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The song "Through the Winter" puts you in the mood to go on a great ski vacation. A few that come to mind are Steamboat ski rentals resorts, Breckenridge ski rentals resorts or Aspen.

Christmas With the Smithereens, The Smithereens (Koch)

The boys from Jersey have had their "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," based on the Cadillacs' arrangement, in my personal Christmas hit parade going back nearly two decades now, so word of a full CD of their version of Christmas for 2007 was greeted warmly around these parts. For the most part, it's exactly what I was expecting. Three originals join nine covers to create a full CD of rockin' Christmas goodness, though "Rudolph" isn't here, nor is their "Blue Christmas" from a 1994 EP. But "Waking Up on Christmas Morning" from that disc is here, likely re-recorded but maintaining that characteristic Smithereens sound. (Jim Babjak also played this tune on his side project Buzzed Meg's Christmas EP.) "Christmas Time All Over the World" does the same, and "Christmas (I Remember)" is a nice 60s-ish look back to that decade, including the year the singer unwrapped copies of Shut Down Vol. II and Rubber Soul under the tree. The makers of those two albums are represented among the covers with a faithful take on the Beach Boys' "Merry Christmas Baby" and an extended meditation on the Beatles' "Christmas Time Is Here Again." A bit of jazzy drumming accompanies a reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," and the boys take on the Who's "Christmas" from Tommy. They also take the tempo down a smidge for the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" and take a bluesier approach to Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," but rock it out for "Run Run Rudolph," "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" and "Auld Lang Syne." A once and future classic.

Santa's Playlist, Sister Hazel (Rock Ridge)

The popular Gainesville, Fla. band stepped up this year to the Christmas bar with this solid collection, heavy on familiar tunes rendered in their roots-rock style. The classic "Merry Christmas Baby" gets the E Street Band arrangement, "Little Drummer Boy" is done in a blues shuffle, "White Christmas" gets the white-boy reggae treatment, but later Joni Mitchell's "River" becomes a medley reprising "White Christmas." A Hanukkah alert for "The Dreidel Song," which becomes a hoedown here, and the original "Christmas Time Again" swings into hip-hop territory. Other originals are "It's a New Year (Just Get Along)," which could be Rodney King's theme song, and "There's Something in the Air (At Christmas)," which resorts to the kids' chorus before swinging into a bit of Salvation Army tuba. We're wondering if the band has visited Mistletunes, as their rocked-up version of Stevie Wonder's "One Little Christmas Tree" responds to our review of the original. Rounding things out are solid, if conventional, readings of "Run Rudolph Run" and "Please Come Home For Christmas." A really nice job here, enough to make non-fans seek them out when the holidays are behind us.

Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites, Raul Malo (New Door/Universal)

Malo always sounded to me like a throwback to the Roy Orbison era on his non-holiday work, so this 2007 CD took me aback with its relentless lounge vibe. I realize that for a lot of readers this is a feature, not a bug, but considering Malo normally plays to the Americana/alternative audience, hearing him yell out "let's swing it now" during "Jingle Bells" is a bit disconcerting. Apparently this is a direction he took with his recent album After Hours and he's clearly found a groove he's not ready to relinquish. For all that, he sings so well and with such personality you really want to try and overlook the Vinnie's Boom-Boom Room atmosphere he lays down here. Song selection is in keeping with the musical style, from the title song through the Great American (Christmas) Songbook, the exceptions being "Blue Christmas," the big-orchestra blues of "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and a fairly faithful to the original version of "Feliz Navidad." Amazon buyers get a live version of "Blue Christmas" in addition to the studio version, mainly distinguished by his Elvis-ing up the vocal live. This CD might just help break him bigger, but I personally wish he'd taken a more Orbison-like approach to this album.

Snow Angels, Over the Rhine (Red Eye)

This CD is actually the Cincinnati band's second Christmas album; they made one called The Darkest Night of the Year a decade ago. Just found out about that one, though, so we'll stick to this 2007 CD for now. Going back to 1990 as a typical four-piece band, the current incarnation is married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist plus a changing cast of supporting players playing alternative folk-pop. This album is all about the songwriting, mostly Detweiler with help from Bergquist, relying only upon "One Olive Jingle," a jazzed up "Jingle Bells," and "Little Town," a revised melody and reimagined lyrics based upon "O Little Town of Bethlehem," from the canon. Holiday melancholy is the name of the game here, as the title song tells of a spouse lost to an unnamed war at Christmas, "All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue" and "New Redemption Day" being self-explanatory, "Little Town" a meditation on the strife in the historic cradle of Christmas, "Here It Is" offering the singer's love to someone who may not deserve it, and more like this. More hopeful thoughts are nestled into "Snowed In With You" and "We're Gonna Pull Through." The vibe is not too dissimilar to Low's Christmas album, though without that group's primitive approach; these guys stress musicianship and show more obvious influences from folk and jazz. Nothing uptempo here, but that's to be expected since this disc is all about its message of the holiday and its effects on people.

Ho: A Dan Band Christmas, The Dan Band (Reincarnate)

We had their double-sided single "I Wanna Rock U Hard This Christmas," featuring Parental Advisory and clean versions of the song, and now they've stretched it into a whole album of rockin' Christmas originals, sung mostly in satirical voices. That's in keeping with their reputation as a comedy show band that features guys singing songs originally written for women to sing. The single is here, unexpurgated version only, and to that we add "Mrs. Claus," in which the singer has decided the jolly elf's wife never gets her due, even throwing a few words from "I Am Woman" into the mix; the triple title song "Ho Ho Ho," an R'nB-flavored ode to an actual lady of the evening who ends up on Santa's payroll; the self-explanatory hoedown "Get Drunk & Make Out This Christmas," followed later by the sappy country takeoff "Christmas Flip Flop," in which a child begs for one flip-flop for his mom who has a wooden leg; "Chrismakwanzakah," in which the various year-end festivals get blurred in the singer's mind; the hip-hop carol "Not on Christmas Eve," in which a jealous singer gets all gangsta until the presents arrive; and the slow jam "Please Don't Bomb Nobody This Christmas," which hopefully will set a few important pairs of ears to burning. There's lots of PG-13 language on this disc, for those of you who worry about such things, but full props for a rock 'n roll Christmas record with a fair number of laughs.

Smashed For the Holidays, Jacqui Naylor (Rubystar)

Don't worry, Jacqui's not ankles-up in the eggnog; the "smashed" in the title refers to her musical trademark of smashing together jazz and rock by setting rock songs to jazz arrangements and vice versa. Actually, she doesn't do quite so much of this on her first holiday album, just out for 2007, which is a shame, given what she came up with. "Silver Bells" is sung over "Every Breath You Take," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is set to the arrangement of "Sweet Home Alabama," "We Three Kings" is layered over Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and, the killer cut from this album, "Santa Baby" meets Zep's "D'yer Maker." Unfortunately, the rest of the disc wavers among adult contemporary and jazz, as in her "relaxed" versions of The Kinks' "Father Christmas" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." She brings four originals to the table, "Thank You Baby," the ballads "Celebrate Early and Often" and "Winter" and the syncopated "Christmas Ain't What It Used to Be." Good talent, but next time around keep the "smash-ups" coming.

Have Yourself a Very KT Christmas, KT Tunstall (EMI/NBC Universal)

This 2007 EP will probably be more easily recognized as The KT Tunstall Holiday Collection, as that's what it says on the piece of cardboard Target glued over the front, but the title I used is on the real cover and comes up when I play the disc in iTunes. This is part of an NBC/Target "Sounds of the Season" promotion, so it's only available at the store in question. The "Suddenly I See" belter doesn't get real creative with song selection, picking four contemporary tunes and two classics, and her versions of "2000 Miles" and "Fairytale of New York" are basically cover-band workouts. But she gets points for a sprightly rhythmic workout on "Sleigh Ride," with KT on toy piano, a rocked-up "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," a stylish version of "Mele Kalikimaka" and a melancholy take on "Lonely This Christmas," originally made by 70s British pop band Mud. Definitely worth the $7.

The Elliott Yamin Holiday Collection, Elliot Yamin (Pulse/NBC Universal)

Also part of the Target/NBC holiday push, this marks a brief truce between me and former "American Idol" performers. This $7 CD has eight songs, including three originals, none by Yamin, and the performances are quite good in a blue-eyed soul vein. Yamin's an excellent singer, though he's way too influenced by Stevie Wonder -- gotta find an original voice, son. That said, strong outings are a shuffling "Jingle Bells" not too dissimilar to Lisa Loeb's arrangement, a faithful "This Christmas," a slow-jams take on the Mel Torme "Christmas Song," and the uptempo original "A Very Merry Xmas." The other songs are good enough to carry a listener through to the end. Update: An extended version of this album got a general release in 2008.

The Last Noel, The Automatics (Dork)

This is an original British punk-era band that has essentially persisted to the present day under the auspices of original lead singer and songwriter David Philip, though it's been an L.A.-based band since about 1987. After trickling a couple of holiday cuts out over the years, Philip decided to sit down and write an entire ceedee's worth of holiday tunes, and this 2007 album is the result. The whole shebang started out with "Peace on Earth," a midtempo rocker featuring former Sex Pistol Steve Jones on guitar. This has been around for a while but I’m just finally hearing it, and it's definitely a holiday single. There's really not much of the punk sneer about this album -- it's simply a hard-rocking ode to the holiday season. I don't know if Philip has any second thoughts about having two different songs titled "Ring Out Your Christmas Bells" and "Let the Bells Ring Out For Christmas," but then I'm probably the only one who will notice. "Come On Santa, Hand it Over" is a nice uptempo rocker, echoing "Father Christmas" in that there's a stickup involving Santa in the chorus. There's also two versions of the previously released rocker "Merry Christmas." Note to iTunes purchasers: half the song titles were mixed up when I downloaded the full album.

"Carol of the Bells," The Bird and the Bee (Blue Note)

This guy and gal duo, a couple of self-professed jazz nerds, nevertheless have made a bit of a name for themselves in the pop realm with their self-titled album and a couple of EPs, including their hit single "F-ing Boyfriend." This classic carol gets a Sixties pop-chanteuse treatment from them. It's a single on iTunes.

"Mistletoe," Colbie Caillat (Universal Republic)

The very model of a modern MySpace phenomenon, Colbie's known for her hit "Bubbly," but this Christmas single is a little less so, a medium tempo ballad expressing mixed but ultimately positive feelings upon the approach of the holiday. There's playback on her MySpace page and a download at iTunes.

One More Drifter in the Snow, Aimee Mann (Superego)

Aimee's been creeping up on a Christmas CD for several years now, as you may have been following on this very website. The odd cut turned up from time to time, and in 2005 she put a four-song collection on iTunes. For 2006, she sat down to record an entire 10-song CD from scratch. From her own MySpace posting, she says, "I don't like to hear the modern stuff. I like a good old-fashioned Christmas record that has the chestnuts roasting and the really standard Christmas songs. ... The songs have old-fashioned arrangements but are played with a smaller combo that gives them kind of a modern twist." So this is actually a bit mellower than the Mistletunes standard of rocking out Christmas. Still, we like Aimee here, and in terms of creating something with a longer shelf life, her choices are probably the most astute ones from a commercial standpoint. She's done some of the tunes before, like the Mel Torme "Christmas Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Michael Penn's "Christmastime," but these are all new performances and arrangements, though not wildly different from their predecessors. The most noticeable change is that "Christmastime" is now a solo piece rather than a duet with Penn. The one new song on here is "Calling On Mary," which could fit seamlessly on any of her past few albums, a lonely search for love at the holidays. Grant Lee Buffalo guests on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," a combination spoken word and sung version that renders the book's text alongside the familiar song. Jimmy Webb's "Whatever Happened to Christmas" kicks off the CD, setting the tone, and the rest of the songs are classic carols like "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas," all rendered in Aimee's patented poison-valentine delivery. Not exactly the soundtrack for a Martha Stewart Christmas, but OK by us here.

Songs For Christmas, Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty)

Stevens is perhaps best known for his stated desire to record an album about every state in the union; so far, he's only done Illinois and Michigan, though The Avalanche is composed of outtakes from Illinois. In the meantime, he's done a private release of Christmas EPs every holiday since 2001 (except 2004) and this year, he's made a box set including this year's entry. Yes, I said a box set. Don't worry, it sells for about the price of a DualDisc. But five discs' worth of this quirky performer, especially in home studio demo mode, may be a bit much for most folks. It's a lower-fi version of what he's currently known for. It's educational in its way, since every song is lovingly annotated with its composer and lyricist, and there are lots of old carols, some obscure ones, hiding among which are some of the performer's originals. For that matter, hiding among the 42 songs are several repeats, including three versions of "O Come O Come Emanuel" and a few music-box renditions of such things as "Angels We Have Heard" and "Hark The Herald Angels." My inclination is to focus on the originals, of which there are 17 counting the instrumentals "Ding Dong" and "The Incarnation." They get more accomplished as he goes along, sounding willfully primitive on the 2001 disc and getting more arranged and intricate as he goes along. "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!" and "Come on! Let's Boogey To the Elf Dance!" may be the most fun, and "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever" may be the most affecting of the batch. The box offers a "singalong" conceit, in that there's a booklet that not only has lyrics but chords to all the songs. All told, I'm impressed with the sincerity and scope of this album, but I think a single disc of Sufjan's originals given the attention of one of his regular albums would have made a stronger artistic statement.

Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan (Arista)

Sarah's had her Christmas feelers out for a while. Her "Song For a Winter's Night" goes back to 1994, she doubled up with the Barenaked Ladies for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" at the turn of the decade, and now she's back with a full album. The queen of Lilith Fair offers few surprises, as this fits snugly into her personal discography, which means there's a lot of mellow moments here, her piano and guitar set against Pierre Marchand's wall o' synths, and not much rocking out. She starts out strong with faithful covers of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and "River," plus a good original, the title song. She reaches for a live string section on "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Her medley of "The First Noel/Mary Mary" is interesting, as she goes for some India-style riffing on strings against tabla percussion, and it's probably the most rocked-out thing here. She closes with a little help from Diana Krall on "Christmastime Is Here." Update: Clarifying that her version of "Song For a Winter's Night" is a cover of Gordon Lightfoot.

Christmas Songs, Jars of Clay (Gray Matters/Nettwerk)

These Christian rockers came out about a decade ago with a single of "Little Drummer Boy," which is rerecorded for this new disc in a similar arrangement but with a bit more orchestration. After the instrumental "The Gift of St. Cecilia," they launch this 2007 CD with Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," a slightly different arrangement that leaves Sir Paul's slapdash approach behind. The poppy "Love Came Down at Christmas" is built on an Irish folk melody and is eminently singable, "Hibernation Day" is about slacking off with your baby in the wintertime, "Winter Skin" is a musical haiku and "Peace is Here" puts a martial beat to a holiday sentiment. Among the other covers are "Gabriel's Message," very much like Sting's, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets a long build into quick strumming over cellos, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is given a slightly synth-pop arrangement, they add a bit of R'nB to "Christmastime is Here," and set downtempo arrangements to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and, no surprise, "In the Bleak Midwinter." Taken in total, it's a fairly mellow listening experience, but there's plenty of highlights for you disc mixers out there.

A Very Ping Pong Christmas: Funky Treats From Santa's Bag, Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra (Ubiquity)

I've not come across Shawn Lee before, but he's apparently a prolific bandleader doing this kind of 70s-funky instrumental jamming, and this is the approach applied to a dozen Christmas tunes (well, 10 if you don't count "My Favorite Things" and "What a Wonderful World," which I consider debatable) for 2007. Highlights include "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" done with the guitar figure from "House of the Rising Sun," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" with the melody played on wah-wah guitar, "Little Drummer Boy" with an electric sitar lead part, and a heavily syncopated "Jingle Bells." It's just mellow enough to use as background music, but these songs can also serve as pace-changers on your mix discs.

My Holiday, Mindy Smith (Vanguard)

Mindy Smith is a singer/songwriter with one foot in Nashville, one foot in folk and one foot in the adult alternative genre. OK, too many feet, but these three genres suggest an artist that's not going to rock out in the Mistletunes-approved way. And that's pretty much the case. All three genres predominate in ballad style throughout the album, though Mindy's original songs do recommend a second listening, some written solo and some with fellow Nashville-ite Chely Wright. Alison Krauss stops by to harmonize on "Away in a Manger" as well. The traditional carols offer few surprises in style, though "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" throws a bit of soft jazz into the mix, as does "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life.)" A bit of rock, of the Christian variety, creeps into the playlist at the end with the sprightly "Come Around."

Christmas Tree on Fire EP, Holly Golightly (Damaged Goods)

Holly's a prolific British vocalist with a venerable American name, and this bit of fun is three holiday songs on iTunes. The title tune has a bit of Brenda Lee in it, teetering dangerously toward country, but who can object when the Christmas tree is burning the house down on Valentine's Day? "Christmas Solo" is a light holiday blues with vibrato guitar; woe to him who loses the Christmas ham on the way to dinner, as he will be smote with a dirty word. And "Hear My Call, Here" is a mournful waltz. This is on a 7-inch vinyl picture disc, according to her website, or you can just download it. Just checked out her website, turns out she previously did a Christmas single in 2002 with the Greenhornes called "Little Stars."

