in which supplicants praying are told "an angel will be with thee shortly," complete with an interlude of tinkertoy hold music. Willie Nelson sings "Little Dealer Boy," which riffs a tiny bit on the Bing 'n Bowie medley while offering some righteous bud to go alongside the frankincense and myrrh. Legend gets in a little Al Green rhythm with "Nutmeg," the perfect accent to your holiday eggnog. At least I think that's what he's singing about. Stewart sings "Can I Interest You in Hanukkah," which triggers the requisite alert, and Elvis Costello gets out of doing a Christmas song by bringing along his show-closer "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding," here done by the whole cast. I should note that Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne was a co-writer of the original songs from this show along with David Javerbaum of "The Daily Show." The show's on DVD but there's a soundtrack disc as well. From 2008.

Songs in the Key of Hanukkah, Erran Baron Cohen (New Line)

We've had hip-hop Hanukkahs on the site before, though they were fairly tongue-in-cheek. This one isn't playing the combination for laughs so much, although you can be forgiven for thinking that, as Cohen is the brother of "Ali G" himself, Sasha Baron Cohen. It's a collection of traditional folk songs for the holiday, many rendered in a kind of klezmer-funk fusion, making room for traditional instruments behind modern percussion and bass, and throwing in a bit of reggae and rap as well. "Hanukkah Oh Hannukah," "Dreidel," "Ocho Kandalikas," "My Hanukkah," and more all get this sort of treatment. As this Cohen brother (not to be confused with a Coen brother) is a composer and DJ, it's the approach you might expect. Coming along for the ride are international singing stars like Yasmin Levy, Jules Brookes, Y-Love, Dana Kerstein and Idan Raichel. All told, it's a lively compilation and an enjoyable listening experience.

I'll Be Home For Christmas, Brian McKnight (Razor & Tie)

This is Brian's second Christmas album, the first out in 1998 and this one a decade later in 2008. As Brian's a mature R'nB singer, you'll probably find this album to be as much pop as soul, as it relies on pop and older soul readymades to back up his still-considerable voice. He performs mostly classic carols and pop holiday tunes here, with "Let It Snow" and "Most Wonderful Time of the Year" being the uptempo numbers, the rest falling into various shades of ballad, though "The Christmas Song" treads closer to a slow jam. "Christmas You and Me," "Bless This House" and "Who Would Have Thought" are the original tunes on this album. Well made, but more for an older crowd.

A Tribute to Bad Santa, Jim Jones & Skull Gang (Koch)

Jones was on the Christmas tip earlier with his own hip-hop holiday joint, and now he's back in 2008 for another go-round with his gang as well as actor/comic Mike Epps. Folks (like me) who were expecting a tie-in with the movie of the same title will be disappointed, as the story line for the album is thuggery on the holidays in general, with no references to Billy Bob Thornton's drunken criminal Santa. Leaving that aside, there's a lot of rapping and singing of standard carols as well as plenty of original material featuring Epps in his own version of a bad Santa, or just a general gangsta on the holidays. It's not bad, but if you've heard a lot of hip-hop, there are no surprises here.

Wayside Waifs: Christmas Bells, various artists (Wayside Waifs)

The proprietor of Twelve Months of Christmas curated this collection of alt-rock-pop to benefit Wayside Waifs, a Kansas City animal shelter. I haven't heard of most of these people, with the exception of the reclusive R. Stevie Moore, who offers a rocked-out "Joy to the World" with the occasional bark from the backing singer. Aside from that, "Christmas Time Is Here" by The Harvey Girls, "Jingle Bell Rock" by Ray Carmen, "Ukrainian Bell Carol" by Lord of the Yum-Yum and what I believe is a Scandinavian carol, "Jolaljosin" by Worm Is Green, the majority of these tunes are originals, starting with the title tune by ShiSho, which is a bit of kid rap-sing that isn't bad for a disc opener. Zen Doggies throw a bit of cheap synthesizer into "Oh Santa," What About Frogs tells the story of "The Cat Who Controls Christmas," and Euchrid Eucrow sticks with animals in "A Horse is Not Just For Christmas." Thee Majesty does "I Like the Holidays," a spoken bit over a "Silent Night" music bed talking about improvised decorations, including a Nativity scene made from an array of cast-off dolls. Mercurial Rage does a neat synth-pop "It's Christmas," and Ethan Waters offers a nearly stream-of-consciousness "5AM Christmas Pawn Groove," a suite of disjointed but catchy tunes that will make you go "hmm." Available as disc or download here, along with samples of all the 20 or so tunes.

Heavy Mental Christmas, Helix (Vollmer)

This long-standing metal band from Canada jumps into the Christmas fray for 2008 with a long-player that for now is available only online or at Wal-Mart stores in Canada. It's well-played but fairly monochromatic; mid-tempo to uptempo crunch is the rule here. Song selection is predictable too, mostly rock standards, hitting Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," though "Christmas Time Is Here Again" is not the Beatles song, but an original. Other tunes include "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Silent Night," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and, possibly the best performance here, a rendition of Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa." Good mainly for metal fans.

Yulenog 4: Election 2008 Edition, Nathan Kuruna and friends (Hot Cup)

We covered Yulenog 3 last year, and sure enough here's no. 4. This year's album adds the conceit of political satire on top of the holiday fare, promising tunes for both sides of the partisan divide. It kicks off with a slapdash "All I Want For Christmas," then goes into "Coal For Christmas," which is about the fossil fuel situation. Santa has a bit of an identity crisis here, as the next two songs, sung by Sam Kulik, are "Santa's From Iran," a bit of dissonant funk, and "Santa Claus is a Jew," a folky bit of satiric irony that revisits the fossil fuel situation. Kuruna returns with "Snoopy's Christmas," Weird Al's "Christmas at Ground Zero," Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster's Holiday," the infamous "What Can You Get a Wookie For Christmas" and a falsetto "Santa Baby." Charles Evans stops by with an "Obama For Christmas (Not For President)," the first holiday song featuring our new president as far as I know; it's kind of jazzy but the singing is a bit off-key. Kuruna also does a quick "No Christmas For Old Men," an homage to the Coen brothers, and revisits "Island of Misfit Toys." The satirical aspect isn't all that satisfying to my mind, since they seem to abandon it frequently, but you'll probably enjoy what sounds like a fairly spontaneous attempt to make a Christmas album.

This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1, various artists (Brushfire)

A charity compilation on behalf of children's music education featuring alt-pop-folkies, only this time it's dominated by guys, making this the male counterpart to the Hotel Cafe album. Five of the 11 cuts are originals, and the cover choices exhibit some original thinking, starting with Jack Johnson's "Someday at Christmas," the Stevie Wonder song, going on to Rogue Wave's version of the Who's "Christmas" and Neil Halstead's acoustic take on Fountains of Wayne's "The Man in the Santa Suit." Johnson's version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" from the Nettwerk compilations makes a return appearance here, and Mason Jennings does an acoustic "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Matt Costa performs his "All I Want For Christmas," an acoustic singalong song, G. Love brings his Philly funk to "Christmas Baby," ALO does their own "Christmas Time" in a full band arrangement, Money Mark's "Stuck at the Airport" is a season-appropriate tune you could play all year round, and Zee Avi breaks up the testosterone party with her sexy "No Christmas For Me." All told, a nice compilation from some up-and-coming acts.

Garage Band Christmas Vols. 1 and 2, various artists (Collectibles)

Garage rock has a long and fondly remembered pedigree in the rock 'n roll pantheon, going back to the Pacific Northwest bands of the early to mid 60s, continuing through the Nuggets bands in the later part of the decade, only to be revived by younger acolytes to that rough and ready sound in the 1980s and again in the early part of this decade. What we have here is a bunch of music biz veterans, some of whom go back to those halcyon 60s days, who have been brought together to record fresh Christmas songs for 2008 release. Up front, I should warn you that avid garage rock fans won't hear much of the garage ethos on these two discs, they're too cleanly produced. But you'll hear plenty of above average rock 'n roll Christmas music, and that's why we're here, right? Volume 1 kicks off with iconic garagers The Shadows of Knight, assisted by Henry Gross, he of "Shannon" and Sha Na Na, on the original "Rudolph's Off His Rocker," in which the famous reindeer is spurned by Santa in favor of a shiny new airplane. Gross returns later with another original, the adult pop-rocker "What a Christmas." Tommy Frenzy of Tuff Darts offers another original, "Cocktails With Santa," featuring the jolly elf with a snootful. Glen Burtnik, formerly of Styx, takes on the classic "Must Be Santa" with a crunchy arrangement that might well fit on Metal Xmas, and here it should be mentioned that Burtnik is quite the Christmas rock freak. Pat Horgan and Thunder Road do Foghat's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and the Albert Carey Project offer the old blues tune "Trim Your Tree." John Wicks and the Records — yeah, the New Wave-era British pop-rockers, but Wicks is the only one left — offer the original "Star of Bethlehem," something that might fit better on the Moody Blues holiday disc. On Volume 2, the Shadows of Knight return with "Celebrate Chicago (The Christmas Version)," with a taste of cheap organ for the garage fans, Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge does an original, "Bronx Christmas Blues," which is as advertised, and Badfinger's Joey Molland offers his own "King of Kings," a low-key ballad. Nazz featuring Stewkey (original singer of the band that launched Todd Rundgren) goes Caribbean with "Rasta Santa," Burtnik returns with a live hard-rocking "Winter Wonderland," and Lee Brovitz's ballad "That's Why They Call It EXmas" tells a story of lost love over the holidays. Wooden Hobo goes country with a version of "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk For Christmas)" and the Albert Carey Project rocks the house with "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)," a tough blues that isn't the Elvis tune. The title of these two discs probably qualifies as false advertising, but classic rock fans will still get their money's worth from either or both.

