By Dave Herrera
By Jesse Livingston
By Cory Casciato
By Jon Solomon
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Samplers are a Christmas staple, but they're inconsistent by their very nature. Cherry-picking is the answer, especially on Xmas Marks the Spot, which pulls together various holiday curios issued over the years on the Rykodisc family of labels. "A Party for Santa Claus" by Lord Nelson and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" by Joseph Spence are wonderful snippets from A Caribbean Christmas Party, a must-have from earlier in the decade; "Careless Santa," featuring John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, is worth cuddling; and Kristin Hersh's "Amazing Grace," available for the first time on an album, is as dark and intense as you'd expect from this Throwing Muse. There's also Big Star's "Jesus Christ," which really isn't much of a Christmas song--but when a song is as good as this one, why nitpick? Sounds of the Season (Columbia), whose proceeds are earmarked for the Children's Hearing Institute, is not quite as fresh; for instance, Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and Willie Nelson's "Blue Christmas" have been around the block a time or twelve, and Tony Bennett's "Snowfall" comes from an album of the same name, reissued in 1994, that's worth owning in its entirety. But Shawn Colvin's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and B.B. King's "Merry Christmas, Baby" earn their keep, and Elton John's "Ho, Ho, Ho...Who'd Be a Turkey for Christmas," recorded in 1973, is a laughable but likable reminder that John used to be a lot more diverting. Better still is Hot Rod Rock: Hot Rod Holiday (The Right Stuff), a top-notch collection of Fifties/Sixties rock and roll with a seasonal theme. The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Dion, Bobby Vee, the Ventures, the Statues and Gary U.S. Bonds are only some of the artists represented, and all of them excel. As a special bonus, the disc features on its cover a vintage racer and a couple of bikini-clad bimbos. You might want to hide it when your parents come over.
The Soul Train Christmas Starfest Album promises a lot simply by virtue of its title. But despite the presence of Soul Train vets Stevie Wonder ("Someday at Christmas"), Patti Labelle ("This Christmas [Hang All the Mistletoe]") and James Brown (the great "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto"), most of the performers on hand are from the Boyz II Men school of R&B. The Boyz themselves swoop and whoop emptily throughout "Let It Snow," and Az Yet ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), Immature ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), Total Commitment ("Silver Bells") and Rome ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") follow suit, to their detriment. Conversely, En Vogue's "Silent Nite (Happy Holiday Mix)," the Isley Brothers' "Special Gift" and "There's No Christmas Without You," by Kirk Franklin and the Family, work because--believe it or not--they actually exhibit some passion. Slow Jams: Christmas, Volume 2 (The Right Stuff) bats for a somewhat higher average than does Starfest. A few ditties, like Al Jarreau's "The Christmas Song," are weak, but "(Christmas Ain't Christmas, New Year's Ain't New Year's) Without the One You Love," by the Ebonys, is richly satisfying, and Brook Benton's "Soul Santa," Rotary Connection's "Christmas Love," Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas, Baby" and Al Green's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" aren't far behind.
A Home for the Holidays (Mercury) is a benefit for Phoenix House that is dominated by iffy artists: Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan, Boyz II Men, Wendy and Carnie Wilson, and so on. But perhaps a third of the disc is worthwhile; I dug the hip-hoppy "My Christmas," by Tony Toni Tone, Redd Kross's "Mary Christmas," the James Browny "Sock It to Me, Santa," by Marshall Crenshaw with the Chisel Brothers, and "Go Where I Send Thee," rendered in fine blues-mama fashion by Joan Osborne. The memory function on your CD player will come in handy. Springsteen, Bennett, Estefan and Boyz II Men all turn up again on Epic's Superstar Christmas, which will earn money for the T.J. Martell Foundation. They're joined by Christmas-comp veterans John Lennon & Yoko Ono ("Happy Xmas [War Is Over]"), Mariah Carey ("O Holy Night"), Neil Diamond ("You Make It Feel Like Christmas") and Barbra Streisand, who sings "The Lord's Prayer" as if she's talking about herself. So is there any compelling reason to buy this disc? No--but spending your dough on things you don't need is a Christmas tradition. Thanks for keeping America's economy strong.
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