A Sunflower at Christmas, The Pearlfishers (Marina)

I can't even remember how I stumbled onto these guys, a Scottish band with roots back in the 1980s under such names as Chewy Raccoons and Hearts & Minds before becoming The Pearlfishers in 1989. This Christmas CD came out in 2004 (my copy is German, btw), but it can't be too obscure: the track names come up when I pop the disc into iTunes. The Pearlfishers are from that school of pure retro-pop rock, think late Sixties, Burt Bacharach-Beach Boys influenced. They take their influences and deliver seven cuts of poppy Christmas goodness with a bit of modern-day influence layered over it. Songs include "Snowboardin'," an ode to the popular sport; "Snow plus Christmas," an uptempo bid to spread holiday love; "Blue December (In the City)," a wistful ballad; the fantastical allegory of "Snow Lamb"; and the title song, performed almost simultaneously with "Away in a Manger" and very much in the mode of that classic carol with a "Pet Sounds-Surf's Up" approach. The hidden cut throws up some Brian Wilson-style a cappella singing. Some will find the full effect a bit cloying, but the individual songs are worth a berth on your mix discs.

The Spirit of Giving, The New Pornographers (Matador)

These critical faves from Vancouver slipped out this holiday EP on iTunes for 2007, and it's an interesting collection. "Joseph, Who Understood" and the title song are originals, the latter from their latest CD Challengers. As for the third tune, a medley of "Arms of Mary" and "Looking At a Baby," the former is by Iain Sutherland of 70s British folk-rockers The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver via fellow Canadian band Chilliwack, the latter originated with The Collectors, according to the Matador Records blog. Dense and interesting; with such a sensibility, the Pornos would be capable of a really good full holiday CD at some point, if they're interested.

Peace at Last, Hem (Waveland)

Last year, Sally Ellyson joined with Mike Mills for a cover of "Jesus Christ," and now for 2007 her band put together a three-song EP with the original title ballad featuring holiday sentiments, a cover of "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," non-holiday of course, and a slow version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The latter also turned up on this year's Starbucks compilation, but as so much of that disc is available elsewhere, you can get this instead of that if you need some holiday Hem. More on the mellow side, but it should be welcomed by the band's fans.

"Things We Don't Need Anymore," Jenny Owen Youngs (Nettwerk)

This is a snappy little rocker from somebody I hadn't heard of before this, with a story of a relationship going south in time for Christmas 2007. "Here's to wishes that'll never come true," indeed. It's on iTunes. A bit of holiday anti-cheer for those who need to cry in their eggnog. A great mix disc change-up, though one should be warned before tracking down this Jersey girl's non-holiday work, which sometimes carries a Parental Advisory warning.

Spirit of Christmas, Les Fradkin (RRO)

This felt so familiar on first listening that I assumed it was mostly covers, but no, seven tunes are by Les and Loretta Fradkin and two more are co-written with Les by Raven Kane and Diana Haig. The three covers are the Roy Wood and John Lennon classics plus the rarely covered "Ding Dong" by George Harrison. What's really familiar is the 70s pop-rock pomp, a Spectoresque wall of sound channeled through Jeff Lynne's mixing board. I had the feeling that Les was a one-man band kind of guy, and it turns out I was right, but what I didn't know was that he had a long pedigree in the business, working with everyone from Edison Lighthouse to the Godz (yes, the ESP Disk Godz), and a long stint in "Beatlemania" as George to boot. By the way, Edison Lighthouse was part of a continuum of late 60s-early 70s top 40 hits done by Flying Machine, Brotherhood of Man and White Plains. And you could easily justify this disc based on the nice job he does on the aforementioned songs, but his originals like "Say You Love Me For Christmas," "Christmas Sleeps Tonight," "Hello Christmas (Goodbye Year)," "Jangle Bells" and the lightly Caribbean-flavored "Christmas Vacation" argue for you to search this out at Not Lame, iTunes or CDBaby. Update: Dropped a reference to one of the songs being a retread of an existing song, since it turned out I made a mistake.

Let It Snow Baby, Let it Reindeer, Relient K (Capitol)

Updated entry: These guys are Christian rockers, and this album came out originally in 2003, minus seven new cuts, on Gotee as Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand. As with a lot of today's Christian acts, you can't really tell from a cursory listen; only on the original ballad "I Celebrate the Day" do you get any explicit Savior talk. Much of this CD is thrashed-out carols like "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Deck the Halls," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Hallelujah Chorus" and "Nuttin' For Christmas," very cleanly performed. Their pop sensibilities give us energetic covers of "12 Days of Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," along with a lounge-like "Sleigh Ride." Other originals include "Santa Claus is Thumbing to Town," more frenetic tempos conveying the story of Santa's workshop burning down, and mellower items like "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)," "Boxing Day," a medley of "Silent Night/Away in a Manger" and the original "I Hate Christmas Parties," a downtempo relationship lament. They wrap up by doing a Four Freshmen version of "Auld Lang Syne," and on the new album there's a hidden cut with a bit of goofing around. The original was lots of energy, lots of fun; the extended version more of the same.

Tidings, Allison Crowe (Rubenesque)

This Canadian singer is more of a rock belter than her countrywoman Sarah McLachlan, and this 2005 album has more of a spontaneous feel to it, with only her piano, bass and percussion for backing. There are no originals, and indeed she even picks some non-holiday tunes for their complimentary tone, so we get things like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the Stones' "Shine a Light," McLachlan's "Angel" and the Beatles' "Let it Be" and "In My Life." Regulars include Joni Mitchell's "River," "Silent Night," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "First Noel" and "O Holy Night." There's something to be said for this unadorned approach -- for example, you might just feel comfortable playing this all year round. Maple Music kindly threw in a DVD of her playing live, but you have to be in the fan club to get this.

The Gift of Rock, Smashmouth (self-issued)

One minute their song "Walking on the Sun" is everywhere, the next they're an oldies band. Nevertheless, Smashmouth is still alive and kicking, and they've rushed a new holiday CD out for 2005, available for now only at their website or on iTunes. They didn't put a lot of elbow grease into this, as nearly everything on it is rock 'n soul covers, but they exhibit pretty good taste nevertheless -- they cover the Raveonettes' "Christmas Song," rock up the O'Jays "Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)," Ringo Starr's "Come On Christmas," the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)," the Sonics' "Don't Believe in Christmas," the Kinks' "Father Christmas" and the Spector album's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." They also take on "Snoopy's Christmas," "Zat You, Santa Claus" and throw in a pretty cool original, "Baggage Claim." There's not a lot of variety in approaches -- this rocks out from start to finish. That's a very good thing.

My Favorite Carols, Robin Gibb (Koch)

This is pretty much as advertised. The former Bee Gee goes it alone for the holiday in 2006 with 10 antique carols, no latter-day pop standards or originals, backed by a one-man band in pop-rock-pomp style with the occasional help of adult and children's choruses. It's well performed but strictly middle of the road. There's a "making of" DVD that accompanies the album. Gibb does throw us a curve on "Noel," in which the traditional "First Noel" chorus is swapped out for something a bit more pro-child and anti-war. Don't let the warbloggers find out. Oh, and import copies have an 11th track, "Mother of Love," which was performed live at a recent charity performance.

Barenaked for the Holidays, Barenaked Ladies (Desperation/Reprise)

I have to say up front as a Ladies fan I had high hopes for this 2004 CD, and overall I'd say they were met. A lugubrious take on the opening track "Jingle Bells" quickly morphs into something more upbeat and fun -- including the rarely-used "Batman smells" verse. BNL's previous holiday offerings, "Green Christmas" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" featuring Sarah McLachlan, are included here, both newly recorded for this album. The 20 tracks mix classic carols with recent pop covers like "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and the band throws in a helping of originals like "Hanukkah Blessings," which heralds a triple Hanukkah alert as the Ladies also perform "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" and "I Have a Little Dreidel." They also wrote "Elf's Lament," a witty look at the holiday from behind Santa's work tables; "Snowman," a ballad by the title character; "Footprints," a faux-country weeper about following your love around in the snow; "Christmastime, Oh Yeah," your basic Norman Rockwell holiday tableaux in song; and "Christmas Pics," a mild jazzer about posing for whoever had a new digital camera under the tree. "O Holy Night" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are instrumentals that sound like they were recorded in the organ showroom at a mall, and the Ladies do a scat version of "Sleigh Ride." And of course, they sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, just before the near-obligatory production number of "Auld Lang Syne." Good clean fun, and you'll enjoy playing it all the way through.

The Flesh Eating Rollerskate Holiday Joyride, Psychostick (Rock Ridge)

Those of you whose life paths carry you a little too close to the retail sector might well be sick of Christmas already. (Props to Nordstrom for promising to hold the Christmas touches until Thanksgiving week.) If that's you, these guys might well be your holiday soundtrack, assuming metal/punk crunch is your favored genre. "Holiday Hate" brings the bitch list with its "Consumers gotta BUY" chorus, its declaration that Santa doesn't exist and its complaint that Christmas goodies make us fat. Despite the fact that Santa doesn't exist, he turns out to be a "Jollly Old Sadist" who doesn't come through on the wish lists unless you really wanted a shirt box full of socks. "Jingle Bell Metal" is pretty much as advertised, "Silent Night" is nothing of the kind, though it's only 25 seconds long, "Red Snow" is Rudolph's snuff-horror fantasy, causing Johnny Marks to roll over in his grave no doubt, and how else to cap off the festivities than with "Happy F- New Year."

The Gift of Christmas, Juice Newton (OJM)

I initially steered clear of this, as Juice, despite crossover success, is best known by country fans. But there's plenty of pop and rock on here, and even the mellow stuff tries to steer clear of the line-dancing crowd. A handful of standards mix with three originals that include two rockers, "Santa Can Dance" and the semi-rap "Shining Star," though "Christmas Wish" is definitely country. A blues-influenced "Auld Lang Syne" wraps things up.

We Call It Christmas, Little River Band (self-issued)

The long-running Down Under band shows up for 2007 with this new holiday collection, and it's actually not too bad, though it definitely fits in the "rock for grown-ups" genre. The traditional "Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child" rocks things up nicely, the title song is a nice bluesy take on Keb'Mo's song, and they do serviceable versions of Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home," Neil Diamond's "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" and Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmastime." Noting for the record that the song choice seems to have been heavily influenced by Nashville, the town in which this album was recorded, but they manage to steer clear of actually making a country album, so they get points for restraint, too. You'll have to track this to their website.

A Christopher Cross Christmas, Christopher Cross (self-issued)

Best known for the Top 40 hit "Sailin'," Cross was always most comfortable in that "adult contemporary" mode, which was radio-speak for easy listening aimed at younger audiences than the old masters like Sinatra and Bennett. This 2007 disc is solidly in that tradition. Cross puts two originals into the mix, "Does It Feel Like Christmas" and "A Dream of Peace at Christmastime," and throws in the old standard "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." A good gift for a parent or a much-older sibling but nothing to get worked up over. Warning: If you click through this link to buy his Christmas album (Paypal), a sample of "Christmas Time Is Here" plays, and there's no off button.

Christmas Offerings, Third Day (Essential/Sony BMG)

This Christian rock band leaps into the fray for 2006 with their own holiday platter. It's a solid offering, blending nine classic carols with four originals and also mixing live and studio performances. The lead singer sounds a bit like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, though instrumentally they're a perfectly mainstream rock band, sort of like Vertical Horizon. The originals, not surprisingly, are strongly religious. "Born in Bethlehem" is the Nativity story at ballad tempo with strings; "Jesus, Light of the World" is a midtempo reflection from the modern day; "Chrismas Like a Child," recorded live, seeks to recapture the childlike reaction to the holiday; and "Merry Christmas" is a kind of magnum opus that contrasts our homes of plenty against orphans in China. The hidden cut is "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," group-sung a cappella.

A Twisted Christmas, Twisted Sister (Razor and Tie)

Oh, dear God. I suppose I should have seen this coming, what with We Wish You a Hairy Christmas coming out a couple of seasons ago. Give 'em credit, though, if you had to imagine Twisted Sister doing Christmas music, then you'd have imagined exactly this -- they haven't missed a beat from their heyday to this day. The opening gambit has the band members playing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on acoustic guitars, only to have one of the guys do a takeoff on the old Tina Turner spoken bit from "Proud Mary": "We do everything nice … and TWISTED!" Lita Ford stops in to duet with the band on "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and along the way they also beat "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silver Bells," "Let It Snow," "Deck the Halls" and "The Christmas Song" into submission. Closest thing to an original idea on here is "Heavy Metal Christmas," done to the tune of "12 Days of Christmas." At the end, they wish us a Twisted Christmas, too, Bob Rivers notwithstanding. From 2006.

Happy Holidays, Billy Idol (Cyber Corps)

If the Twisted Sister disc is precisely what you might have expected had they recorded it back in the day, Idol's is the exact opposite of that. The former lead singer of Generation X and the guy who brought us "Dancing With Myself," "Rebel Yell," "White Wedding" and "Cradle of Love" has all but dispensed with his signature sound, presenting a Christmas album that owes a lot more to Vic Damone than Idol's own "Yellin' At the Xmas Tree," which isn't even on here. He does 15 standard Christmas songs and carols, fattening it up with two originals, "Happy Holiday" and "Christmas Love," both of which are pretty lounge-y. The two rock classics he does, Elvis' "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and "Run Rudolph Run" at least, are worthwhile, and his "Winter Wonderland" at least has some rhythm and guitar riffing going on, and "Jingle Bell Rock" is at least on a par with Hall and Oates' version. But sincere versions of "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne" really don't add much to the rock canon. To get this, you have to go to Billy's website or to Best Buy, though Amazon has a pricey import of it that is identical other than the cover.

Winter Wonderland, Paul Carrack & the SWR Big Band (Carrack/Universal UK)

Paul Carrack is one of those well-loved rock 'n roll journeymen performers, first heard singing and writing the band Ace's hit "How Long" back in 1974, then taking lead vocals on Squeeze's "Tempted" from 1981 before hooking up with Mike and the Mechanics on the way to going solo. In between, he played with such disparate acts as Roxy Music and Nick Lowe, the latter underappreciated hitmaker producing Paul's first solo album Suburban Voodoo and its hit single "I Need You." With such a storied rock history, it saddens me to report that Paul went all Rod Stewart-"American Songbook" on his first Christmas CD, so far released only in Europe in 2005. A perfectly predictable array of standard holiday pop songs, plus the Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World" and a reprise of Carrack's 1997 solo hit "Beautiful World," the latter as close to rock as things get here, is what you receive for your euro here, all played in pop orchestra ballad/swing arrangements. If Sinatra, Bennett, Goulet, or for that matter Michael Buble are who float your boat at Christmas, you'll be right at home here; Mistletunes regulars, I predict, will be disappointed.

A Christmas Album, Bright Eyes (Saddle Creek)

Though I trade on my Web affiliations with Amazon and iTunes, as a music fan I still enjoy pawing through the stock at a well-kept independent record store because I've always ended up finding things I might not have otherwise. Take this 2002 CD by alt-wunderkind Conor Oberst under his better-known band de plume, quietly released to benefit the Nebraska AIDS Project and listed on his label's website only as an Internet-only album, though the link is currently broken, suggesting it's no longer available. Nevertheless, I found this in the stacks at Record and Tape Traders in Towson, MD over Thanksgiving weekend. As to the music, well, this is 10 of your better-known carols plus a dramatic reading of "The Night Before Christmas," all slapped together bull-session style in Oberst's basement with a cast of friends and collaborators. The leader's lo-fi style predominates, particularly on a rendition of "Little Drummer Boy." An uptempo "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is as rocked-out as it gets -- the rest is a kind of mellow chamber-folk, though the performances are more spontaneous and less polished. For fans of the artist only.

Home For Christmas, Daryl Hall and John Oates (U-Watch/DKE)

The boys from Philly have been trading on their version of "Jingle Bell Rock" for the past couple of decades as far as the Christmas scene goes, at least until this 2006 release. It's short, 10 songs plus a newly recorded "Jingle Bell Rock" that's not a lot different from the original (of course, RCA/BMG probably still holds the rights to that one). Two originals are solidly in the H&O tradition, the title song by Daryl, T-Bone Wolk and Greg Bieck, and John's "No Child Should Ever Cry on Christmas," both soulful mid-tempo numbers, though "Child" is just a tad sappier than "Home." The duo lets the hired string section get way out of hand on a lugubrious "Overture" leading into "The First Noel" and again on the closer, "O Holy Night." Two gospel numbers, "Children Go Where I Send Thee" and "Mary Had a Baby," bring some life to the proceedings, the cover of the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" is not bad but unfortunately the soul classic "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday" ends up way too middle of the road. This definitely has its moments. Portion of proceeds goes to Toys For Tots, BTW.

You Just Gotta Love Christmas, Peter Cetera (Viastar/Golden Threads)

I've been looking a bit suspiciously at latter-day Christmas CDs by original album-rock era performers, simply because, well, they're my age or older and quite a few of them are happy to be middle-aged and mellow. So I approached this 2004 CD by the former Chicago bassist/vocalist carefully. (I'd heard about it earlier but hadn't actually run across a copy until recently.) It's not particularly rocked out in any meaningful way, definitely contemporary middle of the road music. Still, we'll give him props for putting some thought behind this endeavor, with three originals and some outside-the-box approaches to arrangements. Not a trace of Spector on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," for example, but this version is a distinctive one nevertheless. "Deck the Halls" gets a bit of antique folk on the arrangement and a harmony vocal from Alison Krauss; he also duets "Blue Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," this time with daughter Claire. The title song, an original, lacks only a horn section to take its place alongside Cetera's Chicago work. "Something That Santa Claus Left Behind" is a little sappy, but in the current era, "Alone For the Holidays" will ring true for a lot of women.