Hang Your Stockings and Say Your Prayers, Hillbilly Casino (self-issued)

With all the varieties of rock and pop out there nowadays, serious rock fans might feel the need to cleanse the palate with something from the old days. These guys may be from the modern day, but this 2008 disc is straight-up rockabilly, accent mark over the rock. They put that 50s spirit into an otherwise straight reading of "Jingle Bell Rock," embue "Here Comes Santa Claus" with some serious stomp, tell Chuck Berry the news on a cover of his "Run Rudolph Run," and put their own stamp on the holiday with such originals as "Santabilly Boogie," "Blue Suede Santa," "Tangled Up" and "Up 'n At 'Em Old St. Nick." Oh, and clear the dance floor for their version of "Holly Jolly Christmas." Apparent disc closer "Blue Christmas," an uptempo version at that, hides a live version of "Santabilly Boogie," but you have to get past several minutes of jingling bells before it comes up. (Or you could just hit scan, or drag the cursor on your iPod's screen until you find it.) You gotta get it from these guys' website, but it's worth the trouble. Roll over Carl Perkins, and tell Brian Setzer the news.

Hark! Tidings of Barbary Joy, The Barbary Coasters (Hillsdale)

You know those fake bands you saw playing on the beach in those 1960s surf movies that usually included some of the film's characters? Imagine one of them come to life and you've got the Barbary Coasters. They've got that West Coast small combo pop-rock sound down pat, vintage instruments, cheap organ and all. More remarkable is that this 2008 Christmas album consists almost entirely of originals, though "Twistin' Bells' is just an instrumental "Jingle Bells" and "I Want a Monkey For Christmas" is simply new lyrics to "Roll Over Beethoven." That tune appeared on a Double Crown compilation, in case the description sounds familiar. The band still gets credit for its authentic period sentiment, with song titles like "Frosty's Beach Party," "Wild Snowshoeing Weekend," "Ho Ho GTO," "Apres Ski A-Go-Go," and "Will You Still Love Me (After Christmas Break)?" As I have fond memories of that musical period, I'll probably be playing this a lot.

Mele Kalikimaka, King of Hawaii (Double Crown)

Just discovered this EP on its 2008 re-release, though the band notes on its MySpace page the disc was originally released in 2006. Strangely enough, the title song isn't performed on this brief collection; what is here is surf-rock versions of "Greensleves," "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" and "Our Favorite (Christmas) Martian," which to my ears sounds like a takeoff from the theme to the TV show of the same name. Their "Feliz Navidad" brings in a bit of Latin rhythm, and their original "Road Kill Christmas" has a bit of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks to it. Nicely done.

Psychobilly Christmas, various artists (Cleopatra)

This 2008 compilation pulls together a bunch of bands who play in this style — think rockabilly, add a heaping helping of the Cramps and maybe season with a little Iggy Pop — to give us their version of Christmas. It gets off to a misleading start with Rev. Horton Heat's "We Three Kings," which isn't bad but also isn't really all that psycho. The second cut by The Tabaltix, "Don't Believe in Christmas," is more in line with the title, applyling that style to The Sonics' classic tune. Los Gatos Locos take on the Kinks' "Father Christmas," The Coffin Draggers medley "Jingle Bell Rock" into "Jingle Bells," turning the latter into a real thrash-fest. That tempo is picked up again by Bamboula with "I'm Getting Pissed For Christmas," an ode to drinking beer on the holiday. Knock Galley West get into the evil elf mode with "Gunslingin' Santa," The Coffin Caddies celebrate "Halloween on Xmas" (paging Tim Burton), and The Vaudevilles "Shot My Baby For Christmas." An interesting compilation with some good tunes, a few weak ones, and a reasonable intro to psychobilly if you haven't been down that road before.

A Foggy Holiday: Carols From the SF Scene, various artists (Talking House)

Released in 2007, this collection from Bay Area bands is intended to benefit MusiCares, which helps indigent musicians with their needs. It's a fairly professional bunch of local bands in the alt-rock vein. The set kicks off with a clattery "Holly Jolly Christmas" from Scissors For Lefty, Built For the Sea takes "Baby It's Cold Outside" out of the cocktail lounge and turns it into a rock anthem, The Trophy Fire builds an alt-folk arrangement around "White Christmas," and Bray gives up the white-boy funk for Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." More funky beats from Austin Willacy back up "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," Kelly Gulbranson offers up Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus," and Mud (not the 70s British band, I'm sure) does an amped-up "Father Christmas," the Kinks song. Most imaginative choice of song goes to The Hundred Days with their version of "Walking In the Air," from the 1982 British short film "The Snowman." The song gets a bit of U2 in the arrangement, though the vocal is buried a bit. Poor Bailey rocks up "The Chipmunk Song," Push to Talk takes the tempo down on "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," and Elephone takes us out with "Auld Lang Syne." Plenty of mix disc candidates here and not too shabby to listen to all the way through.

Holiday EP, The Pretenders (Shangri-La)

The band's "2000 Miles" from 1980 is one of the rock world's classic original Christmas songs, and for 2008 Chrissie Hynde and the band decided to revisit it, along with three other classic carols, in what sounds like a live-in-the-studio performance. You'll probably prefer the studio originals of that song and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from A Very Special Christmas, but the four tunes — add "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Blue Christmas" to the mix — are nicely done. Folks who like their music unadorned and spontaneous might just like this better. It's on iTunes.

Kasio Kristmas, Kasio Kristmas (Blue Thumb)

Available as a disc or a download, this 2008 holiday album proudly proclaims that it was cut entirely with vintage Casio keyboards and video game sound effects. While the musos among us probably wouldn't be surprised — they might even pick out sounds by model number — one should not forget that Casio was a pioneer in bringing digital synthesis to the masses, filling discount warehouses throughout the Western world with their tiny keyboards that had some fairly big sounds. Indeed, "Casio bass" was often cited on 80s rap, R'nB and rock records, as the CZ models especially could shake the house when attached to the right amplifiers. So you shouldn't be surprised to discover that this disc, though evocative of instrumental electro-pop and dance music of the 80s, is well made and quite listenable. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" especially maintains the attitude of the original, even sneaking in a bit of Addams Family music near the end. The quasi-exotica version of "Mele Kalikimaka" features a guest shot from Ikey of The Mars Volta. The rest of the songs are familiar carols spruced up with patented Casio bleeps and bloops, wrapping up with a Chipmunks-inspired version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The whole thing at once might feel a bit samey-samey, but there's plenty to like on this disc.

A New Thought For Christmas, Melissa Etheridge (Island)

I'm not so sure there's as much new to this album as Melissa would have us believe, but then I say that as someone who has been compiling Christmas music "for the rest of us" at this site for a decade now. In the liner notes, she references the ancient solstice celebrations and talks about the season of change, a theme she follows in the majority of the six originals on this disc. "Christmas in America" is a more traditional tune that was part of her greatest hits album a couple years ago, a "bring my baby home" lament. "Ring the Bells" is a duet with Salman Ahmad, and it, like "Light a Light" is an attempt to evoke holiday spirit without directly referencing Christmas. "Glorious" is a pastiche of familiar carols, and "O Night Divine" builds on "O Holy Night," with a hard rock instrumental of the carol serving as an extended introduction to the song. "It's Christmas Time" has the flavor of her big hit "Bring Me Some Water." And she does a nice job on the evergreens "Blue Christmas," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby." Too bad she didn't include her oft-bootlegged medley of "Happy Xmas/Give Peace a Chance," though.

