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Yule's Tide

Searching for gems in the flood of seasonal discs.

Martha Stewart is considerably scarier, yet The Holiday Collection (Epic/Legacy) ain't the bomb her iteration of The Apprentice was. This boxed set contains a staple-filled pop disc, a serviceable classical collection, a strong jazz compilation and a recipe for grilled lamb chops with garam masala, whatever the hell that is. The results easily surpass several other new comps, among them Holiday Heart (HoHoHo Spice.com), a spotty hospice benefit loaded with no-namers; The Essential Winter's Solstice and The Night Before Christmas, a pair of typically somnambulistic bores from Legacy/Windham Hill; and Coming Home for Christmas (RCA Victor/Legacy), where middle-of-the-road meets roadkill. The Home performer who tackles "White Christmas" is Michael Bolton. Need I say more? Besides how nauseous I am?

Elton John has better taste in pals. On Elton John's Christmas Party (Hear Music), he makes up for "Calling It Christmas," a goopy duet with Joss Stone, with the help of an eclectic, mostly satisfying cast ranging from the Ronettes and the Ventures to El Vez and Outkast, whose "Playa's Ball" suggests that Andre 3000 wants more than a cheek-peck under the mistletoe. Weirder still is Merry Mixmas: Christmas Classics Remixed (Capitol), an assemblage of work by easy-listening luminaries like Bing Crosby and Lena Horne as reimagined by contemporary dial-twisters. Even though the away/TEAM squad puts a fascinating chill into Nancy Wilson's "The Christmas Waltz," the CD as a whole vacillates between intriguing and ear-wrecking. So does Taste of Christmas (Warcon), a thoroughly bizarre gaggle of cuts in the alt/emo mode. Hilariously uneven, but only the irony-challenged could hate a holiday disc that includes Opiate for the Masses' "Christmas Evel." Die, Santa, die!

Marah, an indie band that's received the Nick Hornsby seal of approval, takes a saucier approach on A Christmas Kind of Town (Yep Roc). Because the musicians sound swacked on more than eggnog, people amused by drunken relatives are more likely to dig the disc than finger-waggers will. A Christmas PastŠand Present, Koch's reissue of Paul Revere and the Raiders' 1967 artifact, was probably fueled by another intoxicant; the songs concocted by singer Mark Lindsay and producer Terry Melcher are dopey enough to give off a contact high nearly four decades later. Despite its moniker, SantaMental, a Favored Nations offering by Steve Lukather & Friends, isn't nearly as crazy, but it's not entirely disposable, either, thanks to a series of unexpectedly hot guitar duels with guests Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Slash that offset the dross. An intermittently agreeable CD by a guy (Lukather) who used to be in Toto? Talk about a Christmas miracle.

Brave Combo's Holidays! (Rounder) will probably be less to the liking of militant Christmas-boosters. After all, this boisterous lark of a disc spares only a single song for December 25 -- "Coals and Switches," in which Santa metes out the title punishment after viewing an incriminating surveillance tape. Worse, just as much space is given to other occasions: Groundhog Day, April Fools' Day, even (gasp!) Cinco de Mayo. And the LeeVees' clever/goofy Hanukkah Rocks (Reprise) dismisses Christmas in a single couplet: "Latke Clan" declares, "Santa's cool/But Hanukkah Harry's the man."

Sorry, Mr. O'Reilly, but Christmas isn't the only big event happening this month. Hope Jesus understands.

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