"Rooftop Soliloquy," Dead Gwynne (self-issued)

Just discovered these guys, who have cut a Christmas song every year for the past 12 and posted it to their site. This year's tune (2006) is a bit goofy, a combination singer-talker with stereo separation out the wazoo. Download it free, collect the whole set if you like. Hey DG, 12 tunes is enough to get a CD mastered, you know.… Thanks to Brendan deVallance for the tip. The graphic is their latest non-Xmas CD, by the way.

"Give U One 4 Christmas," Hot Pantz (Gut Recordings)

They're talking about a gift of course, so get your minds out of the gutter. This British duo put this snappy little pop rocker out for 2004 and have reissued it for 2006. The girls, Shelley and Kelly, are produced by Barry Upton, who also wrote the song with an eye toward a Ronettes/Roy Wood hybrid. I wouldn't describe it that way myself, but it's good fun nevertheless. (You must understand that the Brits hold Roy's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" in very high regard.) The B-side starts out to be an excessively reverent "Silent Night," but then the girls kick it up several notches into your typical punk-rock version.

Christmas In Fallujah, Jefferson Pepper (American Fallout)

"We came here to Fallujah to win your hearts and minds/But when we bombed your building your family was inside." Couldn't come over any more on the nose than that in this season of the Iraq Study Group. Pepper is described at his website as a songwriter of two decades' standing, but this is his first album, released originally in 2005. This alt-rock-country album isn't all Christmas oriented, but songs like the country lament "Bethlehem PA" are good to cry in your eggnog over. "Christmas Tree" uses the season as a metaphor for the life and death of a relationship, "Deceived" is about learning there's no Santa Claus, and "Plastic Illuminated Snowman" is a pretty good metaphor for what a country does to its returning soldiers after a war. And as for that title song, well, you'll want a little John and Yoko as a chaser after that one.

"Christmas in Fallujah," Cass Dillon (Impulsive)

Yes, we did review a song with this title not too long ago -- of all the Christmas titles to attract duplicate songs, eh? Dillon does his own singing and songwriting, but this classic rock-sounding tune from 2007 is apparently the first rock song written by Billy Joel in nearly a decade. No mistake -- the Joel connection is touted in the Gracenote info of the downloaded song, as well as the blurb on iTunes. The lyrics are inspired by letters home from Iraq soldiers, though they're woven into a first-person narrative that treads some of the same ground as Jefferson Pepper's tune. Proceeds benefit Homes For Our Troops.

"The Holidays are Here (And We're Still At War)," Brett Dennen (Dualtone)

A folky little protest shuffle, the dark side of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," coming up short of naming names and places but making its meaning clear nevertheless. Testaments rhyme with investments, towns that drown, corporations that cut employees as factories move overseas, prayers for victims, families and enemies -- Dennen gets them all into this 2006 single. I think back to those folks who laughed at John Lennon back in 1971 and wondered who'd give a damn about his little Christmas song after the Vietnam war was over. Will Dennen's song fade away with the Bush administration and its most un-excellent adventures? You'll never catch me making that prediction.

"The Christmas Sound," The Swimmers (self-issued)

This Philadelphia band gets more of a Sixties sound than a Christmas sound out of this catchy little number, but if this is what they sound like all the time, they probably deserve to break out of their home town, dancing all the way to this rockin' holiday tune's go-go beat. Downloaded it from WXPN-FM's website.

Mod Guitar Christmas, Stratocruiser (Waterstone)

The guitar maker is pushing this guitar-named power pop band with a four-song EP for 2007, featuring their "Last Christmas Girl" we reviewed last year as well as the title song, with its references to jingle-jangle meshing nicely with the jangling guitar sounds; "Holidaze," with its "what I need" chorus rejecting all material goods in favor of love; and a cover of the Osmonds' (yes) "Crazy Horses," which isn't a holiday tune near as I can tell, but their performance of it does have a slight sniff of Tenacious D about it. A nice little treat that's only available through Waterstone unless you live in the North Carolina area, near as I can tell. So far, I haven't found a retail link to it. Update: Yes, Stratocruiser is actually an airplane; I was thinking of it as a pun on the famous Fender Stratocaster guitar, though the folks at Waterstone might prefer you think of their own fine line of guitars first.

"Last Christmas Girl," The Stratocruisers (Just Plain Lucky)

This is a cut from the North Carolina band's 2006 album Revolutions, all jangly guitars and harmony vocals straight out of the Sixties, with a 12-string guitar leading the way. You might hear a little Big Star in these guys, I hear just a taste of Bram Tchaikovsky in the chorus. Don't worry folks, she's not the last-ever Christmas girl. If you're not sure about shelling out for the whole album, they're letting you download this song from their site for 69 cents.

"All I Want For Christmas Is You," Teddy Geiger (Sony BMG)

A nice 2006 alt-folkish cover of the Mariah Carey song from this young singer-songwriter and actor who's big with the teen girl set. Don't let that status put you off; this is quite listenable and a cool counterpart to the original in the same way that Aztec Camera's folk-pop ballad version of "Jump" was to Van Halen's bombastic original. It's part of an EP, Snow Blankets the Night, that has several originals including "I Found an Angel," another Christmas tune.

Switched On Christmas, Venus Hum (Mono Fi)

From 2001, I don't know how I managed to let this slightly crazed EP slip by me up till now. This is old school electro-pop from a Memphis-based band (really!) reaching all the way back to Kraftwerk days, with a stopover at Depeche Mode's house. "Let It Snow" renders its vocals via vocorder for that nice disembodied alien effect, "Suzy Snowflake" gets a strong female vocal, "Silent Night" adds a bit of sequencer backing over a funky bass synth bed, while "Silver Bells" and the Mel Torme-composed "The Christmas Song" brings in some real percussion and guitar for ballad arrangements with backbeats. A brief instrumental original, "St. Mary's Lake," rounds out the set.

"Xmas," Jesse Malin (Artemis)

A downtempo lyric set against cello and angelic backing vocals, Jesse laments the girl he lost as the snow comes down. A very evocative number from the 2006 album The Fine Art of Self-Destruction.

Winter Snow and Icicles, The Nines (self-issued)

This five-song EP from 2006 is a wildly limited edition, only 500 copies available from this Toronto pop-rock group. "It's Christmas" has the group doing the Beach Boys' best impression of the Four Freshmen a capella before bringing in the instruments, "Snowbound" is a piano and strings ballad, "Christmas" is a vocal counterpoint backed by acoustic guitar, "Goodnight My Love" gets that post-15 Big Ones Beach Boys influence with electric piano and backing vocals set off with just a touch of jingle bells, and "Winter Song" sets up a military shuffle with acoustic guitars to tell its story. The folks at Not Lame predict a fair amount of eBay action among those who get shut out of this limited issue, and it's easy to see why. A live version of "Goodnight My Love" recorded with the Toronto Symphony is available via download to those lucky enough to get this.

"Christmas Makes Me HOT!", 13 Stories (self-issued)

This guys 'n chicks power-pop ensemble from Atlanta dropped this back in 2006, I believe, and it's a great uptempo tune about a girl falling in love with a Christmas elf she met in a chat room. Ah, but how does the elf get broadband at the North Pole? Was he tapping in messages via his iPhone? Inquiring minds want to know. Easily downloadable from their MySpace page.

"Little Saint Nick"/"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Jim Boggia (self-issued)

Boggia is a local musician in Philadelphia who has helped some better-known folks out behind the scenes, and he's also got an album or two of his own music to his credit. These were downloaded from his own website, a couple of faithfully-recreated versions of the Beach Boys and Darlene Love/Phil Spector favorites. He's also on record with a slavishly re-created version of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)."

"Anorak Christmas," Sally Shapiro (Paper Bag)

From her 2007 album Disco Romance, this is as advertised, an electro-disco holiday romance record by a Swedish pop star. Couldn't pick up the word "anorak" anywhere in the song after a couple of listenings; guess in Sweden it's just assumed everybody wears raincoats all the time. A nice 80s buzz with a wispy vocal of the kind you might almost predict for a Swedish disco queen who isn't a member of Abba.

"All I Want For Christmas," Joss Stone (Virgin)

The young blue-eyed soulstress comes out with this ballad, no relation to the Mariah Carey song, in time for 2007's Christmas season. It's not bad, having a bit, but not a lot, of the retro-soul sound that made her famous. Originally only stream-able from her MySpace page, it's on iTunes now too.

6 Christmas Tales, The Brigadier (The Brigadier)

The Brigadier is Welsh singer-songwriter Matt Williams, who wrote, performed and produced this six-song EP for 2007. It's fairly mellow but lo-fi pop-rock straight across all six cuts, with a fair number of holiday touches. Most songs are mid-tempo except for the disc-ender "Yule Lullaby," which is a more solemn instrumental. Nice work, and I'm sure you'll want to check out his non-holiday disc while you're looking him up. I tracked this to Not Lame, but CD Baby and iTunes have it too.

"It's Christmas Time," Suzie McNeil (Maple Music)

Toronto's own Suzie McNeil is probably best known for being a finalist on "Rockstar," the reality show that auditioned singers for a reconstituted INXS. This 2007 single, downloadable from Maple, is your standard rock-chick radio anthem with all the holiday touches. No reason this couldn't catch on bigger with the right airplay, by the way.

"The Gift That Keeps Giving," Super Furry Animals (Rough Trade)

I haven't really followed this group over the years, but this pop confection might just get me to reconsider. It has a slight flavor of 70s R'nB as performed by a bunch of white guys, overlaid with just a touch of 60s psychedelia. It's not overtly a Christmas song, but it could slide right in alongside your holiday favorites. It's a free download from their site.

"Christmas," Sofia Talvik (Makaki)

A freebie single for download in three separate mixes from this young Swedish chanteuse, the song is a deeply melancholy story of a woman found dead in the snow. The downbeat sentiments are belied by the bright major-key melody, setting up a nice tension between words and music. A "naked" version dispenses with the rhythm section and a radio edit shaves a minute and a half off its length. Of course, Christmas really is the darkest time of year in Scandinavia....

"Through the Winter"/"21st Century Christmas," Saint Etienne (Foreign Office)

This was a 2006 fan-club single, featuring "Winter," a synth-poppy love ballad, and "21st Century Christmas," a mid-tempo pop rocker that is, according to, a Cliff Richard cover. The band is on record with other Christmas specialties, going back to 1993's single "I Was Born on Christmas Day," which also included the Billy Fury cover "My Christmas Prayer," and, in 12-inch single guise, adding "Snowplough" and "Peterloo." 1995 brought fan club members Xmas '95, a disc with "A Christmas Gift to You," "Driving Home For Christmas" and "Message in a Bottle." The fans also were privvy to Xmas '98, released in January 1999, featuring "I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You" and "Kofi Annan." Then came fan club EP Xmas 2003, featuring "Come On Christmas," "Snow," and "Marcie Dreams of Deptford." The above website also tipped us to a 2006 gig with a mini-set of Christmas favorites, mostly chosen from the above songs but also including "New Year" by the Sugababes. Finally, lurking on a fan club compilation called Asleep at the Wheels of Steel, is the song "Christmas 1936." Oh, Saint Etienne, you are such Christmas teases, as it sure looks like there's enough in hand for an album already.

Merry Merseybeat Christmas, Frank Lee Sprague (Wichita Falls Records)

I would assume there's a lot of love for the original British Invasion among the folks who visit here, some gleaned from original experience and some from determined fandom among the younger visitors. So I'd expect Sprague would have a strong constituency here for an album such as this one, released in 2006. He hits a fair variety of Merseyside readymades in these 11 songs -- you'll hear bits of the arrangement from "And I Love Her" in "My Love Will Grow," for example, and a taste of the original bands' love for period R'nB in "Christmas Time." Frank, however, sounds most to these ears like Gerry and the Pacemakers, which is not a bad thing but it contributes to the whole album sounding a bit samey-samey throughout. Several of the later tunes on the album tend more toward Christian rock done Mersey style, for what that's worth to you as a listener. There's a 12th song, "For the Wings of a Dove," which is his lyrics over a Felix Mendelssohn melody accompanied only by organ, followed by three hidden tunes, two of which are the same song, one as a solo guitar demo and the other a Merseybeat version, none of which have much to do with Christmas. A bit of a mixed bag overall, but there are plenty of good mix disc opportunities on here.

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," The Fray (Sony BMG)

The makers of the CD How to Save a Life made like the authors of this classic tune and threw together a recording session with a kids' choir to get this sucker down -- and they did so on Dec. 3, 2006, just days before it got out on iTunes.

"Christmas Reindeer," The Knife (Rabid)

A brother-sister act from Sweden made this dirgey-sounding electronic pop number back in 2001, near as I can tell, and it apparently pops up every year -- it was free at iTunes for a week in December 2006, and apparently they give it up at their own website as well. A good change of pace number.

"Jesus Christ," Mike Mills and Sally Ellyson (DLO/MM3)

The R.E.M. bass player teams with Hem singer Ellyson in 2006 to cover the Big Star tune for the benefit of the Red Apple Foundation, a charitable group that gives grants to programs that improve the lives of children. The song is a bit mellow compared to the original, but collectors will go crazy. This is downloadable pretty much everywhere that sells music that way, and who knows, there may even be a physical CD out there somewhere.

"Holiday Mood," The Apples in Stereo (Yep Roc)

Mellow and poppy in a mid-60s bubblegum way, more summer radio sounding than Christmasy, but lyrically it makes its case pretty well. These power-poppers have been around for five albums or so and just recently changed drummers, so you might want to check them out in the off-season too. Nothing on their website about this; found it on iTunes.

"A Great Big Sled," The Killers (Island Def Jam)

One of that big batch of flavor-of-the-month bands from a couple of years ago, they do a bang-up job on this 2006 single, rocking out behind chimes and jingle bells while getting a bit of guest vocal action from Toni Halliday. The single's a benefit for Product [RED], the AIDS-fighting charity.

"Don't Shoot Me Santa," The Killers (Island Def Jam)

It's the second year in a row this Las Vegas-based band came up with a Christmas single, this time based on the proposition that failure to be a good boy could cost you a lot more than the loss of that Nintendo Wii. Reminiscent of that song from the Chris Stamey album, "The Only Law Santa Claus Understood." Proceeds from this single/download benefit Project (RED), the charity that fights AIDS in Africa.

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Maroon 5 (OctoScope)

This funky five saw fit to celebrate the 2007 season with this rock Christmas classic, taking a spare, balladic approach emphasizing voice and piano rather than choirs of guitars and voices. Some will find this falls short, others might welcome the chance to reflect upon the lyrics. From iTunes and probably other downloadable locations. Update: Martin Johns informs us this originally turned up on a Best Buy "Sweet Tracks" comp in 2005, as did the Lifehouse version of "Silent Night."

"Season's Greetings," Robbers on High Street (New Line)

A sprightly original single from this pop-rock band from Poughkeepsie, which I found on iTunes but is also floating around free of charge. It turns out to be a cover of one of those tunes memorialized on the American Song Poem Project, and is all the more effective for having been performed professionally with a straight face.

"Santa Got Soul"/"This Christmas," Better Off Dead (self-issued)

Two rocked-up bar band anthems for the holiday, both originals, both free at their website -- but in payment, they'd like you to check out A King Family Christmas, the benefit CD for New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina, which is reviewed here and is well worth your time.

"Little Red Radio," Pas/Cal (Le Grand Magistery)

From a 2007 EP, this straight-ahead organ-led rocker will really liven up your mix discs. The singer wants a Cadillac, among other things, which puts him right in the tradition of early rock 'n roll Christmases. And since Cadillacs are actually pretty good cars nowadays (and he didn't specifically ask for an Escalade, so that's how we know it's not a rap record), it's a timely reference.

"Merry Xmas Everybody," Camp Freddy (New West)

Don't know who these guys are, but how bad can they be if they share a label with John Hiatt, right? The Slade chestnut gets a reverent and rocking reading from these guys for 2006.

"Christmas Ghost," Manic Street Preachers (self-issued)

A free download from their website, this is a thrashingly good rocker with just the right amount of Christmas bells and a Slade-like shouted chorus. It's about letting the holiday fuel your imagination, rather than the material things.

"Sweet Baby Jesus," Joe Algieri (self-issued)

Joe's a member of Jack & the Beanstalks, a Perth, Australia band, and he likes to let a Christmas song fly every year. This year's is the above-titled number, which does not play off "Sweet Baby James" but does cross love-song sentiments in a midtempo ballad with a yearning to see the baby Jesus. Nice work, and while you're on his MySpace page you can hear some of his other Xmas tunes like "Cindy Brady" and "I Saw Santa With a Gun."

"Silent Night," Lifehouse (Geffen)

The "Hanging By a Moment" boys rolled this single out on iTunes for 2007, the classic carol rendered as a country waltz. Nice job, not too reverent and not too unrecognizable. Update: Martin Johns informs us this originally turned up on a Best Buy "Sweet Tracks" comp in 2005, as did the Maroon 5 "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."