Home For Christmas, Sheryl Crow (Hallmark)

Sheryl's been to the holiday well before with a few tunes in the Very Special Christmas series, but this full album is all new, though she revisits "Blue Christmas" here in a bluesier version than the Very Special performance and does a studio version of "Merry Christmas Baby" as opposed to the live performance she shared with Eric Clapton. As this endeavor was commissioned by Hallmark for 2008, it stands to reason that this is going to be something that regular Hallmark store customers would be comfortable with, but Crow manages to avoid going too middle of the road here, falling back on blues and soul readymades in a lot of cases, even recasting "O Holy Night" as an R'nB showstopper. "Go Tell It On the Mountain" gets the requisite gospel treatment, though "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "There Is a Star That Shines Tonight" are definitely for the Hallmark crowd. After you bring a copy of this home, you can download "Hello My Friend Hello," which may or may not be a Sheryl original but is another mellow Christmas ballad. I would have preferred a little more like her version of "Run Rudolph Run" from VSC, but I understand why that wasn't likely.

Christmas Spirit, Los Lonely Boys (Epic)

The Tex-Mex trio who are one of Willie Nelson's favorite bands dropped their first Christmas CD for 2008, and if you're familiar with their close harmony and solid guitar playing, you'll be happy to hear that style applied to a CD's worth of holiday tunes, including two originals. "I've Longed For Christmas" starts things off well, even if they resort to the kiddie choir on the very first song, and "She'll Be My Everything For Christmas" is a solid midtempo ballad with a touch of Everly Brothers vocally. Rudolph makes two appearances, once with his red nose in a nice rocked-out rhythm and again in the Chuck Berry classic. Their "Carol of the Bells" is a witty amalgam of the standard arrangement with an overlay of Mexican folk playing and Spanish percussion, with just a touch of the Santana sound on lead guitar. Given their background, you'd probably be disappointed if they didn't do "Feliz Navidad," which they do in a nice shuffle, the same arrangement as the single demo they did a couple years ago but a more finished-sounding version. All told, a nice rocking holiday disc.

The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs, various artists (Epic)

Or, as I titled it after first listening, "A Grey's Anatomy Christmas," in honor of the roster of young alternative divas featured here. Not that this is a bad thing, as the "Grey's" musical directors have pretty good taste. But it's the direction you might expect for this 2008 charity compilation benefiting Susan Komen For the Cure, the breast cancer-fighting organization. Hotel Cafe is an L.A. venue that features many of the folks on this record, and wouldn't you know, some of them have even placed songs on "Grey's." Some names here are familiar; Colbie Caillat's "Mistletoe" was reviewed here as a single last year, as was KT Tunstall's "Sleigh Bells," and though Fiona Apple's sweet "Frosty the Snowman" has been around for a few years, I think this may be my first copy of it. Elsewhere on this CD, Nicole Atkins does an imaginative take on "Blue Christmas," Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson team up to write and sing "Winter Song," Lenka offers the sprightly original "All My Bells are Ringing," Meiko's "Maybe Next Year (x-mas song)" may sound more like Fiona Apple than Fiona does, and Katy Perry, the "Ur So Gay" girl, strips down "White Christmas" to the essentials. Also on hand here are Brandi Carlile, Holly Conlan, Alice Smith, Priscilla Ahn, Kate Havnevik and Catherine Feeney, and just about everybody on here appears on "Auld Lang Syne."

It's Christmas, Ledisi (Verve)

This up-and-coming R'nB singer just completed a great year, with several hits, two Grammy nominations, guest shots on TV with the likes of Prince and Sergio Mendes, and an acting stint in the film "Leatherheads." So here she is with a full album of Christmas goodies, a mix of the familiar and five originals. And praise be, "This Christmas" isn't the Donny Hathaway song — a rarity for a soul Christmas album in the modern day. It's one of the originals, a similar take lyrically with the subtitle "(Could Be The One)." The originals that open and close the album, "I'll Go" and "Thank You," are more religious than holiday-oriented, and "What a Wonderful World" isn't Christmas, though it seems to turn up on Christmas albums more and more. Her version of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" is a strong contemporary gospel performance, and she does a nice job on the evergreen blues "Please Come Home For Christmas" as well. All told, a strong modern soul record.

Holiday Spirits, Straight No Chaser (Atlantic)

This a cappella group came together at Indiana University and became one of those Internet traditions we are all aware of when they YouTubed a performance of "12 Days of Christmas" that interpolates the carol into several other familiar carols, topping the whole melange off by singing the words over Toto's "Africa." A live version of that hit is the centerpiece of their 2008 Christmas CD. Ten voices strong, the cover kind of screams "glee club," but these guys, if not quite as deranged as the Bobs, manage to put together decent, snappy versions of rock-era arrangements of such tunes as "Jingle Bell Rock," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," "Little Saint Nick," "This Christmas," and more. "The Christmas Song" is definitely glee club material, however. The version at iTunes has three bonus cuts, including a full version of "Africa."

Stocking Stuffer, The Fleshtones (Yep Roc)

These guys go back to the 70s New York punk scene and are still out there bashing out their "super rock" garage sound, adding a holiday disc to their repertoire for 2008. They kick off in style with "Hurray For Santa Claus," the old B-movie hit, and swing into "Six White Boomers," a Rolf Harris song, which sounds an awful lot like AC/DC, appropriately for a song about Christmas kangaroos(?). "You're All I Want For Christmas" is a nice ballad, "Super Rock Santa" is as advertised, "Christmas With Bazooka Joe" means lots of gum in your stocking, "In Midnight's Silence" is about the Nativity, and they also take on "Run Rudolph Run." These guys have really kept the bug-zapper burning in the garage for three decades, and if that's your speed you should check some of their recent discs as well. Update: Martin Johns corrects me on which songs are covers, like "Boomers," "Mr. Santa Claus" and "You're All I Want For Christmas," previously done by such folks as Brook Benton and Frankie Laine.

Christmas Cheer, The Boxmasters (Vanguard)

This is the band featuring actor Billy Bob Thornton, and this 2008 Christmas disc is their second album. I'd call this "Americana," which apparently nowadays means "country music of the kind they haven't played in Nashville for years." The band worked up three originals for this outing, and they're nicely cynical takes on the holiday, on the order of "Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas." (That song's not on here, though it ought to be.) "My Dreams of Christmas" is sung from the POV of a kid living in a dysfunctional household who dreams of holiday gifts that never come. "Slower Than Christmas" tells how the holiday just grinds by because the singer has to put up with relatives who drive him "as crazy as a hundred shithouse rats." And "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" is because the singer's in jail. Add to those John Prine's "Christmas In Prison," a perfect rockabilly version of "We Three Kings," a hoedown take on Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," and the only countrified version of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" I can think of at the moment. This might be too country for some folks, but it hangs together nicely and the originals deserve to be heard more widely.

Sunday Music Volume 5: Holiday, various artists (Big Helium)

This is a series of compilations that is sold at Barnes and Noble stores. The idea is that this is music to relax by, mostly current artists with some of their mellower tunes. This 2008 holiday compilation follows right along with the concept. We've covered the songs by The Bird and the Bee, KT Tunstall, Over the Rhine and Sufjan Stevens before, but there are some tunes here that are billed as exclusives. Ingrid Michaelson adds to her Hotel Cafe holiday offering with the original "Snowfall," Ashton Allen gives us the ballad "Until Christmas," Sono sings the a capella "White Winter Hymnal" and Eastmountainsouth offers a stripped-down lounge band version of "Ave Maria." Also on here are Lou Rawls with a big-band "Merry Christmas Baby," Ray Charles' "Little Drummer Boy," Imogen Heap's ballad "Just For Now," Norah Jones' "Peace" and Celtic Woman's "Panis Angelicus." Capping off this collection is "O Holy Night," the jazz horn choir version performed on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The performance was a plot point in the show's Christmas episode, in which musicians from TV show house bands were calling in sick for a week to allow New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina an opportunity to work. If you remember the show, this is a nice souvenir to have.

Christmas 1979, Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire (Damaged Goods)

Wild Billy is actually better known in his native England as an artist than a musician, one currently going through a bit of critical reappraisal a la Robert Crumb. This is not to downgrade his musical career, though, as he has been around since the late 70s punk upheaval, first in the Pop Rivets and later in such bands as Thee Milkshakes and Thee Headcoats. Out of some 100 albums he's made in that time, this is his first Christmas recording. You garage fans are gonna love this; it's so lo-fi you'll think it was recorded in the 60s rather than in 2007. Most of the songs are original, though there is a cover of The Sonics' "Santa Claus," Link Wray's "Commanche" somehow becomes a holiday song, "Merry Christmas Fritz" throws in bits of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Mary Mary," and "A Quick One" appears to be the Who song with eggnog on the lyrics. The title song was also a single, more punk of the title vintage than garage, concerns his dad kicking in the TV and collapsing into a coma, but not before wishing a merry, eh, Christmas to all. "Knick Knack Paddywhack (Chuck It in the Bin)" concerns the season of commerce, and poverty is examined in "A Poundland Christmas." Play this back to back with The Fleshtones.

The Dawn of Grace, Sixpence None the Richer (Nettwerk)

This Christian pop-rock band had broken up a few years ago but reformed in the past year to make an EP and now this, their first full Christmas album for 2008. The band previously dabbled in the holiday with versions of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" on Happy Christmas 2, "Christmas Time is Here" for a Peanuts compilation, "Silent Night" for a compilation called City on a Hill and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" for Maybe This Christmas Too. In addition, singer Leigh Nash did a solo Christmas EP, Wishing For This, in 2006. As far as I can tell, this album was recorded fresh in 2008 with no repeats from the past, so that means they've done two versions of "Silent Night," the one here featuring an assist from Jars of Clay's Dan Haseltine. If you recall the band from its hits like "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes," there will be no surprises. The whole album has a contemporary alt-folk-pop sheen to it, mostly slow to midtempo, with two original songs, "Christmas For Two" and "The Last Christmas" sitting nicely alongside eight covers, six familiar ones like "O Come O Come," the Emanuel carol in a nicely martial beat; a folky "Carol of the Bells"; a rather heavy take on "Christmas Island"; and a straight cover of Joni Mitchell's "River." Two unusual covers are "Some Children See Him" and the Spanish carol "Riu Riu Chiu."

Wishing For This, Leigh Nash (Nettwerk)

The Sixpence None the Richer singer knocked off this extended EP in 2006 during her solo career phase (the band's back together, see above). It doesn't sound much different from Sixpence's work, but those who like one will like the other. Two original songs, the title song and "Eternal Gifts," are achingly sincere, and she does a version of "Maybe This Christmas" from the Nettwerk series of compilations that was originally performed by Ron Sexsmith. Covers include a duet with Gabe Dixon of "Baby It's Cold Outside" and her version of "Last Christmas," fairly faithful to the Wham original. A version of "O Holy Night" rounds out this collection. Update: Ken Ingram flags my lack of show tunes knowledge. I had "Hard Candy Christmas" as an original but it's actually the song from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

A Politically Incorrect Christmas, Mary Karlzen (Dualtone)

Updated post: This 2008 EP was originally offered as a disc called (Not Just Until) The Season Ends with two fewer songs via the artist's website. Karlzen is a longtime solo alt-folk-rock troubadour with several CDs to her credit. Her version of "Run Rudolph Run" appears on the You Sleigh Me compilation, one of the very few, if any, covers of that done by a female vocalist. The version here sounds like a different, heavier rock performance. This EP, released in 2003 and advertised as a limited edition of 200, also includes her own original, "(Not Just Until) The Season Ends," which also made an Atlantic compilation of plain pop performances. The new title song is a country rocker in which the singer complains about having to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." It's a sharp little number, but it's a few years late to be the theme song for the annual "War on Christmas" that, ironically, appears to be advertised mainly by the folks who claim to be Christmas' biggest supporters. Another song on the new version is "It's Christmas Once More," a nice acoustic rocker that appears to be another original. Along with yet another compilation contribution, a slow-drone version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," she adds rocked-up performances of "Auld Lang Syne" and the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling," both nice crunchy renditions you won't be embarrassed to play to your taste-tipper friends.

Nightmare Revisited, various artists (Walt Disney)

You all remember Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and its soundtrack album from a decade ago. Well, Disney, the king of post-release film marketing, has detected the film's cult audience and is pushing the movie once again. They recut it in 3D/IMAX, and last year a special edition of the soundtrack CD included cover versions of the songs by rock artists. This year, they've gone whole hog with a full CD of covers of the movie songs. Only Marilyn Manson's "This Is Halloween" appears to have made the jump from last year's special edition, so it's off to eBay with you completists out there. Highlights of this CD, along with Manson, include the Bowie-esque version of "Town Meeting Song" by Polyphonic Spree, Korn's "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," Amy Lee's version of "Sally's Song" and "Poor Jack" by the Plain White T's. A disappointment was that "Oogie Boogie's Song" was done as an instrumental by Rodrigo & Gabriela. Most of these songs might be tough to use on your Christmas discs, though, as musical theater songs tend to be a bit specialized.

This Christmas, Aretha Franklin (DMI)

The Queen of Soul hasn't done much Christmas music before. She sang "Winter Wonderland" during her Columbia Records days in the 1960s, and she did a version of "O Christmas Tree" for Very Special Christmas 2. There's also a YouTube of her singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain." So this 2008 disc is her first-ever holiday album. It's pretty much what you'd expect from an R'nB diva — scratch that, THE R'nB diva. Which is to say, it's a helping of old-school soul, a helping of gospel, and not a lot of contemporary touches, other than a bit of talk-in and talk-out of the title track, done as a duet with her son Edward. As for that title track, yes, it's the Donny Hathaway classic. She also does the O'Jays "Christmas Ain't Christmas," but that's pretty much it for soul Christmas songs, although she does the David Foster tune "My Grown-Up Christmas List," originally done by Natalie Cole and Amy Grant. The rest is mostly classic carols. She puts her stamp on the traditional "Ave Maria" and goes to church for "The Lord Will Find a Way." She also brings her own perspective to a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" to close the album. This is a disc that older listeners will appreciate more. My wish would have been to cut a Christmas album on Aretha in the early 70s, somewhere between her Fillmore West and Amazing Grace concerts, to get something a little grittier for the holidays. This one's only available at Borders this year.

Santa Doesn't Like You, Beatnik Turtle (self-issued)

This album's from 2002, but I just stumbled over it lately. Beatnik Turtle is a novelty show band with a bunch of albums to their name, plus a sideline creating a "song of the day," a service similar to They Might Be Giants' Dial-a-Song. They've been heard on Dr. Demento's show and have played at Second City, so this should give you an idea what's on offer here. There are strong melodies and hooks with fun-loving lyrics, set off with the occasional pilfered hook — "Santa Doesn't Like You" starts out with the beat from "Addicted to Love" and the guitar lick that kicks off "Christmas Cake" reminds me of "Peace Frog" by the Doors. "Christmas Is a Vulture" is a take-off on protest music, "Tipped Over the Christmas Tree" is an inebriated-sounding bit of fake jazz, and "Coed Naked Drunk Christmas Shopping" starts out with some Spike Jones-like sound effects riffing before everybody gets dragged before the judge for, well, see title. "Christmastime (Turn to the Children)" is a parody of those songs that render the holiday as a time for children, complete with children's chorus. "Smokin' the Mistletoe" plays around with the "Rudolph" intro before going on to advocate for a holiday high, following the plot, if not the lyrics, from "A Visit From St. Nicholas." (The liner notes point out this is probably dangerous, kids, so don't try this at home.) And "Santa" is based loosely on John Lennon's "God," complete with the litany of Christmas traditions the singer "don’t believe in" because "Santa is a concept by which we commercialize the holidays." All told, an enjoyable romp.

Hang Your Stocking, Start the Rocking, Kevin and the Octaves (Nice Guy)

Not much to say after I tell you this is a punk rock Christmas album from 2008. These guys are studio players from Cincinnati, Ohio, and this is their first album. There's a dozen tunes here, all rendered with that nice speedy punk beat, but played cleanly. All are classic carols except the original "Christmas Without You," more of a midtempo ballad and a fairly radio-friendly one at that. I found the physical disc at CDBaby, but it's also downloadable from Amazon and iTunes.

Ho Ho Ho, Bobnoxious (Wannabe Records)

This gang of rockers from London, Ontario, put this Christmas album out in 2006, a fairly irreverent bit of punk rock fun. After kicking off with a medley of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells," they swing into a parody of "Feliz Navidad" called "Police Nabbed My Dad." Originals include "You Ruined Christmas," an ode to the parental admonition slung at unruly kids, and the title song, in which a child tries to catch Santa in the act, and as usual, fails. And leave us not forget "Santa Bring Me Money," where this mercenary Christmas wish goes unfulfilled. An array of high-speed versions of carols fills out the rest of the disc.