"You Know It's Christmas," Hipjoint (Nettwerk)

This 2006 single comes from Hipjoint Productions, the Canadian production/promotion house that works with such folks as Katie Melua, Shiloh, Kelly Rowland, Daniel Powter and others. There's no artist credits for this thing, other than a press release that states the performance is "led by our own Mike James and the Hipjoint staff." A Nettwerk page for Troy Samson gives the song as one of his compositions, and that's pretty much all I can find out. Nevertheless, it's a strong acoustic/electric pop-rocker, with guitar figures reminiscent of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Lyrically, it's all about those signposts that tell you it's the holiday season. Available as a paid download from Nettwerk's own store, in unprotected mp3 for you purists out there.

"My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)," Regina Spektor (Sire)

Found this 2007 recording on iTunes, a live performance of an original song for the New Year, a gentle piano ballad originally done by Peggy Lee. I wasn't able to find out much more about it, but I am curious about the artillery sounds in the background at one point.

Merry Christmas EP, Remington Super 60 (self-issued)

If dark takes on the holiday from Scandinavian bands have you thinking there's a regional epidemic of seasonal affective disorder up there, these Norwegian folks should help dispel that notion with this fairly sunny look at the holiday, free to download from their website and complete with cover art. "Here Comes Christmas" gives us the joy of the holiday, "Motorcars" has the singers wondering what Santa will bring, "Wintertime" is a cute synth-pop instrumental and "Christmas Song For Melanie" is a swaying harmonium-led ballad, though "Melanie" gets truncated to "Mel," opening up the possibilities of covers by singers of both genders. A nice gift to the listeners at Christmas time.

"What a Christmas," Henry Gross (self-issued)

The 70s popmeister continues to work in his chosen realm of music, though not with the spotlight he once had. Nevertheless, this freely downloadable acoustic-pop rock holiday anthem will take you right back to Henry's salad days -- or help you make a few fresh holiday memories. This could lay down right next to some of your favorite latter-day power pop.

Holiday Hell Yeah!, Go Jimmy Go (Moon Room)

Here's what happens when a band from Honolulu decides to get down for the holiday, or so they would have us believe. Strangely, nobody here is named Jimmy, but the vibe is definitely party music all the way, kicking off with the standard uptempo version of "Merry Christmas Baby" and swinging into the original reggae tune "Holiday Movie Marathon." Needless to say, they take a whack at "Mele Kalikimaka," giving it a more traditional sounding reading complete with slack-key guitar solo, and they break out the ukeleles for the title song, a somewhat more mellow number than the title would suggest, but still light-hearted and fun. "12 Days of Christmas Local Style" starts out with a bit of Bob and Doug MacKenzie-style banter before replacing all the traditional gifts with stuff like a mynah bird in a papaya tree. Worth having for the change of pace, worth noting for those of you who are planning a 98-degree Christmas and don't want to have to use the boy band's record as part of it. Parrotheads might just get a kick out of this too.

"The Atheist Christmas Carol," Vienna Teng (Virt)

This being the year of Christopher Hitchens' and Richard Dawkins' meditations on a world without God, it seemed like kismet to have stumbled upon this 2003 song from this former software engineer's album Warm Strangers. Fans of the above authors will be disappointed, however; the confrontational title fronts a perfectly appropriate holiday ballad whose major nod to its title is its failure to use the word "Christmas." But it does round up the mixture of feelings the holiday evokes in a way that expresses empathy without vetting the listener for religious preferences. If that's a thumb in the eye to the hucksters who annually peddle a "War on Christmas," so be it.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Let's Make Christmas Merry," Brother Cane (self-issued)

Matthew Edwardson tipped me to this pair of tunes, a solid acoustic rock arrangement of the traditional carol paired with a blues-rocker with plenty of slide guitar and single-entendres. Good work, and freely downloadable from former Bro Damon Johnson's website.

"Christmas Everyday"/"Please Come Home For Christmas," Tommy Castro (self-issued)

Free downloads from the blues-rock guitarist's website, featuring Marcia Ball singing "Everyday" and Calvin Owens doing the honors on the Charles Brown classic. No surprises, but solid blues performances free of charge.

"Carol of the Bells"/"The Saracen Gift (Little Drummer Boy)," Pollo Del Mar (self-issued)

Don Vigeant steers us to this pair of holiday classics rendered in garage/surf style by the above-named Bay Area band. "Saracen" has a bit more of an Eastern percussion thing going alongside the surf guitar rather than the martial beat of the more familiar "Drummer Boy" versions. "Carol," while surfy-sounding, builds in a bit of the drama you might find in a Trans-Siberian Orchestra rendition -- just a bit -- and rocks it up toward the end, then cuts the tempo back once more. Good stuff. "Saracen Gift" originated on a 1999 CD called The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and I'm told both these cuts found their way to a long-gone compilation from 2000 called XmasY2K4U, but Don helpfully steered us toward downloads.

Star of Bethlehem, Three Days Wait (Instauration Records)

This Columbus, Ohio-area band got this CD out just in time for Christmas in 2005, but we're just getting it this year. The band identifies itself, at least for the purposes of ISBN, as a Christian rock band, and this CD is intended to help raise money for several unspecified charities doing work for children. The title song kicks things off in a solid hard rock mode, talking about finding the Christ child, which appropriately leads into a version of "We Three Kings" with a definite Dave Matthews Band flavor to it. "Caroling" is a strong rocker about, well, caroling, and they even refer to "cranking it" and "slap the bass" in connection with serenading holiday listeners. "Snow Blues" is just that, an acoustic blues lament about leaving winter in Ohio for a trip to Mexico. They also take us on a "Sled Ride," promise to rock and roll Christmas with a new "Red Guitar," go bluegrass on, wait for it, "Blue Grass Christmas," and give us an ode to a "Snow Day." Rudolph gets props once more on "Christmas Hero," and they wrap things up with, well why not, "Merry Christmas." The band is an ambitious bunch of semi-pros who have given us a solidly entertaining holiday CD.

"Back For Christmas," Alexandra Lawerentz (ThoughtSquad)

We never get too far into the holiday without hearing some version of "Bring my baby home for Christmastime," and this 2005 holiday song is as good a way to hear this sentiment as any. The PR materials accompanying my copy of this identify Alexandra as "a 17-year-old pop phenom," and who am I to quibble? She gives us a full-throated rendition of this catchy little Seventies-flavored rocker, spiced up with plenty of Christmas-style percussion alongside the heavy guitar and sax. (There's a hidden bit at the end of the disc with plunking piano and a little kid talking about a "clean clean earth" that is a bit too precious for my taste.) This is a CD single that appears to be available for sale in most ordinary outlets.

At Christmas, James Taylor (Columbia)

Jazz. Not what you would expect from ol' JT, but look at the credits: Produced and arranged by Dave Grusin. I was expecting this to be mellow in the Taylor mode, but I wasn't expecting smooth jazz-large ensemble mellow. Only a few songs feature the artist's distinctive guitar playing style to any extent, one of which is the cover of Joni Mitchell's "River," which is the sound you might expect a JT album to have all the way through. Turns out this is one of two cuts not produced by Grusin. Considering this originated as a project for Hallmark Cards, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at how it turned out. Apparently the two non-Grusin songs weren't on the card shop original, but a version of "Deck the Halls" was. A different cover distinguishes the 2004 Hallmark from the 2006 Columbia. Update: Howard Cogswell notes "Deck the Halls" is part of the Columbia disc if you buy it from Barnes & Noble. Further update: An Entertainment Weekly article about the history behind "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and its evolving lyrics cites James' performance, first released in 2001 in the wake of 9/11, using the original, more downbeat lyrics. That performance is on this album, although the single almost certainly is somewhere on eBay.

"River," James Taylor (self-issued)

Except for quoting "Good King Wenceslaus" instead of "Jingle Bells" at the beginning, you can pretty much predict what this is going to sound like. Although James is the king of mellow pop-folk, he's accomplished at what he does. This isn't on his 2004 Hallmark CD, it's supposed to be a freebie from his website, but it was down when I went to check. had it for a while, though their daily mp3 column has ended and it's hard to know whether the archives are still alive.

"This is Christmas," Paul's Project (self-issued)

A 2006 original from British lounge singer Paul Martin (he's from Gateshead for those who know where that is), who bills himself as Blighty's best Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tribute singer. Here he puts the martini glass down and opts for a pop-rock arrangement with lots of Christmas schmaltz and a kid vocal on the bridge. It's a nice number in its way, and best of all it's a free download from his site.

"Santa's Going to Kokomo," Mike Love (Meleco)

Yeah, yeah, Santa and his old lady like to go south for the summer. A remarkably weak effort, no doubt hindered by the insistence on making kids sing most of the way through it. This is the Beach Boys' final top 40 hit repurposed by the band's lead singer a la "Christmas Is All Around" from the movie "Love Actually." Another iTunes single from 2006.

Have a Twilley Christmas, Dwight Twilley (Digital MusicWorks)

One of the godfathers of power pop, going back to the late '70s with his own Dwight Twilley Band, I hadn't heard about him much lately until I stumbled over this new for 2004 EP on iTunes. Update: It has been expanded into a full album for 2005. The album kicks off with "Snowman Magic" and segues into the jangly guitars of "Chrismas Stars," swings into the poppy "Santa Claus' Favorite" and throws in some horns on the stomper "Rockabilly Christmas Ball." "Christmas Night" mashes up bits of "Pink Cadillac" and "Bang a Gong" into a dance-rock holiday classic while "Christmas Love" takes it down to ballad speed. The expanded album also adds the ballad "Christmas Lullaby," the poppy "Almost Christmas Time" and the holiday stomper "Santa Claus Walk." Topping it off, a little friendly competition with the Flaming Lips on "Christmas With the Martians," listed as a "remix" on the expanded CD.

Christmas Means Love, Joan Osborne (HyLo/Womanly Hips)

I don't often get the chance to tell people that Joan's first album, Relish, is one of the best albums of the 90s bar none. This 2005 collection doesn't quite hit those kinds of heights, but it's definitely a keeper. She casts a very selective eye over the holiday repertoire, limiting the traditional choices to a folk/gospel ballad treatment of "Angels We Have Heard On High," a blues waltz version of "Away in a Manger," and the usual stately "Silent Night." Like a lot of R'nB singers doing Christmas music, Joan leans toward the gospel side of things, with "Great Day in December" and a different version of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" than the one she recorded for A Home For the Holidays, less gritty but just as soulful. She also jumps into the blues with "What Do Bad Girls Get?" and gives a solid reading of Louis Armstrong's "Christmas in New Orleans." This was recorded exclusively for Barnes and Noble, but I wouldn't rule out a wider re-release in the future. Update: As predicted, now more widely available.

Christmas, Chris Isaak (Wicked Game/Reprise)

Isaak has been milking that rockabilly crooner schtick for more than 20 years with great results, parlaying it into the quirky eponymous Showtime sitcom filled with hip cameos from fellow mid-list semi-celebrities. If you're a fan, this album will come as no surprise, brimming as it does with Chris's patented mix of pre-Beatles pop, rock and country moves. It's mostly trad carols but Chris bulks up the mix with five fairly sharp originals. "Hey Santa" is a smooth shuffle with Latin horns, "Christmas On TV" is a walking country lament about getting bounced by your sweetie for the holiday, "Brightest Star" is reminiscent of a Roy Orbison ballad, "Washington Square" is a waltz about lost love, and "Gotta Be Good" honky-tonks the thing you tell the kids into something you tell a faithless lover. "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" features a duet with Stevie Nicks, "Blue Christmas" is a straight lift of the Elvis arrangement spiced up with a little organ, "Pretty Paper" again recalls Orbison, a ballad version of "Mele Kalikimaka" thankfully picks up the tempo halfway through, "Last Month of the Year" is a twangy gospel version, and the other carols on the CD emphasize Chris' mellow balladeer side. I wouldn't call this a must-have, but if you're favorably disposed toward the Isaak sound you won't be disappointed. Update: Bob Bailey points out the version of this album sold at Target includes a cover of Elvis Presley's "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me," which also appeared on a Best Buy compilation. This song and another, "I'll Be Home For Christmas," were bonus cuts on the Japanese version. Further update: This year's copies of this CD I've seen in stores lately include the Presley tune.

Winter Carols, Blackmore's Night (Locomotive)

Sometimes you really lose track of your classic rock stars, or at least I did. Ritchie Blackmore, after leaving Deep Purple, went on to found heavy metal icons Whitesnake and Rainbow before landing with Blackmore's Night, which turns out to be an ensemble dedicated to antique English folk music with just the lightest of modern touches (drums, synths, etc.). Blackmore's chops on various guitars, mandola and other instruments are not in doubt, and vocalist Candice Night sounds just great doing this material. But this 2006 release is not in any way for rock fans. Two originals, "Winter (Basse Dance)," an instrumental, and "Christmas Eve," a vocal, are done in the antique style, to go with such classics as "I Saw Three Ships," "Good King Wenceslas," "We Three Kings," "Emmanuel" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," plus the opening medley of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful," the latter of which is the closest thing to a rock-sounding tune on this disc. Not a Mistletunes pick, but if you have any Dickens Village aficionados or Renaissance Faire fans in your circle, they might just find this a delightful change from the usual Christmas fare.

Peace, Love and Xmas, The Beautiful Losers (Beautiful Records)

These guys, one Japanese guy and one American, released this CD in Japan in 2005, though it's available through CD Baby and iTunes this year. It's nearly all originals, except for faithful covers of "Last Christmas" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," though not all Christmas-oriented. They're pretty much an electric folk-rock-pop act in the America vein. Highlights include "She's Coming Home for Christmas," "Cold, Cold Xmas" and "Every Day is Xmas Eve." The other songs are complimentary, but not specific to the holiday.

"Snow in Austin," Ellis Paul (Rounder)

Another iTunes find from 2005, this is your basic alt-folk funny-sad take on the holiday from a popular practitioner of the style. It's about what happens, or what should happen, when "snow angels make it to Texas," and all the unrequited love that passes between two people.

"Have a Hap-Hap-Happy Christmas," Uncle Carl (self-issued)

This is your basic R'nB horn-driven uptempo dance tune with the simplest of premises, as stated in the title. Fans of Huey Lewis and Sixties soul will especially enjoy this. Uncle Carl is a journeyman musician with quite a few originals to his credit, but this tune made the soundtrack of the recent independent film "Trust the Man" with David Duchovny and Julianne Moore, so it should be easy to track down that way, or you could simply go straight to the source for a sample. He's also on iTunes.

"Merry Xmas (From Your Ex-Girlfriend)," Grub Dog and the Modestos (Red Radio)

From 2004, your basic regrets song, a country rocker about a lonely guy who gets a Christmas card from a former lover. Should probably call this one more country than rock, since it's more country than things I hear on country radio. Nevertheless, the title alone will stick out on your mix disc cover.

Can't Stop Thinking About Christmas, Universal Honey (41 Records)

I haven't come across Universal Honey before, but this Canadian duo apparently is a big deal, with five albums, song placements on "Dawson's Creek," "Grosse Point" and "Time of your Life" and sold-out shows at Toronto's Massey Hall to their credit. This 2003 CD is their first full Christmas album, and it's chock full of originals, going to the songbook only once for an acoustic version of "I Saw Three Ships." They have that Sixties girl-pop-rock sound updated for the modern day, they've got quite a way with a hook, and the songs tie typical love song sentiments tightly into the holiday. The title song follows footprints in the snow to make an accusation of infidelity, while "ah-ah" vocals punctuate the beat. "Glad It's Christmastime" and "Best Christmas Ever" are great mix CD candidates. "The Celebration" is a duet of a beleaguered couple trying to find their groove: "It's Christmastime and we should be getting it on...." "Let Me Be Your Santa Claus" is a harder rocker, and "The Bells" starts off all sincere but swings into a Chuck Berry shuffle, talks about women going to see heavy metal bands in bars while pleading for a designated driver. The whole album is like this -- solid pop-rock performances, killer choruses and a strong eye for modern detail among the holiday sentiments. We'll forgive them one non-holiday song, "You Still Love Me." And in keeping with the current trend, a remix of the title song caps off the CD. I'm declaring this 2003's best Christmas album by a single artist.

"Christmas in America," Melissa Ethridge (Island)

Your basic "come home for the holidays baby" lament, nicely rocked up in Melissa's trademark style just in time for 2005. It's one of the fresh tracks recorded for her Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled CD just out for holiday giving. I'm told there's a promo CD out there somewhere (I have a bootleg) of her doing a live medley of "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)" and "Give Peace a Chance" from back in the early 90s.

A Christmas Kind of Town, Marah (Yep Roc)

I wasn't expecting this bunch of South Philly guys to put out a Christmas album, and given their status as a band that combines a lot of the better features of folks from Bruce Springsteen to the latter-day jam bands, I definitely wouldn't have expected vaudeville as the sound of such an album. Still, props to the guys for putting so much elbow grease into this 2005 release. There are five originals, including "New York Is a Christmas Kind of Town," "Counting the Days ('Til Christmas)," "Christmas With the Snow," the throwaway "Handsome Santa" and "Counting the Days, a Christmas Polka." They throw these in among a bunch of classics and covers, reaching all the way to Buck Owens for "Christmas Time's a-Comin" on one end and back to "Christmas Time Is Here." And they knit it all together with short skits in between tunes. I'd warn folks who have heard Marah before however, this sounds less like their regular stuff and more like something in between the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks. Update: The band put out an EP on vinyl and for download that combines a couple cuts from this album with three fresh tunes, "Home For the Holidays," the original "Valley Forge" and "Mele," the latter better known as "Mele Kalikimaka."