I Love Christmas, Tommy James (Aura)

The title song was a single in 2004, and for 2008 the former leader of the Shondells is back with a full CD for those who remember the guy who gave us "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and "Hanky Panky." Two additional originals besides the title tune are included here, "Born On the First Christmas Day" and "It's Christmas Again," and they're in much the same vein. The latter, more of a ballad, features a Shondells reunion. Other than "Jingle Bell Rock," the rest, alas, doesn't rock much at all. The arrangements are pretty much stock for the various songs, which you've heard done this way a thousand times. A dramatic reading of Matthew 1:18 over a musical bed doesn't do much for the proceedings, either.

The Archies Christmas Album Featuring Betty and Veronica, The Archies (Fuel 2000)

For real music fans, The Archies were shorthand for the whole concept of plastic pre-fab pop rock designed to separate teens from their money back in their late 1960s heyday. Of course, one must put the whole phenomenon in historical perspective. The Archie comic strip and comic book was popular back then, a half-hour animated series was spun off from the comic, and because in the 1960s it was assumed that all teens wanted to be in rock bands, the animated show put the main characters in a band. No doubt inspired by the success of the Monkees (not to mention the producer they had in common, Don Kirshner), the producers released actual records by the band, including such hits as "Bang Shang-a-Lang," "Jingle Jangle" (not a Christmas song) and their biggest hit, "Sugar Sugar." The actual recordings were led by The Cuff Links' Ron Dante and featured such folks as Andy Kim and Brill Building songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, co-writers of, among other big hits, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Skip 40 years later to 2008 and we finally get a Christmas album from "the band," featuring only Dante from the original sessions, augmented by Danielle van Zyl and Kelly-Lynn, no doubt the Betty and Veronica from the album title. With the Archie comic way past its pop cultural relevancy (though it's still drawn), it's questionable whether a new album by The Archies is going to make record buyers lunge for the racks. That said, the album, consisting of 10 evergreen carols and two originals, is actually well-made, relying on any number of 2008 pop readymades for the arrangements. In fact, "Sleigh Ride" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" would actually fit on most folks' Christmas mixes. The two originals, "Archie's Christmas Party" and "Christmas in Riverdale," aren't terrible, but their self-referential nature makes them fit only for an Archies Christmas special that probably isn't going to be made.

"Santa Claus Is Freaking Me Out," Lord Weatherby (self-issued)

Don't know much about the good Lord, but this 2006 novelty is great fun, a slightly less manic Napoleon XIV take on Santa Claus. "It's all so overwhelming for my milk-and-cookie brain," he laments, as he describes how none of the jolly elf's story checks out factually, and yet he wakes up on Christmas morning and there everything is. A look at his MySpace page reveals little else about Weatherby except for what is almost certainly a fictional biography.

La Parranda Fania, various artists (Fania/Universal)

From 2007, this is a two-disc bargain compilation of Christmas songs recorded by Latin and Spanish artists going back several decades. Salsa, Afro-Cuban, Latin jazz and soul, you name it, it's here. Yes, it's not quite rock, but it's great stuff to listen to. Whether this fits your conception of Christmas probably depends on whether you understand Spanish — otherwise you might flip out your holiday guests with a full evening of south of the border dance music. Those of you who follow this music might recognize such performers as Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe — in fact, those two combine for several tunes here — plus Johnny Ventura Cheo Feliciano, Ramito, Sonora Poncena, Ismael Rivera, Santitos Colon, and more.

The Glam That Stole Christmas Vol. 1, various artists (Perris)

A compilation from 2004 of glam rockers doing Christmas tunes. I'm not familiar with any of these acts, but if you like this genre (first there was glam, then there were "hair bands," now apparently it's glam again) this is a good collection. American Heartbreak offers an original to kick things off, "The Greatest Christmas Song Ever Written," a nicely cynical rocker with the refrain "I'm gonna be by myself for Christmas again," and they return to close the album with a cover, "Nuttin' For Christmas." Lillian Axe does a heavier reading of the Heart/Lovemongers song "Here Is Christmas," Kristy Majors takes on the Spector album's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in more of a grindy-fuzzy-shuffle, and Chris Heaven and Michael Gapys put a little more metal into Bon Jovi's "I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas." Other originals include Loud 'N' Nasty's piano-led "Christmas Time," Decadenza's "Dead by X-Mas," and "Rock 'n Roll Sleigh Ride" by the Rockin' Scoundrels, throwing us just a taste of Mott the Hoople. The Fizzy Bangers play to the taste tippers with their version of "Hooray For Santa Claus," calling it "a traditional Buddhist-Hindu Christmas song" in the liner notes before admitting it's from the movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." I'm not aware there was ever a Vol. 2, but I'll check around.

Little Steven's Underground Garage Presents Christmas a Go Go, various artists (Wicked Cool)

The E Streeter's crusade to highlight garage rock has found its way to Christmas with this 20-song collection for 2008. Much of this is familiar to Mistletunes denizens, but I thought I'd call your attention to it anyway because a fair amount of it isn't. Alongside Bob Seger, the Ramones, Keith Richards, Roy Wood, Brian Setzer, the Kinks, Clarence Carter, Rufus Thomas and Darlene Love we get the frantic "It's Christmas Time Ebenezer" by The Len Price 3, Tina Sugandh with a Spectorish "White Christmas," The Chevelles' surf instrumental of "O Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls," the Boss Martians with "3 Ghosts (A Modern X-mas Carol)," the Electric Prunes with "Jingle Bells" that was recorded in the modern day, not in their heyday, and a Rolling Stones homage in "Hey Santa Claus" by The Chesterfield Kings. Mustn't forget Soupy Sales' "Santa Claus Is Surfin' To Town" and Joe Pesci's "If It Doesn't Snow On Christmas," a pair of novelties to start conversations. A nice collection, especially for those who don't have the majority of these songs.

"(I Wanna Be) Dead By Christmas," Clint Coker (Nervous City)

A new single by this Louisiana punk-folk songwriter, whose previous work includes "Meth Lab Blues" and the recent EP Midcrisislife, this suicidal wish sounds just the tiniest bit insincere. I'd bet that's intentional. It's a cool little talk-sing with harmonica and jingle bells, available from his website via Snocap starting Oct. 31, and possibly iTunes after that.

The Meaning of Christmas, Mike Campese (self-issued)

Campese is an electric lead guitar shredder and this, his sixth solo album, is his holiday move for 2008. He has done time with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where his talents were no doubt appreciated, but this album has only a little of that sort of big progressive sound; this is more of a hard rock/metal outing, mostly instrumental with Mike pushing the envelope on the melodies in that style. The 12 tunes are mostly classics, with two originals, "Christmas in Maui" and the title song, the latter the only vocal on the disc. "The Christmas Song," called "Chestnuts" on here, and "Silent Night" are led by acoustic rather than electric guitars, and "Carol of the Bells" is as close as he gets to TSO here. This will go over great with hard rock guitar fanatics.

Christmas, Howard Hewett (Groove)

Hewett, the longtime soul and gospel singer who started out in Shalamar with Jody Watley, brings his talents to the holiday for 2008. The roster of songs is mainly classic carols like "O Come All Ye Faithful," "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night," "What Child Is This," and yes he does Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." That's one of the few uptempo songs here, other than "Christmas on Sunset (Interlude)"; most are done in ballad style, with a couple of slow jams takes on "Sleigh Ride" and "Baby It's Cold Outside," with a singer named Jasselle as his duet partner. And "Christmas Time Is Here" has a bit more of a jazz flavor. Plenty of big names came out for these sessions, with Stevie Wonder lending harmonica, the Earth Wind and Fire rhythm section providing backing, and jazz legend George Duke playing and co-producing. All told, it's what you might expect from a mature soul artist.

"Life As Santa Claus," The Alpha Waves U.K. (self-issued)

From the 2007 album Animation Cell, this mandolin-led slow rocker follows a soldier left behind at the front after his platoon retreats, writing what he thinks might be his final words as he awaits the enemy. I'm guessing this British band from York has heard "Stop the Cavalry" by Jona Lewie, as this is a more downtempo look at the same territory..

"Mistletoe Love," Jaymes Fenda and the Vulcans (Parlophone/Decca)

We get a lot of songs that recreate favorite 60s genres from surf to Merseybeat, but this is probably the first time I've been directed to MySpace to listen to a song that was cut in the early 1960s. It's your basic British Invasion love song with a Christmas twist, very Gerry and the Pacemakers/Herman's Hermits in style. It's apparently not available for sale, but the band's MySpace page promises a new version by the original lead singer is in the works. Update: Martin Johns said the song did make it to CD on a 1995 import compilation, Ready Steady Go & Win, now out of print. "If you can find a copy that would cost you from $80-$600," he adds.