"All That I Want," The Weepies (Nettwerk)

Yes, I know this was the soundtrack to a JCPenney commercial. All I can say to that is that, well, ad weasels like good music too, and this catchy little bit of acoustic-pop ear candy definitely deserves more than 30 seconds of your time. (You hear more of it clicking on the preview in iTunes than you do in the commercial, including some of the male harmony vocals.) The husband-wife team originally rolled this out on their 2003 album Happiness, but it also turned up on the download-only Nettwerk compilation A Winter's Night, a collection I ignored because nearly all the other songs on it were from Nettwerk's other compilations. I gotta learn not to skim these things.

Fuzz For the Holidays, Davie Allan and the Arrows (Wicked Cool)
Fuzz For the Holidays II, Davie Allan and the Arrows (Spinout)

This instrumental rock band came up in the 1960s with hits like "Apache '65" and "Blue's Theme," and they've managed to keep the flame burning from those days to this one. Coming after such guitar combos as the Ventures, the Arrows cranked their old-school amps to 11 to get that classic "fuzz" sound that is featured in the titles of both these Christmas albums. But not to worry, vintage keyboards are a big part of the sound, too, which gives them the opportunity to sweeten things with clavioline, glock and bells as well as the iconic Vox Continental organ. The first of these two albums is from 2004 and was produced by Silvio Dante himself, Little Steven Van Zandt, while the second, from 2007, was produced by Allan. The earlier disc is all classic carols, with a brief "Ho Ho Seven" by Little Steven prequeling "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," while the second throws in three originals written or co-written by Allan. Two of those, "A Winter Song" and "Santa on the Run," are vocals featuring Allan at the mike. The sound is actually a little too well-produced on both discs, losing a bit of the garage ethos the band had back in the day, but they retain their unique sound throughout both these discs.

What I Really Want For Christmas, Brian Wilson (Arista)

The management and staff of stipulates for the record that Brian Wilson's re-emergence as a solo artist after a troubled two decades or so is, all in all, a Good Thing. Nevertheless, we would not want to mislead anyone into thinking that a mid-60s Brian has the same hunger to reach the boundaries of music that he did in his 20s. That latter Brian got a much-deserved re-emphasis when Nonesuch issued the long-lost Smile in 2004. As for his first Christmas album since his Beach Boys days, well, what once was innovative now is adult contemporary. He hearkens back to that original 1964 holiday album with faithful remakes of "Little St. Nick" and "The Man With All the Toys," along with the same arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne." And let's face it, he could have gotten away with recycling a lot more vintage Boys material and arrangements, but to his credit he didn't. The title song is new, with lyrics from Bernie Taupin and an a cappella intro of the kind Brian's famous for, though the total effect is pretty lounge-oriented. "Christmasy," with lyrics by Jimmy Webb, and "On Christmas Day," which is all Brian, are more like Brian's recent solo work. Stop by his website to stream "White Christmas," which isn't on here.

"If Every Day Were Like Chrismas," Podsafe For Peace (self-issued)

This 2005 Christmas single combines performers from nine countries in a "We Are the World" -- "Do They Know It's Christmastime" endeavor, organized by podcasting poobah and former MTV VJ Adam Curry, that will donate all the funds from the 99-cent download to UNICEF. It's a decent song, well performed, with big-platitude lyrics, pop-radio-friendly done in a familiar style, but I don't see any reason other than exposure that this couldn't become a holiday standard over time. No doubt the fact that none of the folks on this record could earn an Entertainment Weekly feature on their own will have more to do with this song's ultimate chart placing than anything else. The purchase link takes you through PayPal, by the way.

Blondfire Holiday EP, Blondfire (Wax Divine)

This 2005 collection is an iTunes exclusive from the band formerly known as Astaire, Brazilian-American siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll. Two piano ballads, "It's Been Christmas Here" and "Where's the Cheer," are fine pop songcraft if a little sedate, while "Underneath the Mistletoe" has a little more rhythm to it. Don't know if this is typical of their oeuvre or a little more hearth-friendly in keeping with the season, but this EP bodes well for the group in the other months of the year. There's also a demo of "Baby Blue," a non-holiday song, included with the full download.

"Let It Snow," Magnet (Filter)

This one-man band from Norway named Even Johansen throws a decidedly 2005 approach into this Christmas standard, crooning over a mash-up backing track. Not for everyone, but I got a kick out of it. Found it on iTunes, you might want to check the other download services too.

My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, My Morning Jacket (Darla)

I have to admit I'm unfamiliar with these guys though I've seen their name mooted about for a few years now, but I will stipulate that they really take Christmas seriously. This 2003 EP (excuse the outdated terminology, but that's what I'm used to calling a six-cut mini-album of this kind) only has one rocked-out tune, the Elvis Presley tune "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," and it's more of a slow shuffle. The other tunes are fairly downtempo but sincere evocations of the holiday. "I Just Wanted To Say" would be at home as part of a David Lynch Christmas special, with a tempo more easily computed with a calendar than a metronome. "New Morning," a Nick Cave tune, doesn't sound particularly Christmas oriented, though the sentiment jibes with the other songs. "Xmas Curtain" also appears on their At Dawn album, and it's a pretty cryptic musing on "criminals who never break the law." "Xmas Time Is Here Again" is more conventionally Merry Christmasy, mostly acoustic guitar with a little electric guitar picking bass notes in the background. Oh, and there's a "Bonus Track," just seven minutes of doodling over a descending figure ripped from the previous song. Took a while, but it grew on me. Found it on the now-defunct Sony Connect, wish I'd known iTunes had it too.

"Lonely Without You (This Christmas)," Mick Jagger and Joss Stone with David Stewart (Virgin)

From the soundtrack to the 2004 remake of "Alfie," this is your basic big soul showstopper Christmas ballad featuring the up-and-coming singer Joss Stone, who duets with the moss-averse Mick Jagger to fabulous effect. This is, as far as we can ascertain, only the second Rolling Stones-involved Christmas song ever besides Keith Richards' "Run Rudolph Run," and it benefits further from the involvement of teenaged diva Stone. And keep yer mitts off 'er, Jagger.

"Back Door Santa," Jet (Elektra)

The "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" boys take a crack at the old soul chestnut and come off in fine fettle, although I suspect they took their cues from Bon Jovi rather than Clarence Carter on this one. Still, they did fine. Grabbed this 2004 performance on iTunes, where it's billed as an exclusive for the time being.

We Three Kings, Rev. Horton Heat (Yep Roc)

The rockabilly preacher delivers for the holiday on this 2005 CD, rocking up a full roster of classic carols and holiday standards. It's full pedal to the metal, letting up only for "Silver Bells" and "Pretty Paper." They didn't stretch real hard for the song selection, going with such staples as "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and so on, plus rock standards like "Santa Bring My Baby Back" and "Run Run Rudolph" and the album's only original, "Santa On the Roof," about not catching Dad playing Santa. The good Rev. is known for a bit of comedy schtick when performing live, but this CD sticks to the music.

The Lost Christmas Eve, Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Lava)

Everything I said about these guys elsewhere on the site holds in spades -- your basic old-school progressive rock opera dressed up in holiday clothes and now turned into quite the money-making machine; two separate TSO troupes tour the USA during November and December to give you the live version of their oeuvre. This 2004 CD, their third Christmas album, has 23 cuts but it also recycles some of their older material with new performances. And if you're just coming around to these guys, all three of the holiday CDs are now available in a boxed trilogy set.

Christmas EP, Aimee Mann (Superego)

Aimee finally came out of the Christmas closet with this brief 2005 collection I found on iTunes but not at her website. It consists of fairly mellow covers of Joni Mitchell's "River," a song that fits her like an old shoe, the Mel Torme "Christmas Song" previously heard on the Q Division compilation, and last year's limited-availability cover of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," along with the instant classic from 2005's The Forgotten Arm, "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas." The latter features bright, funky rock band playing, cheerful melodies and a downer of a story about cleaning up and leaving a lover behind. Dark but warm, sort of like the dive bar around the corner from your apartment. (You have to get to the next and last song on Forgotten Arm to reach the somewhat happy ending.) The only thing missing is Aimee's duet with hubby Michael Penn, "Christmastime," from back in the mid-90s.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Aimee Mann (SuperEgo)

This is a single on her own label and so far was distributed only to people who bought stuff at her website. Of course, these things have a way of turning up at a later date. As for this particular song, well, it's a perfect Aimee Mann arrangement of a classic chestnut, complete with the baroque Beatle-esque touches she's known for. If there had been a Christmas scene in the movie "Magnolia," this is what you would have heard as the actors unwrapped their presents. Aimee previously did versions of "The Christmas Song" and a duet of her original "Christmastime" with hubby Michael Penn.

Christmas in July, Judith Owen (Century of Progress)

This Welsh-born jazz-pop singer might not have made this site under normal circumstances, but this EP has a novelty twist -- her mellow cover of "Christmas With the Devil," the mock-holiday classic by Spinal Tap. She didn't have to look too far for the inspiration to do this tune -- she's married to Tap co-creator Harry Shearer, who contributes supporting vocals. She throws in a couple of holiday originals, "The Dancing Tree" and "My Father's Voice," and covers "Silent Night" in a duet with Julia Fordham, also doing "The Christmas Song" and a fairly mannered jazz version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." The whole disc is mellow pop singing, but Owen is the real deal in terms of singing and writing talent, if you prefer the mellower sounds. But for Mistletunes regulars, the Tap cover is worth the whole disc. From 2004.

"Father Christmas," The Features (Island Def Jam)

What's with the title stealing? The Features come up with their own take on "Father Christmas" for 2004, not the Kinks original but their own. It even has a slight touch of Kinks to the melody in parts, and it's good in its own right. Another song sneaking under the holiday wire for 2004 at iTunes.

"Feliz Navidad," Los Lonely Boys (Sony/BMG)

An exclusive track to iTunes for 2004, the Boys improvise an acoustic version of Jose Feliciano's big holiday hit. Even goofing around they sound as good as a lot of groups. You can tell they're Texans — as they flip back and forth between Spanish and English they give us "We wanna wish y'all a Merry Christmas.…"

"Do They Know It's Christmas," Band Aid 20 (Mercury/Universal)

Inspired by the continuing strife in Darfur, Sudan, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized a 20th anniversary sequel to the original with an updated cast of current stars. On hand for the new version are Chris Martin of Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Dido, Fran Healey of Travis, vocal group Sugababes, rapper Ms. Dynamite, Joss Stone, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, Dizzee Rascal and a bunch of other current English pop/rock stars, along with a reprise from Bono of his "thank God it's them instead of you" line, and a repeat visit from Sir Paul McCartney, who limits himself to bass this time. Thom Yorke of Radiohead is credited with piano and Damon Albarn of Blur is alleged to have "gotten tea" for everyone else. Madonna doesn't appear on the song but gives a spoken-word intro to the video, which was given a simultaneous premiere on all five of England's "terrestrial" channels, what Americans call broadcast stations as opposed to cable and satellite channels. Availability appears to be limited to Great Britain and Australia at the moment; I've been able to track down no plans for an American or worldwide release. The CD single is scheduled to contain the original 1984 version as well as the Live Aid performance of the song. Download sales are available from the British divisions of most of the players in that business except iTunes, which reportedly balked at charging twice the going rate for a single song. Update: The British iTunes got on board by putting the song up for sale at its normal price and paying Band Aid 20 the difference out of its own pocket. As for the performance, it's not remarkably different from the original, except for the retro-70s double guitars of The Darkness in the breaks and Dizzee Rascal's raps inserted into the bridge. Of the latter, my first reaction was, "Why is Ali G on this song?" My guess is that folks will want this in proportion to how they feel about the current wave of British popsters, with a few completists mixed in who actually have the 1989 version as well as the "Live Aid" DVD.

"Missle Tow," Mosquitos (self-issued)

Stop by their website and download this for yourself (assuming it's still there since it first went up in 2004), a delightful Brazilian-flavored pop confection that goes all multicultural: "I wanna spend Christmas with you even though ... you're Jewish." And so it goes the other way around too, set to a catchy melody that'll bounce around your brainpan so much you'll think you're wearing an iPod when you aren't. If this kind of thing appeals to you, grab one of their regular albums while you're at it.

"Christmas Is All Around," Billy Mack (J Records)

From the original soundtrack to the 2003 romantic comedy "Love Actually," this re-imagining of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around" as a Christmas song figures prominently in the plot as a washed-up hard rocker's attempt to return to the charts. I'm kicking myself for not having the idea -- but don't get me wrong, this thing is 24-karat schlock through and through. Which is part of its charm, as you'll know when you see the movie. Music fans will want to see it to watch how the Brits get all gooshy about what song's going to be no. 1 during Christmas -- as I've noted elsewhere on the site, that part is based in reality. And then they'll want the song too. Turns out, in another case of art imitating life, they're actually going to release this as a single in England. Almost forgot to give props to actor Bill Nighy's terrific portrayal of aging rock star Billy Mack, not to mention his performance of the song. A slight dollop of this variety of cheese might have improved the likes of the Moody Blues' album.

"The Christmas Party," The Walkmen with Nicole Sheahan (Record Collection/WB)

Actually just a download from the band's website, this late 2004 song is also available from iTunes when you buy the single of "Little House of Savages." It's bracketed with spoken-word holiday sentiments and jingle bells, then it goes into a medium shuffle with a duet vocal reminiscent of the old Nuggets days -- or the latter-day garage movement, whichever you remember better. They like their wine in this song, too. On their Bows and Arrows album, they have two songs, "No Christmas While I'm Talking" and "New Year's Eve," neither of which appear to be holiday related as near as I can hear.

Everything You Want For Christmas, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Big Bad/Vanguard)

More big band swing mixed with rockabilly, in the vein of the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and therefore it suffers a bit from arriving two seasons later in 2004. I wouldn't recommend this to hard-core rockers, but more open-minded folks and fans of dancing cheek-to-cheek will likely go for this. Give them credit for a couple of smart covers, "Mr. Heatmiser" from the TV chestnut "Night Without a Santa Claus" and "A Party for Santa Claus," the Lord Nelson calypso classic. Not to mention "Zat You, Santa Claus," the Louis Armstrong song. "Jingle Bells" appears twice as an instrumental, one as a cha-cha and the other a little faster. Originals include "Rockabilly Christmas, "Last Night (I Went Out With Santa)" and "Christmastime in Tinsel Town." Update: Corrected the reference to "Mr. Heatmiser." I think I made the same mistake in other entries, so apolgies if I don't catch the other ones right away.

Christmas Lights, Martha's Trouble (Aisling)

This holiday EP came out in Canada in 2002 and is being marketed in the U.S. for the first time in 2004. Martha's Trouble is a folky duo, Jen and Rob Slocum, who split their time between Ontario and Alabama (talk about your red state/blue state dichotomy) performing what is essentially folk music, lots of fingerpicked guitar and occasional touches of violin, although they also have full band accompaniment on this short CD. "Christmas Song" is their own midtempo original and the only such among the six tunes, the rest of which are standards including "Silent Night," a syncopated "Little Drummer Boy," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." More folk than pop, and a bit mellow for this site, but Jen Slocum is an excellent singer, and you Roches fans will probably go for this.

Songs for Christmas, Jesse Colin Young (BeanBag/Artemis)

The former sparkplug of the Youngbloods, makers of hippy anthem "Get Together" back in the late 1960s, Young may be as well known today for the kona coffee grown on his farm in Hawaii. Nothing against his solo CDs, mind you, the latest of which is Living In Paradise, released in September 2004. The holiday CD was originally put out in 2002 and has been reissued for 2004. No surprises, no original tunes, just a dozen mostly Christmas standards in his mellow pop-folk style. A little walking jazz on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," a syncopated take on "White Christmas," but no revelatory arrangements. On the other hand, there's no attempt to hoke things up with jingle bells or anything other than a bit of violin or string quartet on a few songs. Too seriously intentioned for my taste, but coffee gourmets might want to order this directly from his site and get some of that fresh-ground java with it.

"I Love Christmas," Tommy James and the Shondells (Aura)

As with the DMI Records compilation, we have another 60s pop-rocker making a 2004 Christmas move here, and this is a fairly straightforward original tune with an extended ending. It's a bit sappy for the younger folks, and while you'll recognize the Tommy James vocals, the performance doesn't quite recall the Shondells in their heyday. This was on iTunes but may be available as a single too.

"Family Christmas," Lizzie West (Warner Bros.)

This impressionistic take on family memories at the holiday over a generation is nicely done, based on a midtempo shuffle accented with strings. It's on an EP called West from 2002, which probably isn't available anymore since Lizzie left her label for the wonderful world of self-published music following her accusations of label censorship for her political views. Stop by her website to get a better feel for this singer-songwriter.