"Surf's Up Santa," The Alpha Waves (California) (self-issued)

You probably don't need a sophisticated cryptex to figure this one out — a surf-rock Christmas song that puts Santa on the board. The back story is that the jolly old elf is too stressed out by Christmas and goes off the grid and onto the beach. Nicely done. You'll have to go to MySpace to hear it, but the band hopes to get distribution for it soon. Update: You can check the song out at Further update: There's a video now, too.

"100 Bulbs on the Christmas Tree," Father Guido Sarducci (self-issued)

Yeah, bet you haven't thought about this guy since his "Saturday Night Live" days. Well, he's still out there, and he came back recently with this, which is more of a monologue over a musical bed of people singing the title to the tune of "100 Bottles of Beer On the Wall." It's about 14 minutes long, in keeping with his expressed wish to create "the worst Christmas song ever." The fact that he talks over the whole thing shows he at least has a bit of remorse at the notion once it gets under way. It's worth hearing, though, as he talks about how he came to write his other Christmas songs, "I Won't Be Twisting This Christmas" and "Santa's Lament." Visitors to his website had the opportunity to buy a CD with all three songs on it, but it's apparently sold out. Sarducci claims he's planning another Christmas song, "Frosty the Snow," about Frosty before he was made into a snowman. We'll keep an eye out for it.

"The Way-Too-Early Christmas Song," Paul and Storm (self-issued)

This duo brings us a simple, stripped-down ode to the commercialization of the season, particularly the part where stores have up mistletoe for Veterans Day. Unfortunately, the singer snaps and takes out his wrath on Santa Claus, and, well, everybody learns a lesson. Nice job.

The Darkest Night of the Year, Over the Rhine (Imaginary Apple Orchard)

Last year this Cincinnati band released its second Christmas album, Snow Angels, which we reviewed favorably. Curiosity piqued, and also because we're completists here to the extent possible, we went into the Wayback Machine (OK, it was actually iTunes) to scope out their first effort from 1996. You can hear the continuity between the two discs in terms of the folk-pop-jazz style of the music. The title is pretty much on the nose, as this is quiet and intense, again much like Low, as we said in the Snow Angels piece. Unlike the later album, there's a larger number of familiar carols in the playlist, including two versions of "Silent Night," one a midtempo poppy version, the other slower and done as a "duet" with dual voices, both of which are the same singer. The band did pen a few tunes for this effort. "Thank You My Angel" doesn't have much of a holiday theme, nor does "Amelia's Last," though thematically they serve the album title. "Mary's Waltz" uses Christmas more as a motif for the story of a blind girl who escapes her bedroom to dance. There's also a fair number of instrumentals here, including "The First Noel," "Greensleeves," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and the originals "Coal Train," "Up North Here Where the Stars..." and "A Little Lower Than the Angels."

"I Want a Girl For Christmas," The Knickerbockers (Sundazed)

This is a 1966 B-side to the single "Gotta Stop This Dreaming," and it's been made available in the modern day by the fine folks at Sundazed. The band is best remembered for its one top 10 hit, "Lies," a great 60s rocker on its own but which was propelled by a performance strongly reminiscent of the Beatles — indeed, a lot of kids thought it was the Fab Four. This tune borrows a few readymades from Merseyside as well as the Beach Boys, but the resemblance in this case isn't quite the "live or Memorex" conundrum that "Lies" was. Still, a decent tune for the time.

Natty Christmas, Jacob Miller and Ray I (VP)

Another recent CD release for a reggae Christmas album from the 70s that I originally owned on vinyl and bought in a Toronto bodega. Only five cuts, but three are epic length workouts. Jacob and Ray give us old school reggae versions of familiar carols like "Wish You a Merry Christmas," which somehow becomes "Irie Christmas," "On the Twelve Day of Ismas," "All I Want For Ismas," which is as much an ode to herb as to the holiday, plus "Deck the Halls" and "Silver Bells/Natty No Santa Claus." A bit monochromatic sounding to some ears no doubt, but this 1978 album still makes a nice holiday change of pace.

Merry, Merry Christmas, New Kids on the Block (Columbia)

Yeah, yeah, I know, one of the original "boy bands," though they had the good fortune to fall into the hands of New Edition producer Maurice Starr, who produced and wrote or co-wrote all the original songs on this 1989 album. (Ironically, he wasn't around for New Edition's Christmas album.) As a result, this has the sound of an 80s R'nB record, which means good grooves and cheap synthesizers. The album is bracketed with the sappy and non-holiday "This One's For the Children," but the second cut, "Last Night I Saw Santa Claus," gets things into a more uptempo groove, as does the rap "Funky Funky Xmas." The rest of the tunes are pretty downtempo, from straight ballads to slow jams. Covers of "White Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" round things out. Given the strong musical bed, it's sometimes disappointing when the Kids' white-bread voices come in. Still, this album isn't nearly as embarrassing as it could be. No doubt this was reissued this year in the wake of the NKOTB reunion.

We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year, various artists (Armoury/Eagle Rock)

Not much chance you'll confuse any of this 2008 album's songs with outtakes from the Hotel Cafe CD with a title like that. What we have here is a literal parade of hard rock veterans jamming out 11 takes on familiar holiday tunes. On hand for the festivities are such folks as Alice Cooper, Billy Gibbons, Toni Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Steve Morse, Simon Phillips, Billy Sheehan and Dave Grohl, along with a bunch of other folks. No two songs have the same lineup, so you'll want the CD booklet handy while you're listening to this. "Silver Bells" gets a double-time treatment, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" sounds Sabbath-esque, no surprise since Iommi and Dio are on it, "Silent Night" reminds me of the way Spinal Tap might do it, and we have to give the gang props for the heavy metal cover of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." All told, no surprises, but a worthy addition to the canon of hard rock/hair band/metal Xmas music.

A Very Rosie Christmas, Rosie Thomas (Sing-a-Long)

The Seattle singer-songwriter and standup comic (under the name Sheila Saputo) turns her talents to the holiday on this 2008 album, a mix of covers and original songs. She's an alt-folk-pop singer, so this is mostly a kind of mellow vibe, as you might guess from "O Come O Come Emanuel," "Christmastime Is Here," and Joni Mitchell's "River." More upbeat tunes include "Let It Snow" and the original "Why Can't It Be Christmas All Year," the latter the breakout cut from this disc if iTunes is to be believed. She also brings the ballad touch to "Christmas Don't Be Late," better known as "The Chipmunk Song." There's also a comedy sketch featuring her Sheila persona, "Sheila's Christmas Miracle."

A Very Cherry Christmas, various artists (Cherryade Music)

Cherryade is a small independent label in Great Britain, and they've found it worthwhile over the past several years to issue a holiday compilation featuring their roster of artists and some who aren't on their label. The acts heard here run an alt-rock gamut that takes in low-budget folk, pop and retro-60s sounds. And despite only being available via their overseas website, they're actually budget-priced. This first one is from 2005, and not all the tunes on here are Christmas-oriented. Of the ones that are, "Sleigh Ride" by Wanderlust is a nice bit of thrashing on the popular carol, "Have Yourself a Psychedelic Christmas" by Misty's Big Adventure features a Fred Schneider-type vocal singing updated lyrics to the familiar carol (or is that retro lyrics?). The Container Drivers offer "In the Bleak Mid Afternoon," no relation to the antique carol but an original that goes through a couple of movements before the lyrics kick in. David Craigie channels Sufjan Stevens on a shambling "Christmas in a Can," Chihiro offers a folky "The Plans That We Made," and Steveless/Syd Howells goes kind of Wild Man Fisher on "This Is What Dying Is Like (Christmas in Swansea)" and "Seasonal Schizophrenia."