"Cold White Christmas," Casiotone For the Painfully Alone (Tomlab)

From their 2003 album Etiquette, this is your basic lo-fi dirge for someone not getting the Christmas spirit, heavy on the cheap-sounding chimes and electronic pianos, rather like the inexpensive keyboards featured in the band's name. On the same album, they also do "New Year's Kiss," more of the same with a little more beat to it, about year-end infidelity. For those who like to underline the angst at the holidays.

The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (Nonesuch)

I'd been a bit wary of this 2005 release, as too-authentic folk and sacred music take us too far away from our strengths here at Mistletunes. This despite the presence of Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson, though Martha does bring along a bit of rock 'n roll here, her own "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." She also shares the lead vocal on a poppy version of Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus." Rufus' "Spotlight on Christmas" is another mid-tempo rocker, but the rest will go down much better among folks who treasure the antique touches at Christmas. As you might have noticed elsewhere on the site, Rufus and Martha's songs are available on other holiday compilations, notably the Nettwerk ones.

"Jukebox Christmas," KAL (self-issued)

KAL's a New Yorker and MySpacer who plays acoustic sets in coffeehouses and a little classical piano on the side, but when he goes to the recording studio he likes his backing nice and old-school soulful, as a quick run through the selections of songs on his page will affirm. This 2007 song is a nice mid-tempo ode to the holiday, and it's easily downloaded. Speaking of MySpace, Colbie Caillat (above) is signed in as one of KAL's friends.

"If You Were Born Today/Last Christmas," Jimmy Eat World (Interscope)

A peculiar couplet kicks off this dirge-like 2004 holiday tune: "If you were born today/They'd kill you by age eight." Update: Bob Bailey points out this is a cover of the Low tune. This five-minute number mixes Christmas sentiments and suggestions of atonement. Following this is what sounds like a fresh attempt at their previous cover of Wham's "Last Christmas," a poppy acoustic romp through the tune. These guys apparently seem to like doing Christmas tunes, as we've noted before.

"Christmas Card," Jimmy Eat World (Big Wheel Records)

JEW is often connected to the emo scene, although they disavow that label. This is from their album called Singles, although I had to go to their website to distinguish this one from their two self-titled albums, since the word "Singles" doesn't appear anywhere on this one. Anyway, this particular song has only a tiny connection to Christmas, in the reference to a "card postmark Dec. 23." Not to worry; they once did a single, now out of print, covering Wham's "Last Christmas." Update: "Last Christmas" turned up on The O.C. 3 Chrismukka collection. JEW also contributed "12/23/95" to Nettwerk's Maybe This Christmas, although that one was lyrically pretty sparse, getting the Christmas reference in only at the end.

"Merry Merry Merry Frickin' Christmas," Frickin' A (self-issued)

Amenable folks these Frickin' As are, as all you have to do is go to the home page, wait a bit (depending on your 'Net connection) and the song will come rockin' out of your speakers. Props to Martin Johns for pointing this out to the site. He thinks it's from 2004, and I tend to agree since the flip side of this sucker is a "World Champion Red Sox" version of the same song. Hard rocker with good melody and hook and great lyrics ("My cousin Ashlee, her singing really sucks/ Blames it on her drummer and acid reflux.") Give these guys a tumble, buy the single and get both versions, even you Yankees fans.

Camp Holiday, Martin Sexton (Kitchen Table)

I'm not all that familiar with Sexton, but the customer reviews at iTunes were mostly adulatory for him, if not necessarily for this 2005 CD. The buyers seemed to regard it as a holding action while he puts together another album of original material. This is your basic acoustic singer-songwriter approach to a CD full of classic carols leavened with a few pop classics, no surprises in song selection, and not much in tempo either. The one original tune, "Welcome to the Camp," at least throws a funky acoustic beat into the mix. Too mellow for my taste, but if there were more performances like "Welcome to the Camp" we might have had something here. The CD will make a contribution to Camp Sunshine for children with life-threatening illnesses, by the way.

Winter Weezerland EP, Weezer (Geffen)

The two songs here, "Christmas Song" and "Christmas Celebration," have apparently been widely distributed as free downloads for several seasons now, so some of the more rabid fans of the band are offended that they've posted them at iTunes for sale and taken down the free links for 2005. I find it's a question of act now or forever hold your peace. Those who have 'em free don't have to buy them. Meanwhile, you'll find these two original tunes right in step if you remember the band from its big hit "Buddy Holly."

"Secret Satan," Karkis (Roadkill Supper)

From the album Choking on the Bon Mot comes this hysterical bit of heavy metal riffing on the popular "secret Santa" tradition. Stop by their website, where it will stream the song and video right to you. One can never tell whether the Spinal Tap principle applies to bands of this genre, but I took it at face value and got quite a kick out of it.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Raina (Robbins Entertainment)

Have no idea who Raina is, but she does a pretty good job singing the Spector classic over a modern dance track. That's it — that's all there is to this, but for a lot of folks this will be enough. Another one from the iTunes store, haven't seen a physical CD version of this 2004 single anywhere.

"I Wanna Rock You Hard This Christmas," The Dan Band (Side One Dummy)

This is your basic 70s hard rock performance of an original tune with a few judiciously placed expletives transplanted to 2004. It's not bad, and the single comes with naughty and nice versions, although the nice version simply bleeps what's plainly heard on the naughty one. Another visit to iTunes for this, may be on the other services as well. Update: There was a 2006 EP on iTunes, followed by the 2007 full album.

"Single At Christmas," The Crossbank Strays (Silverword)

This four-piece British outfit has been around since about 2000, with one album out and another awaiting release. In between, they decided to put together this holiday single for 2004, a nice mid-tempo number about the Bridget Joneses among us, whether male or female. They cite Roy Wood's classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" as an influence, and that's not too far off. The second tune, "Please Ring," is not a Christmas number but is about the longing for that one phone call. They're on the upswing with airplay on Radio Caroline and the song's in stores at Amazon UK and HMV Records. Be the first on your block.

"Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End), The Darkness (Atlantic)

Missed getting this 2003 holiday single onto the site in time for the holiday since I had to have it shipped over from England. If you're not familiar, The Darkness brings back the whole 70s hard rock vibe, from album art and wardrobe to stomping beats and screaming guitars. This is even produced by Bob Ezrin, who gave us Alice Cooper's biggest albums along with Lou Reed's Berlin. It's said these guys are way too subtle to make it in the United States, and I think I'd have to agree. They unashamedly steal from all the era's greats, especially Queen on this particular tune. The song itself is pretty much what you'd expect from a 70s hard rock act, which is the point, of course.

"Christmas In the Slammer," The Swallows (self-issued)

This single from 2000 is by a hard-rock band from Boston, two guys and two girls, who kick off with a quote from "Carol of the Bells," a bit of Sex Pistols riffing and then into the verse, which hits lots of holiday cliches and toys with a few ("Let's put on some Perry Como or Boyz II Men"), but never quite explains who ends up having to celebrate Christmas "in the slammer." Still, it's a serious toe-tapper with lots of attitude. Their website is supposed to be, but they seem to have let it lapse.

Carolina Christmas, The Marshall Tucker Band (Shout! Factory)

Southern rock's not one of my top favorite genres, which is probably why country from about the 1990s onward doesn't do anything for me. (Oh, you've never heard my rant about one of these being very much like the other, have you?) Marshall Tucker was one of the more radio-friendly of those bands back in its heyday 30 or so years ago, so it's not surprising this 2005 holiday effort by them covers a fairly wide swath of pop music history -- perhaps a bit too wide. Of the original tunes, "Snowfall in Georgia" uses flute to evoke the band's biggest hit, "Heard It In a Love Song," "Christmas in Carolina" is described in the liner notes as a tribute to beach music, but it's a bit more on the mild side of soulful than real beach tunes might be. "My Christmas in Custody" is a bluesy novelty and "Leave the Christmas Lights On" could easily be a ballad on country radio. The rest of the album is from the Christmas canon, "White Christmas" starting out just short of lounge music but breaking into Western swing halfway through, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is a straight pop ballad with a female vocal, "Let It Snow" and "Silent Night" are blues-based renditions, and the boys wrap things up with a spoken "Twas the Night Before Christmas." As I've said about most of the '70s rock legends who have stepped up with latter-day Christmas albums, this is more adult contemporary than rock 'n roll.

"A New York Christmas," Rob Thomas (Atlantic)

This song was released in 2002 to benefit Blythdale Children's Hospital in Westchester, N.Y. There were only radio promos and a brief window of time to download it back then. For 2003, it's a CD single, and it's still a benefit release. It's a nice uptempo contemporary rock tune a la matchbox twenty (surprise), and the verses are a bit reminiscent of "Feed the World." It's also on the Kohl's holiday CD mentioned below. Update: Thomas is also heard this season on the title song from gospel star BeBe Winans' new Christmas album.

Happy Holidays, Rickie Lee Jones (self-issued)

Despite the album cover thumbnail you see to the right, this isn't available on disc — it's three songs she put up for free downloading in 2004. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is pretty straight jazz, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is done in a torch song arrangement and "O Holy Night" is a straight English folk rendition with pipes and harp. Nicely done, though a little seriously intentioned for this site, but I'm sure Rickie Lee has fans visiting this site.

"Christmas Time is Here," Silent League (self-issued)

These New York City pop-rockers made their version of the Vince Guaraldi-Peanuts classic a free download for 2004. They stuck with the ballad tempo for it, though they noise it up a bit toward the end. Gotta say this isn't representative of their regular work, but hey, it's free for now.

"Merry Christmas Baby," George Thorogood and the Destroyers (Independent Productions)

Not sure folks were really waiting with baited breath for an original blues tune called "Merry Christmas Baby," considering there's a classic tune with the same title. This 2004 single makes me think of what a blues artist would sound like if he played Branson, Mo. three shows a night. George knows better than this — see here.

Almost a Full Moon, Hawksley Workman (Isidora/Universal Canada)

A California correspondent, Vicki Pasek, put me onto this 2002 CD, and I have to say it wasn't what I expected. I was under the impression that Workman was some kind of Gordon Lightfoot-come-lately, but it turns out this guy has great pop and rock sensibilities along with a quirky way of looking at things -- take "Learn How to Knit," a ballad about that very topic as a way of making Christmas presents. "First Snow of the Year" is a sprightly rocker that romanticizes what will eventually be a seasonal nuisance. "Merry Christmas (I Love You)" is a 9/11 homage to a lover who may or may not still be among us, then the singer decides to just succumb to a holiday "Common Cold." "Three Generations" is a fun faux-polka about families taking pictures of each other on Christmas. The title song loses the Christmas plot a little, but it's still a nice love story, and "Watching the Fire" is in a similar vein. A fairly conventional "Silent Night" wraps the album. This is good enough to encourage listeners to seek out Workman's other CDs.

"Crikey! It's Christmas," Crikey (self-released)

This bit of festive semi-punk thrash with the edges ground off just a tad comes from a local London, England band that is looking to snag a recording contract by billing themselves as the "Kings of Broadband Rock." No, I don't know what it means, but I say whatever works. These middle-aged guys know how to have fun, and you'll probably appreciate this tune if you manage to get a hold of it. They sent me a demo with four non-holiday songs and this on it, fastened inside a Christmas card. If you found this by Googling for "Crocodile Hunter," this has nothing to do with that.

"Valley Winter Song," Fountains of Wayne (S-Curve)

This one kind of treads the line as to whether it's really a Christmas song, but the chorus is irresistible and it's more holiday oriented to my ears than "My Favorite Things," so a Christmas song it is. We've celebrated many relationship songs here in which the Christmas reference is secondary, so this could go along with those. The Waynes are already on record with "I Want an Alien for Christmas," a more overt and fun holiday song, and this is from their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Travelers, which also includes the iTunes Music Store hit "Stacy's Mom."

The Magic of Christmas, Joy Electric (Tooth and Nail)

This synth-pop act from California is apparently Ronnie Martin's one-man band, judging by credits and CD artwork. Joy Electric was previously featured on the BEC compilations Happy Christmas Vol. 1 and 2, and both the songs from those two CDs, "Winter Wonderland" and "Lollypop Parade (On Christmas Morn)," are on this 2003 album. This has an early 80s vibe, in terms of electro-pop; it has the sound of Depeche Mode in their early, cheap-synth phase, more so than their later, dour pop star incarnation. Even on a minor-key song like "What Child Is This," JE has a rather cheerful sound, and the choice of tunes plays to this quality. The bouncy "Lollypop Parade" is the only original here; all the rest of the tunes are standards and traditional carols like "Angels We Have Heard," "Deck the Halls," "Frosty the Snowman" and so on. This is a short album, but a good one.

Season's Greetings From moe, moe (Fatboy)

Liner notes indicate the band moe's bass player is a Christmas-aholic, so much so that he conned the boys into whipping out this Christmas album in September 2002. They mostly revisit classics but they manage two originals, "Together At Christmas," a mid-tempo rocker that is radio-ready whether anybody actually plays it or not, and "Home," a nice piano ballad. They do a countrified "Blue Christmas," rock out "We're a Couple of Misfits" from the iconic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" TV show, medley "Silent Night" into "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire" with an arrangement that builds to a nice solid climax, and attempt, successfully, the only rock-band arrangement of "Linus and Lucy" from the original "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that I'm aware of. A nicely rockabillied "Jingle Bells" and a portentious "Little Drummer Boy" round out the set. Hanukkah alert: a semi-spaghetti Western version of "Oh Hanukkah." Kudos to a solid rock 'n roll Christmas effort; they manage to keep up the rock attitude even though some songs don't really lend themselves to the treatment.

"A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So)," Flaming Lips (Warner Bros.)

Previously represented by a couple of hard-to-find versions of "White Christmas," not to mention "Christmas at the Zoo," the Lips whip out their Sharpies and give us another original Christmas tune on their 2003 EP Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell. It's a winner, slightly dirge-y in a similar way to David Bowie's "Heroes" but with chimes, tambourines and jangly piano instead of Robert Fripp's guitar to carry it along. The highly optimistic lyrics could put it into contention with "Happy Xmas" as a future holiday staple.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, Jethro Tull (Fuel 2000)

The often-maligned progressive rock act of the 1970s never actually went away, continuing to record straight through any number of pop music fads. And this is a good time to note this site has been remiss in not noting the group has actually had a number of holiday tunes over time – "Christmas Song" from Living in the Past, "Ring Out Solstice Bells" from Songs for the Wood, "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow" from an 80s single B-side, and "Another Christmas Song" from the 90s album Rock Island. Update: Tom Rombouts notes a performance of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on the 1978 live album Bursting Out. All of these tunes are on this newly recorded 2003 album, along with the Bach instrumental "Bouree," first played by the group on the album Stand Up. On the other hand, these guys have kept their rock influences at arm's length for quite a while now, and there's very little on this album for rock fans. It's mostly classically oriented pop, a lot of guitar/flute instrumentals with some vocals and a little jazz thrown in from time to time – other than those jazz flourishes, this album wouldn't sound out of place as the background music for a colonial Christmas tableaux in Williamsburg, Va. The 16 tunes include those mentioned above, along with a sprinkling of new originals and a few classics like "Greensleeves," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Five Kings" (poetic license there, but it's the same song) and "Holly Herald," a medley of "Holly and the Ivy" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Further update: This album has been re-released for 2004 in a deluxe package that includes a DVD.

December, The Moody Blues (Universal)

Although a British invasion band, the Moodies didn't hit their stride until they discovered orchestras with Days of Future Past, and then they went on to be one of the more popular progressive acts of the 1970s. They've remained active into the current day, even scoring a hit in the late 80s ("Your Wildest Dreams"), but they've really only gotten more mellow over time. So this 2003 CD is far more pop than rock, putting it pretty much out of the question for younger listeners and more into that Baby Boomer demographic. They get credit for putting together some originals, like "Don't Need a Reindeer," "December Snow" and "On This Christmas Day," and they cover "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," "White Christmas" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," also adding lyrics to a Bach melody on "The Quiet of Christmas Morning." But this is far more easy listening than rock.

Still... Smells Like Christmas Spirit, Evil Beaver (Frooty Nation)

Evil Beaver is a female bass 'n drums hard rock duo composed of Evie Beaver and Laura Ann Beaver. The Chicago band fooled me with their title, leading me to expect a Nirvana parody, but they just riffed on the title with what sounds like their own original tune. Or tunes: there's the CD's title song, and then there's another song called just "Smells Like Christmas Spirit," the latter a speedy bit of fuzzed-up thrash giving Santa a Christmas list, the former a bit more about togetherness of the season with a little more rhythmic variety. The rest of this short collection from 2001 is covers. "Feliz Navidad" is poppy with just a little thrash on the bridge, "Christmas In Hollis" is a not-bad version of Run-DMC's tune, and they take a semi-funky crack at James Brown with "Soulful Christmas." "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is kind of military-marchy, and they attempt an Elvis impression on "Santa Claus is Back in Town," although the latter has a bit of a problem keeping the augmented lineup (piano and harmonica) playing in the same key. Somebody does a brief Marilyn Monroe impression with "HBJC," or "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus." And for no apparent reason, they close with their version of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Update: Evil Beaver underwent a painful breakup sometime after this CD was made, with one member taking the name and the other being stuck with the original website. The current band can be reached here, but its original CDs apparently are out of print.