A Very Cherry Christmas 2, various artists (Cherryade Music)

Following on from the first edition, this collection from 2006 features Cherryade artists and their confederates, this time going Christmas across the board. The Pocket Gods kick things off with "Jombal Bells," a play on their own song "Jombal Party," slapping together any number of holiday readymades into a fun disc opener. The Beatnik Filmstars give us "Ho Ho Ho (A Bloody Merry Corporate Xmas)," a primitive-sounding broadside against commercialism, and Candy Panic Attack's "On the Dole at Christmas" is an equally grungy pop take from a slacker's point of view, and The Girl From Headquarters offers up a sinister-sounding "Unwanted Presents." Paul Hawkins' mediocre voice fails to detract from the reggae-fied "Getting a Divorce For Christmas," a bit of tongue-in-cheek melodrama that is fun but goes on a bit too long. True Adventures' girl-boy pop shuffle "What the Hell" is nicely disarming, with just the slightest taste of Violent Femmes to it. "The Last Noel" by Life With Bears is an electro-pop talk-sing reminiscent of a low-budget Pet Shop Boys. Captain Polaroid offers a rare "Until Boxing Day" take on the 26th, invoking a bit of Velvet Underground along the way. Two bands break the all-original-songs barrier on this collection: Zoltan Kodaly School For Girls does an instrumental of Jona Lewie's "Stop the Cavalry" and Dawn of the Replicants nicely grunges up Sir Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime." There's also a CD Extra component with "A Ghostly Tale" on mp3, but it didn't seem to do much else on my Mac. There are a fair number of more experimental sounding items on this disc, but there's enough good stuff to justify the low price of this disc.

A Very Cherry Christmas 3, various artists (Cherryade Music)

And following further on with Cherryade, this is their 2007 compilation of mostly original tunes. Fewer songs this time, but bargain prices still apply. "Long Lonely Christmas Without Jimmy Greenhoff" by Billy Ruffian is a holiday tribute to the noted footie player, "I'm Going to Build My Snowman Better than Yours," a grungy pop confection by The Lovely Eggs, is self-explanatory, and The Bobby McGee's play off Wham's Christmas classic with the ukelele-flute ballad "Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart and the Very Next Day You Sold It On eBay." The Pocket Gods return with "Wnking For Christmas," in which they deliberately drop the "a" after the W. The Madrigals chant "The Only Night of the Year" over a spare banjo backing, and Ghouqueu describe "Santa's Hands" over an electo-pop backing track. MJ Hibbett and the Validators rock out, with violin on "The Advent Calendar of Fact," The Gresham Flyers set their "Diamond White Christmas" to a martial beat with toy piano and melodica, and Hug Party's "Christmas is Coming" is a rap over celeste and electronic drums. Balor Knights apply drums over the antique carol "Gaudete" and Miss the Occupier wrap things up with the not-very-Christmasy "Vandalise," the hard-rocking intro taking us into a more alt-punk middle. All told, more along the same lines as its predecessors, but each gives fans of independent alt-rock a way to meet some bands they might not encounter if they don't live in England.

Snowbound, Warren Appleby (Madkar)

Warren's a rock 'n roll veteran going back to his early '80s stint in the heavy metal band Blacktask. He started a solo career back in 2002 and has cut several albums since then, including a few of Christmas songs along the way that formed the basis for this newly recorded 2008 CD of instrumentals, with Warren playing all the parts and recording in his home studio. The title song, "Christmas Ships," "Late December" and "Winter Valley" are his own originals, though "Ships" does harken back to "I Saw Three Ships." The remainder of the nine tunes are classic carols like "Deck the Halls," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "O'Christmas Tree 2.0." Overall, the sound is less metal and more like Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Mannheim Steamroller, with plenty of bombastic instrumental touches in that style of playing. It's well made for a home-based production, though I have to say the original tunes don't really suggest Christmas to a listener for the most part, except where familiar carols are quoted. Nevertheless, fans of this style of music ought to check Warren out.

Light a Candle, The Christmas Album, Smokie (CMC)

Smokie was one of those British pop bands from the early 70s that came along on the tailwind of the glam-rock era, associated with the production and songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The pair had also worked with such bands as Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate. Smokie's celebrity was mostly confined to the European sphere, with such hits as "Don't Play Your Rock 'n Roll To Me," "If You Think You Know How to Love Me," and "Living Next Door To Alice." Lead singer Chris Norman also duetted with Quatro on the worldwide hit "Stumblin' In." Unlike most of the Chinnichap acts, Smokie persevered onward into the present day, pausing to record this Christmas CD in 1996. It's your basic 20-years-on rock band that's done everything else adding a Christmas record to the repertoire. They long ago left Chinnichap behind, so what we have here is adult contemporary pop-rock layered under synthesized orchestration applied to 14 songs, of which "It Won't Be Christmas," "When a Child is Born," the title song, and "Christmas Isn't Just For Children," all fairly conventional Christmas sentiments. Considering the band once cut an album in Nashville, the countrified take on "Away In a Manger" isn't unexpected, but it is a different arrangement. They also do David Essex's "A Winter's Tale," Chris DeBurgh's "A Spaceman Came Travelling," and an almost folkish "Mary's Boy Child." The rest are traditional carols like "O Christmas Tree," "O Holy Night," "Silent Night" and pop standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas." This is OK for Smokie fans and those who like their bands to be from the 1970s, assuming you don't pay import prices for it.

Sing: A Christmas EP, Josh Wilson (Sparrow)

Christian rocker Wilson has this three-song collection on iTunes for 2008, consisting of his original "Sing," which is a bit of pre-Nativity prophecy set to a modern rock beat; a snappy "Angels We Have Heard On High" that betrays a debt to U2; and a guitar instrumental of "The First Noel." Not bad.

"Fairytale In New York," Amy MacDonald (Mercury)

Found this on iTunes, a 2008 rendition of the Kirsty MacColl-Shane MacGowan duet by this young Scottish singer performed live, essentially an homage to the original. (Don't know who the male singer on this version is.)

Cowabunga Christmas, The Crestriders (Loud Folk)

Don't think I have to spell this out for the folks. This 2008 CD is a dozen surf music instrumentals of your favorite classic Christmas carols, although I think "Santa's Surfin' Holiday" may be an original, though it sounds a tiny bit like "The Munsters" TV show theme. Can't find out anything else about these guys, though the disc appears to be available from CDBaby, and iTunes.

Not Christmas Album, Frantic Flintstones (Anagram/Cherry Red)

And yeah, that's almost right, except this self-proclaimed psychobilly band did do three Christmas tunes on this 1988 album, reissued as a double with the album Rockin' Out. They do good versions of "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and they set a martial beat to "Blue Christmas." Oh, almost overlooked "Oh Little Town of Bedrock," in which the 'Stoneses home town is substituted for Bethlehem, and most of the song is substituted for a really fast shuffle that doesn't sound like any Christmas song I know. Sure rocks out, though.

No Gift to Bring, The Almost (Tooth and Nail)

Christian rockers with a contemporary radio-friendly sound, The Almost rushed out this EP for 2008 that features five songs, two from their full-length album Southern Weather, two non-LP tunes, and a cover of "Little Drummer Boy" in a rocked-out arrangement that still manages to keep the acoustic guitars and vocals out front. Not bad.

Peace on Earth, Casting Crowns (Beach Street/Sony BMG)

Yet another new Christmas album from a contemporary Christian rock group. The Casting Crowns are well-established in their genre, and this 2008 disc features a few originals among the classic carols, including a re-casting of their previous song "While You Were Sleeping," which their press materials say was originally written for the holiday and was de-seasonalized for its first recording on their Lifesong album. They cover Amy Grant's "God Is With Us," bring back "Away in a Manger" from 2005's Wow Christmas, and they do a massive rearrangement on "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" that casts the song in a new light. They don't really rock out here, with the snappiest tunes being midtempo at best, and the overall impression of the disc is that it emphasizes the religious aspect most, which is no surprise. That means it's a little less fun-loving than we like here at Mistletunes.

This Good Night Is Still Everywhere, Dustin Kensrue (Vagrant)

The sometime member of hardcore band Thrice brings us a holiday album under his own name for 2008, his second solo album. Recorded at home, it has a leisurely vibe, but the simplicity of it is an attractive attribute. It's mostly acoustic with light percussion and it relies mostly on the canon for its songs, but there are a few originals, the title song, the self-explanatory "Christmas Blues," and the somewhat apocalyptic "This Is War." His "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" has him sounding vocally a bit like Bono, though that similarity melts away on the other songs. And he so far is the only one I can recall doing "Fairytale of New York" without calling in a duet partner. Not exactly a barn-burner, but a fairly satisfying album nonetheless.

"How Many Kings," downhere (Centricity)

An original single for 2008 from this Christian band, a song of praise and thanksgiving that isn't strictly for the holiday. It rocks out pretty strongly, too.

"Silent Night," House of Heroes (Gotee)

Another Christian rock band (lots of 'em this year), this 2008 version of the classic carol is a fairly ordinary approach, though the counter-singing in the background is a nice touch.

"Our December," Thriving Ivory (Wind-Up Records)

A nice uptempo original from this Bay Area band for 2008, dwelling on the winter season more than the holiday.

Holy Shit, It's Christmas, The Hot Dogs (self-issued)

Can't find any trace of these guys on the Intertubes, but this punk EP from 2004 definitely has its charms. The title song profanely reflects on the rapid approach of the holiday, and there's a radio edit with the bad words bleeped out. The other songs on the disc are similar in approach, but they aren't Christmas-oriented. Found this on

"Light My Way," The Bangles (RCAM)

I've always been a Bangles believer, so I'm surprised this 2006 holiday ballad managed to slip past me until now. If you remember any of the group's big production ballads, this won't sound particularly unfamiliar to you. I should note that a lot of folks like to sneak their cover of Paul Simon's "Hazy Shade of Winter" in as a Christmas song, which kind of fits if you're looking for a darker holiday hue. (Feel free to do the same with the original.) Oh, and the band back in its heyday did a Beatles Fan Club Christmas-style record, "Bangle Jangle Christmas," in 1983, and reissued it in 2004 with fresh greetings. The band just sold the last nine copies of the reissue to its fan club.

"This Christmas Time," Keri Noble (Manhattan)

I'm assuming this 2004 single is an original, but since downloads typically fail to include songwriting credits I'll have to guess. It's a love ballad like many other pop Christmas songs, but it's still pretty good for all of that, playing off familiar Christmas themes in the lyrics.

"Pretty Paper"/"Run Rudolph Run," Rocky Burnette (Gigatone)

Back in the 70s this guy had a hit with "Tired of Toein' the Line," and he's still around, as these new holiday tunes attest. "Pretty Paper" is the Roy Orbison song written by Willie Nelson that's more typically played by country artists nowadays, and he does a credible version. The Chuck Berry classic is a little weaker, as the harmonized chorus takes away some of the rock 'n roll flavor of the original. Still, worth checking out.

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"/"Little Saint Nick," Andrew Gold (Gigatone)

The author of the 70s hit "Lonely Boy" as well as "The Golden Girls" theme "Thank You For Being a Friend" offers us these two Christmas songs, a fairly faithful take on the John 'n Yoko hit and a more 70s-ized take on the Beach Boys number, though the vocals are spot-on from the original. Nice work.

XO For the Holidays, various artists (XO)

XO is a management group, and it compiled this freely downloadable holiday disc for 2004 from among the indie rock artists it was representing at the time. Things get off to a promising start with a cover of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Service Group, then Master Slash Slave offers a rocked-up "All I Want For Christmas" that isn't the Mariah Carey song, but a plea to "get the band back together." Romeo Spike's "Christmas Diablo" adds a sinister synth line over top of a strong pop-rock arrangement while the singer "eats candy corn and watches spooky movies." "Ragtime Manifesto" by the Winter Sounds appears to be neither, just a good holiday love song. Blue Skies For Black Hearts appears twice, once with their own "It Never Snows On Christmas," a kind of choral chant leading into the chorus — a global warming warning, perhaps? — and they return to cover "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in a more lo-fi rendition than the original. The Backsliders hold a rave-up with the song "That's How We Do Christmas," and that's how a lot of us will want to do it. Play> caps off the collections with a sparsely arranged "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." This is probably worth paying money for, but you won't have to.

"Christmas in a Northern Town," The Margarets (self-issued)

A nicely realized holiday ballad from this Norwegian band, it captures the hustle and bustle of the holidays, along with the alienation of a young man trying to find his place in the world. A thoughtful take in a sparse but complete arrangement, downloadable from their site.

"Blue Christmas," Wiser Time (self-issued)

Not the popular holiday song, but more of a blues song stealing the title to issue the same sentiment as the more popular song. Wiser Time is a New Jersey classic rock trio, and this is a downloadable from iTunes or eMusic.

"Xmas Bloody Xmas," TV Smith (Damaged Goods)

Smith was part of The Adverts, the 70s British punk band best known for "Gary Gilmore's Eyes." He brought out this pop-punk single in 2004, now a download from his record label, a nicely cynical take on the holiday with plenty of holiday touches including glockenspiel and acoustic guitars, but it still rocks along nicely. The full download also includes his versions of Adverts hits recorded live, including "Gilmore," "Bored Teenagers" and "The Lord's Prayer."

"Christmas Kiss"/"Hell of a Year," Grub Dog (self-issued)

We reviewed "Merry Xmas (From Your Ex-Girlfriend)" by this artist a few years back, and he obligingly sent along these two tunes to see what we thought. The first one is a country lament from 2005, a nice emotional song, and the latter is a mostly instrumental nod, fiddle-led, to the end of the year. It won't substitute for "Auld Lang Syne" as the closer for your mix discs, but it's well played. He's got several more holiday tunes at his MySpace page for the holidays, too.

Sugarue/On Top of the World/Christmas, Tonic Sol Fa (self-issued)

I had never heard of these guys until their management got in touch with me, so if you were already aware of these guys' 150 shows a year and their popular PBS holiday special, indulge me for a moment while I tell you these guys are quite the entertaining a capella quartet. Very funky, nothing glee-clubby about these guys, and they set familiar carols to intriguing original arrangements. I've previously admitted to a weakness for a capella, as long as it's imaginatively done, and these guys fit the bill. Their first Christmas album was Sugarue from 2002, eight familiar carols and two originals, "Joseph's Song" and "SNo," all breathtakingly arranged and sung. On Top of the World followed, another holiday album in the same vein, and on the heels of their 2006 DVD Christmas, the recording of their TV special, came a soundtrack CD that essentially mixes live and studio performances comprising mostly songs from their other discs. Check their website for downloads and disc sales.

Holiday Feast 8, various artists (Hungry For Music)

We reviewed a "collection of collections," a two-disc set compiling the best of this charity's first seven holiday compilations, several years ago. They returned with no. 8 for 2005, with a heaping helping of 21 songs. Kicking off things is "Fall Leaves Fall," more of an autumn song by Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra featuring Annie Haslam, former vocalist for the folk-prog-rock band Renaissance and former wife of Roy Wood, he of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day." The song is quite ornate and operatic, in keeping with Haslam's past work. Susan Cowsill — yes, those Cowsills — offers "Crescent City Snow," a folky dirge for her home town of New Orleans. Esther Haynes and Mark Noone duet on the old jazz number "Hitch a Ride With Santa," Janine Wilson unearths a song from the old "Dick Van Dyke Show," "Santa, Send Me a Fella," performed originally by Rose Marie, and Timothy Bracken does a poppier take of the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." Noone returns with the Rhodes Tavern Troubadours on his original "Christmas Really Rocks," which has more of a Ramones flavor. Joe Uehlein and the U-Lines cover Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington," Honky Tonk Confidential's "Santa Is a Working Man" is a roadhouse original for the labor advocates in the audience, Evan Johns and Ira Gitlin each offer banjo-based takes on the holiday, and Suzanne Ives and Bumpkin Pie perform their own "Party at the Stable," more honky-tonkin'. All told, this is an eclectic collection, though it leans a bit more folky and country than rock.

A Chanukah Feast Volume II, various artists (Hungry For Music)

Following on from Volume I a few years back is this second American music tribute to Hanukkah (yeah, I know how they spelled it, but I'm trying to be consistent here) from 2006. Deanna Bogert kicks things off with a solo boogie piano version of "Dreidel Dreidel," the Bobwhites turn "Blue Christmas" into "Blue Hanukkah," Klezcentricity do a nearly bluegrass version of "Ballad of Chanukah," The Alexandria Kleztet do "Eight Days of Peace" as a rock ballad, and Mark Rubin and His Ridgetop Syncopaters revisit "The Dreydl Song" in "Texas style," Bob Wills that is. David Grover and the Big Bear Band offer an original, "Latkes," about the potato pancake, and Dr. Louie presents his own "Hanukkah in Boston," a boogie-woogie tune. The rest of the performances are traditional songs for the Jewish holidays rendered in more traditional musical styles.

Jingle All the Way, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (Rounder)

I was going to skip this one entirely, but I know a lot of folks with eclectic tastes really like Bela Fleck, and we've got a fair number of eclectic readers at this site. Nevertheless, we don't do jazz here, and this album is almost entirely jazz with a capital J. That said, it's still a revelation to listen to a guy play banjo the way people like Joe Pass or Pat Metheny play the guitar. There are a couple of classical workouts with bassist Edgar Meyer on hand, and the version of Joni Mitchell's "River" features Fleck playing banjo and piano simultaneously, according to the liner notes. At the very least, one cut from this will make an interesting change of pace on your holiday mixes. From 2008.


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