Brand New Year, SHeDAISY (Lyric Street)

Having been knocked out by "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag" from this album and the Santa Clause 2 soundtrack, I figured I needed to take a closer look at the entire 2000 holiday CD by the Osborn sisters despite the general ban on country music this site maintains. No trepidation involved -- country cues are as rare on this album as dreydls in Baghdad. An occasional close three-part harmony here, a twangy guitar there, a touch of yodel in the solo singing, but finding them is like playing musical "Where's Waldo." As close to country as they get -- what passes for country today, anyway -- is their version of Sammy Cahn's "The Secret of Christmas," which should tell you something right there, especially since the co-performance of "Twist of the Magi" with Rascal Flatts, which you would think had its country bonafides in order, is such an overworked piece of Broadway kitsch. Whoops, overlooked the a capella version of "How Can I Keep From Singing" hidden after the title song; now that's country gospel. About "Brand New Year (My Revolution)," co-written with Richard Marx: it's a not-bad New Year's song, but it sounds more like 80s Los Angeles corporate pop than modern-day Nashville. The CD kicks off with a solid rock-pop "Deck the Halls" and there's a Celtic take on "Jingle Bells" that builds into a rocked-out finish. "Really Scary Intro" is a cute Halloween touch going into "Tinseltown," an original tune that evokes "Strawberry Fields Forever." "Sleigh Ride" is kind of funky with country-sounding vocals, and the rest is various flavors of pop of the sort that got Shania Twain's Grand Ole Opry membership card pulled. I can't honestly recommend this whole CD to rock fans, but I can't deny it has its moments.

SantaMental, Steve Lukather and Friends (Bop City)

The former guitarist for Toto and studio player with a resume the length of a metropolitan phone book comes to the Christmas season with your basic studio-dog supersession. It's kind of in the vein of Merry Axemas and Ho Ho Hoey, only it's more a jazz-fusion thing split between vocals and instrumentals, and the liner notes are full of notations like "cool chords" and "1st take first real session 5/4, no click..." You have to get to the album's first original, five cuts in, called "Broken Heart for Christmas," before you get to anything that's more like rock. Still, a lot of folks like this kind of thing, especially when done by brand-name musicians like Lukather, Edgar Winter, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Larry Carlton and Sammy Davis Jr. Yes, Sammy; they rack up his version of "Jingle Bells" and lay a contemporary sheen over it. The other original, "Look Out For Angels," is a midtempo rocker with a musical debt to Steely Dan, though not so much lyrically. The album kicks off with "Joy to the World" in a fast jazz shuffle, goes into a workout on "Greensleeves" and includes a "Carol of the Bells" that has a bit of that TSO crunch. "Winter Wonderland" is a swing rendition with Edgar Winter on vocals, and the album tapers off with slower fare like "Silent Night" and a plain guitar version of "The Christmas Song."

"Merry Christmas Emily," Cracker (Virgin)

From 2002's Forever album, promo copies actually made it on the radio for Christmas 2001 at some of the more enlightened stations around the country, all 22 of them. A solid, entertaining record about lost love that doesn't necessarily have to be about Christmas, but it's nice that it is. Bad word in the start of the second verse might keep this off some of our mix tapes and CDs, unfortunately.

Bubblegum Christmas, 1910 Fruitgum Co. (Collectibles)

Bubblegum rock was considered a scourge back in the day when its practitioners ruled the Top 40 charts. That estimate has mellowed a bit with time, as some of those songs aren't all that bad in retrospect (and in small doses, I hasten to add). This isn't some overlooked minor classic from that era, however; it's a recent recording featuring two original members of the band, just out for 2007. It's mostly rock-era classics with a few originals thrown in, including the title song, which is kind of a wan carbon copy of the original band's style. That's pretty much the story of this whole disc -- it's OK from an oldies circuit standpoint, but it lacks the freshness of the original. That's understandable -- imagine what it would sound like if a 60-year-old Justin Timberlake got 'N Sync back together and went out on tour. The bubblegum bands were the boy bands of the late 60s and early 70s, and 30-year-older versions of those musicians just aren't going to sound the same. For evidence, check the non-holiday live version of the Fruitgum hit "Simon Says," and contrast to the original (if you're old enough to remember it, anyway).

"Christmas," Leona Naess (Geffen)

From her self-titled 2003 release, this acoustic number isn't strictly a holiday tune but uses Christmas as a metaphor for the gift of love. Leona is a stepchild of Diana Ross, according to her bio, but you won't find any diva moments here, just a nicely strummed tune with a string quartet backing her voice and guitar. Update: This is on 2004's The O.C. 3 Chrismukka collection.

"Christmas Carol," Nerissa and Katryna Nields (Zoe/Rounder)

The duo, formerly a band called The Nields, put this sweet angst-y ballad on their 2002 album Love and China. Now that they're no longer a full band, they emphasize the folk and harmony on this reluctant ode to family and togetherness. If mellow isn't your speed, the full band back in 1994 did "Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones," more angst but with a beat, in a holiday tune addressed to a favorite former teacher on the topics of fitting in and greeting a new baby. That's from the album Bob on the Ceiling.

At Long Last... Christmas, Lowen and Navarro (Red Hen)

This folk-pop duo had a history of writing tunes for other artists like Pat Benatar and The Bangles before setting off to write for themselves. The album was released in 2002 (without cover art -- visit their site if you bought it this way) and is back for 2003 as a complete package. Opening tune "A Song of Christmas" was on the Velvel compilation A Christmas To Remember, one original, and the other original is "The Meaning of Christmas." There is the usual bumper crop of standards like "What Child is This," "Silent Night," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Away In a Manger," but they also do a nice version of "Light of the Stable" and close with "Nar Juldagsmorgon Glimmar," the Swedish carol better known as "When Christmas Morn Is Dawning." Overall a little more folky than pop-rock by Mistletunes standards, but we're sure a lot of folks will like this just fine.

Christmas Spirit ... In My House, Joey Ramone (Sanctuary)

The late punk rock pioneer recorded solo after the Ramones, and this combines a couple cuts from his solo album Don't Worry About Me with a couple of Christmas songs, a full-blown version of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" from the Specter Christmas album and what his website says is a pre-Ramones demo of the Ramones' only holiday song, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." The demo is interesting, slow-tempoed and a little off-key occasionally; you might prefer the original for your mix tape. But if you love Joey -- and who doesn't -- you might want to have this around.

The Asylum St. Spankers Present a Christmas Spanking, The Asylum St. Spankers (Bloodshot)

The Spankers are a folky-jazz-blues conglomeration in the tradition of acts like Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and this holiday album was recorded in 2000 at venues in Houston and Austin, Texas, their stomping grounds. It's mainly stuff you've heard of, with a couple of originals, "12-25-61," a talk-sing about having your birthday be Christmas, and "Red Nosed Reindeer Blues," a clever rendering of the Rudolph tale as a 12-bar blues. They do fun versions of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Linus and Lucy" and "Zat You, Santa Claus." A ukulele-led version of "Blue Christmas" leads, appropriately, into "Mele Kalikimaka," and "Silent Night" is rendered as a solo on the musical saw. There are also versions of "Merry Christmas Baby," a nice duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside," plus "The Christmas Song" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

Fleming and John, "Winter Wonderland/Misty Mountain Hop" (self-issued)

Yes, Led Zeppelin fans, this is exactly what it looks like. Fleming McWilliams and John Painter have had two albums out on Universal, have played Lilith Fair and worked with Ben Folds, and are currently working out of their home studio. They posted this item on their website along with a breathy "Carol of the Bells." The Zep homage has its lyrics tweaked a bit to match up with the season, and Fleming does a pretty good Plant impression.

Merry Christmas, Wish You Were Here, The Stools (self-released)

Can't tell you a single thing about these guys, as they have one of the least informative websites in captivity, although there are a few laughs there anyway, which may be all that matters. What we get here starts off as synthpop with attitude, a bit of rap, and some giggles. "Robert Goulet is Looped" is a comedy piece with a bad Goulet impressionist singing "Silver Bells, Christmas smells..." "Too Cold" has a bit of Beastie Boys' sound with gags separating the chorus, and it returns later as "Extra Cold." "Who's Been Naughty" demands a Christmas gift "the size of Jennifer Lopez's ..." well, you know. "Santa Copped a 'Tude" drops the synths for a Bob Dylan impression in a song about the jolly elf's travails with slacker elves and burglary charges. "It's Christmas Time Again" makes fun of the Beatles' Christmas fan club messages and "Merry Christmas" is an Elvis impersonation. Fans of blasphemy will enjoy "Come Back to the Catholics" set to "Happy Xmas," and they wrap up with a gospel tune, "On Your Knees." Parental Advisory for occasional lyrics, but otherwise pretty enjoyable for a independent release.

Christmas 2000, Eric Alexandrakis (Y&T Music)

This self-issued set of Christmas rockers from the above-mentioned year is not bad at all. "All I Want For Christmas is You" is a clattery electronic shuffle with a bit of science fiction in the lyrics leading up to the simple sentiment of the refrain. "Christmas On the Moon" keeps up the sci-fi sentiment, although it could have got into the rocking part a bit earlier to suit me. "Santa Claus is Dead" is more of a novelty, good fun, and the title ends up being wrong. Alexandrakis previously released "Moon" as a single, and for 2001 he has "Here Comes the Snow!," a 3-inch CD EP with the title song, an almost Cajun fiddle and squeezebox stomp, the "karaoke" version of "All I Want," and an instrumental, "Theme From the Motion Picture Stealing Christmas," that probably works better as soundtrack; it steers into that no-Manheim-zone a bit.

"Christmas in the Club"/"Il Est Né," Tom Tom Club (self-issued)

Here's a sprightly pair of gifts from the ex-Talking Heads couple, available only from their site as MP3s back in 2002, with no indication they'll ever be back. "Club" is a dance-floor stomper with vocorder alternating with Tina Weymouth's singing. "Il Est Né" is more languid and melodious, with synth and cello counterpoint. A traditional tune, the title means "He Is Born" or "See Him Born," depending on whose automatic Internet translation you believe.

From My House to Yours, Jim Babjak's Buzzed Meg (self-issued)

Smithereens fans already recognize Babjak's name from the longtime Jersey pop-rock band, and this 2001 self-issued CD-R EP offers three songs Babjak wrote and recorded at home, "It's Love on Christmas Day," "Christmas Eve, Without Your Love" and "Christmas Morning." It's pop-rock just a little lighter in approach than the 'Reens, the middle song being the ballad of the three with Beatle-ish cello backing while the other two are more uptempo. All three are worthwhile, assuming you can get a copy; it's a limited issue. Buzzed Meg also has a non-holiday CD you can look into while you're chasing this down.

Jingle All the Way, Crash Test Dummies (Cha-Ching/Koch)

Haven't heard much from these alternative Canadian totems for quite a long time, and now here they come in 2002 with a Christmas album. This isn't particularly adventurous; it's all familiar carols, leavened only with the choices of "The Huron Carol" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," both in simple ballad readings by Ellen Reid. The group's odd dynamic between Reid and contra-bass vocalist Brad Roberts plays out here as always, Reid leading the more conventional sounding items like country versions of "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" while Roberts gets to cavort on lounge-y versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "White Christmas," along with a minor-key "Jingle Bells." The version of "The First Noel" here is similar to but a different take from the one on 1991's A Lump of Coal. Overall, enjoyable, especially if you're a Dummies fan.

Christmas Joy, The Ventures (Varese Sarabande)

Not many acts persevere over 40 years in exactly the same form they pioneered at the start, at least without becoming fixtures in Branson, Mo., but The Ventures are one of them. Which means you're likely to find you prefer the earlier bursts of inspiration from their original Christmas album. This one was recorded new in 2002, has a longer set list and revisits some of the same tunes from the original. The liner notes mention the inventive arrangements from the earlier work and then go on to say they don't do much of that here, but that's not entirely true, thank goodness. A medley of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" blends in a bit of Del Shannon's "Wandering," "Needles and Pins" sneaks into "Deck the Halls," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets a dose of "Secret Agent Man," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" cops the "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" intro, their own "Walk Don't Run" kicks off "Sleigh Ride," there's a piano playing the riff from Heart's "Magic Man" on "What Child is This," and plenty of other tunes on here work in familiar licks that were a little too brief for me to name. The real revolution is this is one Ventures album with vocals; the last two songs, "Feliz Navidad" and "Christmas Joy" feature some singing. The latter song was a Japanese hit as an instrumental in the 1970s. Gotta say I prefer the guitars to the voices.

For Christ's Sake, Jon Graboff (Confidential)

Graboff is a New York-based session guitarist who steps out on this 2002 all-instrumental holiday album. He's assisted by some hometown friends, including The Smithereens' Dennis Diken and other folks who have played with such luminaries as They Might Be Giants, Joan Osborne, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams. This is a fairly subtle affair, incoroporating styles and licks from across the spectrum for active listeners but not sticking out too much to be used as background music. Most tunes are familiar carols, but Graboff also digs into the catalog to take a crack at NRBQ's "Christmas Wish" in a Pet Sounds kind of arrangement, fairly straight readings of XTC's "Thanks For Christmas" and The Beach Boys' "Merry Christmas Baby," the latter with a pedal steel lead line. Graboff's one original, "Christmas Shopping," manages to keep the Christmas feel going with the help of carillon. A non-holiday tune by Laura Cantrell, "Too Late For Tonight," gets subtitled "Bombay Noel" for its use of electric sitar. "Run Rudolph Run" substitutes sax for vocals in an otherwise authentic original arrangement. A solid, if low-key effort.

Christmas in Memphis, Husky Team (Confidential)

Keyboardist Dave Amels and drummer Dennis Diken, fresh off the Jon Graboff album, threw themselves into this 2002 gem, another all-instrumental go-round, only this time a front-to-back tribute to Booker T. and the MGs. Although that group did do a Christmas album back in the day, you might still want this one if you liked that one. Booker T. and Steve Cropper licks get merged into such tunes as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Auld Lang Syne," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home," "Silent Night," "We Three Kings" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." A little bit of Box Tops' "The Letter" kicks off "Feliz Navidad." And the Beach Boys clean up with three covers: "Little Saint Nick," "The Man With All the Toys" and "Santa's Beard." Great work folks. Denny, can you get your boys in Jersey back on the Christmas case soon?

A Kustard Kristmas, The Kustard Kings (Confidential)

This 2002 release features the house band for the Loser's Lounge series of pop-rock tribute shows, featuring a rotating cast of NYC-area musicians, at least some of whose names you'll recognize, who have given props to everybody from Burt Bacharach to David Bowie and Roxy Music to Elvis Costello. Calling themselves a pop-funk-lounge ensemble, they're every bit that versatile and a little more besides. They throw in some spunky originals like "Snow Globe Symphonette," "U Sleigh Me," "3 Ho's," "Santa's Favorite Helper" and "A Custard Christmas." Kicking off and closing with The Beatles' "Christmas Time Is Here Again," they go for other covers with character, like "Welcome Christmas" from the "Grinch" story, "Heat Miser Strut," "Santa Baby" with a touch of Bryan Ferry's version of "The In Crowd," a crack at "I Want an Alien for Christmas" and medleys of "Holly Jolly Christmas/We Are Santa's Elves" and the inspired pairing of "Do They Know It's (Snoopy's) Christmas." Of the Confidential releases, this is the one to have if you're having only one.

Christmas, Tony Perry (J-School)

Perry is the leader of Tony Perry 3, a popular acoustic rock combo in the Harrisburg, Pa. area that has two previous self-released CDs to its credit. He chose to issue this Christmas album under just his own name, featuring five originals, three traditional carols, one tune each from Bruce Cockburn and Dave Matthews, and the rest covers of songs written for the Christian pop music market -- the place where this album will be best promoted. Since the Mistletunes stance is holiday fun and irreverence, some visitors will have to think long and hard about picking up an album that is only about the religious aspect of the holiday from a Christian standpoint. Perry, husband of a minister in Montoursville, Pa., is a great singer and the sparse instrumental backing is well performed. Of the originals, "Only" is not overtly a Christmas song but is a solid rocker, "I'll Follow You" is a midtempo ballad that is a little more explicit, and the others are strictly religious Christmas songs, the best of which is "We Don't Talk About the Baby." The carols are straight readings, although the version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is pretty much the same arrangement done by Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan. Worthwhile, but only if the religious content suits you.

Christmas Is Almost Here, Carly Simon (Rhino)

In terms of the Mistletunes aesthetic, this one isn't exactly a barn-burner. But as a contemporary pop Christmas record, it's not bad at all. Carly hooked up with Don Was to put together an album that is about half standard carols, some favorite covers and two originals, with just enough roughage in the auditory experience to keep folks like me from saying "just what you'd expect." The title song is by Livingston Taylor, her former brother-in-law, and the presence of "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" in an arrangement faithful to the original is an indicator that the song is now a standard part of the holiday repertoire. Her two originals are "The Land of Christmas (Mary)" and "Heaven," co-written with her sister Lucy, and both are solid holiday ballads. The reggae version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is not an original idea, but it is a nice icebreaker for this set. More of a surprise is blues -- she covers the Rev. Gary Davis' "Twelve Gates to the City." And she duets with Willie Nelson on his "Pretty Paper," but I'm not a big fan of folks duetting with Willie; he just doesn't blend all that well with others. This might not make your mix CD or tape, but you wouldn't be ashamed to give it as a gift. Late breaking note: The album has been out for only a year, yet it's already reissued with two additional songs. And it's been retitled Christmas Is Almost Here Again.

Holiday Harmony, America (Rhino)

If Bob Dylan bridged the folk music trend into the rock era, and people like the Byrds, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young made folk-rock mainstream, then it was America who transitioned folk-rock into the world of easy listening. Hard to make a big case for this album as a way to rock your Christmas season, then. They are working hard here, and there are sparks of life throughout the disc, including three original tunes, but overall, if you stopped listening to them when I did back in their salad days, you can pick right up where you left off with this. Beyond "A Christmas to Remember," "Christmas in California" and "Winter Holidays," the set list is straight off the pop Christmas list, no surprises or twists, although "Frosty the Snowman" is suitably Spectorish rather than granola-fed. OK for them and their fans; the rest of us will have to look elsewhere.

"Christmas in America," Pat Benatar (Gold Circle)

The first new music from Pat in some time, this is a ballad tempo tune that joins Christmas to the Sept. 11 attacks. It's the only one of its type I've encountered so far; the other attack-inspired songs didn't tie into the holiday. Artistically it's OK but no better, the lyrics pretty much going where you expect them to go. But in this age of divas, it's refreshing to hear a female singer who's willing to do just enough singing to serve the song, even though she has the chops to overdo it, unlike a lot of other people I could name. This single includes an instrumental version of the song plus Pat's other Christmas performance, "Please Come Home For Christmas," just in case you don't have it.

"Merry Xmas Everybody," Oasis (B-Unique)

The Britpop bad boys performed this for a Christmas TV show in England and have now donated it to 1 Love, a 2002 British-only charity compilation commemorating New Musical Express's 50th anniversary and benefiting War Child, a charity that brings emergency and support aid to children suffering through the displacements of war, famine and disease. It's mellower than the Slade original, with only tambourines and jingle bells for percussion, but it retains the sing-songy quality.

'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc)

Can't argue with the squib on the cover, "13 Rockin' Christmas Instrumentals!" This Nashville-based instrumental combo specializes in the vintage rock instrumental sound of Link Wray, the Ventures and their numerous imitators. In fact, their version of "Sleigh Ride" is essentially the Ventures' original version, complete with quotes from "Walk, Don't Run." They rock up a dozen more, like "Jingle Bell Rock," "Marshmallow World," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" superimposed over "Pipeline," and throw in a couple of originals, "Christmas in Las Vegas" and "Christmas Weekend." They end sedately with a cover of "The Christmas Song." Great work, something fans of vintage rock especially will appreciate.

Sounds Like Christmas, The December People (Magna Carta)

Believe it or not, there's still a constituency out there for 70s style progressive rock, and this semi-supersession of folks from that era is the proof. It's organized by Robert Berry, who has had a solo career in this kind of music for years and is best known for his stint as front man for the Keith Emerson-Carl Palmer project called simply 3. He apparently did a lot of this album himself with Pro Tools, but the album also includes an original tune by Kansas (yes, that Kansas) called "The Light," which is typical of the genre but not particularly memorable. Other guests include Trent Gardner of the bands Magellan and Explorer's Club, John Wetton of Asia and Roxy Music fame, Jake Livgren, nephew of Kansas' Kerry Livgren, and Steve Walsh, who has had a solo progressive rock career for years but was also a member of Kansas. If you're a progressive rock fan, you know what to do. For the rest, this veers toward Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller territory, not nearly as corny but with a lot of the same melodic and instrumental approaches. You'll hear particular guitar and keyboard licks that will remind you of folks like Kansas, for example. On the other hand, the mostly traditional carols are good grist for the progressive approach, as that music is often built around subject matter from the epic storytelling tradition. Aside from "The Light," the only non-traditional Christmas song is a full-cast recording of John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas," recast with lots and lots of orchestral Beatles touches, mainly from "I Am the Walrus," and is kind of cute in a "look what we did" way, but the ripped-off "Abbey Road" conclusion is a bit much.

"Christmas Singles," Erik Voeks (Parasol)

Has a Jimi Hendrix-sounding instrumental backing leading into the vocal, an original Christmas song that hits a number of pop-culture landmarks, from the title item to the TV weather girl and not failing to mention the annual airing of "It's a Wonderful Life." Nice work. Flip side is a demo of "The Cruel Tide," which doesn't seem to be particularly holiday oriented even though it's on Parasol's Stuck in the Chimney.

Dig That Crazy Christmas, Brian Setzer Orchestra (Surfdog)

One might be advised to be cautious when somebody comes off a solid Christmas album just a couple of years ago and throws yet another one at us. From the standpoint of "been there, done that," you might be tempted to let this 2005 album slide, especially if you already have Boogie Woogie Christmas, the one from 2002. But with all fresh performances and different songs, you're likely to be tempted by such things as the title tune, "Zat You, Santa Claus," the Grinch song, and a fairly jumpy version of "White Christmas." He throws in a couple of originals, "Santa's Got a Hot Rod" and "Hey Santa." Old folks like me get a little uncomfortable with the orchestra's lounge music tendencies, heard on such things as "Angels We Have Heard On High," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and the Christmas-ized version of "In the Mood." But younger folks with a taste for Naugahyde might not object so much. Setzer's also got a live DVD out in 2005, Christmas Extravagaza, devoted mostly, but not entirely, to Christmas music. Update: Setzer's 2007 album, Wolfgang's Big Night Out, a collection of Setzer-ized classical themes, includes "Take a Break, Guys," an adaptation of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Boogie Woogie Christmas, The Brian Setzer Orchestra (Surfdog)

If you saw the flick "Jingle All the Way," you got a preview of this disc, as Setzer's big band had several cuts on that soundtrack, by themselves and with guest vocalists Darlene Love on "Sleigh Ride" and Lou Rawls on the Setzer original "So They Say it's Christmas." Those two cuts reappear, same arrangements and all, with Setzer singing, as does the film's "Jingle Bells," which kicks off both CDs. He did an instrumental version of "Jingle Bells" for Merry Axemas, too. Having already put all that work into it, you can't fault Setzer for figuring he may as well finish the job of putting out a whole Christmas album. Although the orchestra is your basic big swing band, Setzer's Stray Cats sensibilities still reign. The uptempo stuff is the best, like "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," "The Man With the Bag" and "Winter Wonderland," although a nice stride boogie beat underpins "Blue Christmas" and the Elvis Presley blues "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" is a solid rendition too. Setzer may have tried a little too hard to mix up the menu; he resorts to the lounge-music toolbox twice with the Rawls tune and a duet with Ann-Margret (really!) on "Baby It's Cold Outside." "The Nutcracker Suite" mixes up rockabilly strut with a few too many Lawrence Welk-isms to suit me. Update: Chris Candreva objects to my Welk characterization of this latter tune, noting it is an updated version of a record by Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Duly noted. Still, a good outing all around, especially if you didn't see Arnold and Sinbad's movie already.

A Merrilly Christmas, Alan Merrill (MEC Records)

This is the guy who originated Joan Jett's biggest hit, "I Love Rock 'n Roll," with his former band The Arrows, who were a minor sensation in Jolly Olde back in the mid-70s, even having their own TV show for a while. Sometime in the mid-90s Merrill hooked up with Jon and Sally Tiven, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and several others to make this album, released finally in 2001, a mostly Christmas outing, but with a couple of non-holiday items, including a duet with the late Arthur Alexander on "Let's Think About It." Given the cast of characters, you can assume lots of blue-eyed soul and boogie behind such song titles as "Christmas In the City," "Holiday Heroes," "Christmas Without You," "Christmas In Love" and "Give All the Children Christmas," the latter a set-closing workout with Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals and Laura Merrill. Surprisingly, given Merrill's claim to fame is writing a hit song, he doesn't write much of the material here; that honor goes to the Tivens, Penn and Oldham for the most part, although Jim Carroll and Tony Visconti have writing credits here too. A little low-key, but not too sedate.

"The Dreidel Song," Another Man Down (

Don't know much about these guys, except they're from Atlanta, they saw this website, e-mailed us and told us they had something we might be interested in featuring. They were right. A sharp, well played rocker, and give it extra points for sneaking in the Bryan Adams quote in the bridge. Almost forgot: Hanukkah Alert! Go click, what are you waiting for? The song is also being featured on two compilations, the 99X holiday album, and a Red Cross benefit album reviewed here.

Christmas Time Again, Lynyrd Skynyrd (CMC International)

Album rock radio of the 1970s conspired to make me dislike this band a lot, since "Free Bird" is the second most overplayed classic rock track in history after "Stairway to Heaven." The current band, despite being short several original members thanks to a 1977 plane crash, continues on through this day, and here's their 2000 ode to Christmas, serious blues-rock crunch leavened with a bit of country swing. They lose their way with new-agey instrumentals of "Greensleeves" and "Classical Christmas," and the album closer "Skynyrd Family," is just filler. But there are good versions of "Santa's Messin' With the Kid," "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin" and "Run Run Rudolph." They also do the other Rudolph song in an arrangement similar to the Smithereens', Charlie Daniels comes aboard for "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and 38 Special brings along their own "Hallelujah, It's Christmas."

A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night, 38 Special (Sanctuary)

Having taken a quick taste of Christmas cheer by throwing a cut onto 2000's Lynyrd Skynyrd Christmas album, fellow Southern rockers 38 Special chug the whole bottle for 2001 with their own holiday album. You don't really have to go any farther than the title cut to know what you're up against; good ol' boy rock circa the 1970s. They do a pretty good job with evergreens like "Jingle Bell Rock," "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus is Back in Town." But like Skynyrd, they feel a need to serious things up with sedate versions of "O Holy Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Good quality stuff, maybe even better than the Skynyrd album, although they recycle "Hallelujah! It's Christmas" from that album. Update: There's a budget CD now that combines cuts from the Skynyrd and 38 Special CDs.

Comfort and Joy, Rockapella (Amerigo)

As much as we promote Christmas music and encourage artists to do their own rockin' takes on the season, there's always a touch of suspicion when people you haven't heard from for years upon years (shout out to Chicago, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Carly Simon, America, et al) suddenly rush out Christmas albums. A similar impulse grabbed me when I heard about this album, Rockapella's second Xmas CD in just two years. Not to be picky, but Elvis waited 14 years before cutting a second holiday album. Like the first one, it's mainly Christmas favorites augmented with a few astute originals, this outing's "Love and the Lights," "Little Mary Snowflake," "Peace On Earth" and "Snowstar." They take on the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling," "Please Come Home For Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the non-holiday "It's a Small World." And again like the first one, they go from fairly ballsy and imaginative a capella sounds to easy listening and jazz, sometimes in the course of a single song. I'd have to say only serious fans should have both, and I think the first one was better.

Modern Christmas Classics In Various Styles, Blitch Bango (Chobbs)

Your basic CD-is-as-advertised title, Blitch Bango is the doing-business-as name for a guy named B. Mathis, who put this out just three weeks before Christmas 2001. No question the title is accurate; there's reggae on "Blue Christmas," a choppy almost-ska "Holly Jolly Christmas," a sitar-drenched belly-dancing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Gang of Four influences on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," what sounds like a foxtrot (I'm lousy on detecting the fancy dance tempos) version of "Let It Snow," a touch of exotica on "Sleigh Ride," a bit of Bo Diddley on "O Christmas Tree," a "Little Drummer Boy" who's trying to impress "My Sharona," and so on. A little sedate in places, and maybe 12 cuts instead of 18 would have been just the thing, but overall a solid rocker.

To Drive the Cold Winter Away, The Orchid Pool (Whirligig)

These folks (Tony and Kimberly Paglia of Georgia) came to my attention via the Christmas Underground compilation and their acoustic take of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." From 2000, this just finally crossed my desk. I might have waved it away as being a folkie deal rather than the rock 'n roll aesthetic we're looking for here, but despite the mellow sounds, no backbeat and the selection of all traditional tunes (except the original "Tony in Toyland), this CD definitely has its own vibe, a little bit of Low, a bit of 60s psych-pop with an occasional touch of Melanie, and lots of instrumentals. Some out-of-the-way selections, including the title song, "Somersetshire Wassail" and "Good Christian Men Rejoice." Not a barn-burner, more of a thought-provoker.

"Merry Christmas Brother," Cynthia Gayneau (Instinct)

Written by Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes for the soundtrack to the 2002 film "Hitting the Ground," with the chorus capper, "Merry Christmas everyone, whoever you are." A mid-tempo rocker that hits all the traditional notes and shouts out to Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the next-to-last verse. (I wonder if Cynthia's some relation to the songwriter; try pronouncing the two names.)

"The Man Who Would Be Santa," Vertical Horizon (Aware/Columbia)

From Aware Greatest Hits by the band that came out of nowhere with a couple of big radio hits in 2001, "You're a God" and "Everything You Want," this contemporary rocker is a sweet parable about giving love to your children. Not too Christmas-y sounding, you could play this any time of year.

"Dear Mister Santa Claus," Suellen Vance (self-issued)

This pop-lounge number treads an increasingly familiar road: the hot female vocalist making goo-goo eyes at Santa. This one's pretty good too, although a bit more demure than Sarah Taylor's take on the concept. This is just a single with an instrumental version on the "flip" side.

"What Can I Give For Christmas," Mark Fromm (self-issued)

This singing psychologist gets a lot of support in what is supposedly his avocation. Playing behind Fromm on this song are Clarence Clemons, Rick Danko, Maria Muldaur, Pete Sears and Eric Anderson. Really. The song is a decent rocker, complete with patented Big Man saxophone break, and you can buy it directly from his website on a CD with several other, non-holiday songs. My wife heard this on WXPN-FM Philadelphia, so somebody's taking it seriously.

I'm Dreaming of The Weisstronauts' Christmas, The Weisstronauts (Stereorrific)

An EP from 2000 by this roots-rock combo, five songs including two originals. "Jingle Bells" gets the "Hot Rod Lincoln" country boogie treatment, "Silent Night" appears in a standard arrangement with lots of guitar riffing, although they throw in a little girl listing her Christmas wishes, and they do a perfunctory "Santa Baby," recorded live with a guest vocalist. Of the originals, "Nothin' Comin' Good This Christmas" is a good shuffle blues and "Sweet Baby Jesus" is a hand-clapper and guitar workout that will slightly remind you of Donovan's "Atlantis," at least in the chord progression anyway. A bit of a throwaway effort, but not bad in total.

Jill's Holiday Songs 2000, Jill Sobule (self-issued)

Jill sold this EP directly from her website, and it's worth having, even if you're not one of her fans. "Merry Christmas From the Family" is the Robert Earl Keen song she performed on the You Sleigh Me compilation, "Christmas Is the Saddest Day of the Year" was out on Velvel's A Christmas to Remember, and I don't know where else you could find "Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner," a witty little slice of thrash-klezmer. Oh, I know: see below. As a bonus she throws in "Mom," a bit of social commentary that ends up as an ode to the title character.

It's the Thought That Counts, Jill Sobule (self-issued)

This is Jill's Christmas record for 2001, and while it has more music than last year's, it only has three Christmas songs out of nine, two of which were released previously. The new Christmas song is an acoustic version of "Christmas Time Is Here," the pop standard, combined with reruns of "Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner" and "Merry Christmas From the Family." In keeping with the post 9-11 mood, she does "This Land Is Your Land" with Kim Richey and Bill Lloyd, and rabid Jill fans will be happy to see a live version of her semi-libelous "Kathy Lee." Acoustic versions of three songs from her last "real" album and the unreleased "St. Francis" round out the set. Update: this was reissued in 2005 and still appears for sale at her site.

Holiday Feast, Gastronomical Unit (Tetanus Farm)

This independent release has apparently been cooking for a long time; its listing shows some of these tunes were recorded as far back as 1991 through 2004. Apparently this is a compilation, with a shifting cast of characters over time. "Egg Nog #5" opens the disc with a parody of Lou Bega's "Mambo" of the same number, a pretty good takeoff. "The Wassail Song" gets a hard rock/madrigal rendition in an odd time signature, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is sung in an alt-folky arrangement, "A Pirate's 12 Days of Christmas" is the popular carol done in pirate-talk, and "We Three Kings" gets two lounge-jazz treatments, one vocal, one not. "Joy to the World" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" get noise-pop arrangements. There's an a cappella performance of "Crazy Night in Bethlehem" that sounds like a parody, but I don't know of what. They come up with the first version of "Dreidle Dreidle Dreidle" (Hanukkah Alert) to remind me of "Folsom Prison Blues," then follow that with "Tainted Nog," based on the Soft Cell hit. With 21 cuts, there's a bit too much distance between the best parts of the disc, but the good cuts are worth having.

Cool Yule, Acoustix (Acoustix Productions)

This album really doesn't fit on this site. I picked it up because of my attraction to a capella music and the fact that a former member of Take 6 was involved, but these guys are basically pop-jazz easy listening. They give props to the Beach Boys with a cover of "Little Saint Nick" and the Boys' arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne," but that's as much rock as you get here; the cover of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is straight outta Branson, Mo. The rest of the tunes consist of your basic cross section of popular carols, well performed but nothing particularly edgy. You might consider it as a gift for a friend or relative who's into harmony singing, but you probably won't keep it for yourself.


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