Sanity Claus

Separating holiday-music gifts from seasonal disorders.

In contrast, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn Live (Rounder), available as a CD and separate DVD, keeps things monochromatic, capturing the whitest-ever performers warbling, fiddling and jigging for the whitest-ever audience. Just as Caucasian-centric, but considerably louder, is Monster Ballads: Xmas (Razor & Tie), a hair-band holiday spectacular that's stoopid in all the right ways. Twisted Sister and Lita Ford contribute an unintentionally hilarious "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and Faster Pussycat's "Silent Night" is anything but.

Turn that string of lights up to eleven — and then turn off The Green Days of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to Green Day, ...And Christmas for All: The Holiday Tribute to Metallica, and Hell's Bells of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to AC/DC, three new discs from Christmas Rock Records. Average listeners will be amused for a nanosecond by their Muzak-like synth arrangements overlaid with random sleigh bells — and then they'll get pissed off at the way their wallet took a season's beating. At least Arizona's Psychostick really brings the noise on The Flesh Eating Rollerskate Holiday Joyride (Rock Ridge Music). The EP provides one-stop shopping for the three or four people who crave a dose of novelty metal characterized by the willfully moronic "Jolly Old Sadist." The satire continues on Homeless for the Holidaze (Sound Vision NW), a gaggle of loungey aural jokes credited to "An Ensemble of Lonesome Fellas." A quarter of net proceeds are earmarked for homeless organizations in Seattle — but it'd be simpler to donate directly and eliminate the middlemen, who aren't as riotous as they think they are.

Vocalist Jacqui Naylor suffers from similar delusions of humor on Smashed for the Holidays (Ruby Star). Although she's a fine jazz vocalist, her collection of pop-song-and-holiday mash-ups — e.g., "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" merged with "Sweet Home Alabama" — wears thin mighty fast. The Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra takes a more conventional approach to jazz, and it pays off on Carol of the Bells (Owl Studios), built upon stylish adaptations and the bottomless vocals of Everett Green. Elsewhere, Trio West channels Vince Guaraldi throughout the spare, finger-popping Trio West Plays Holiday Songs (Yummyhouse). And on Memories of a Winter's Night (Capitol), saxophonist Dave Koz smooths out his material so thoroughly that it seems to have come straight from a Christmas goose. Music doesn't get much slicker.

A Very Special Christmas: The 20th Anniversary Music Video Collection (A&M), a Special Olympics fundraiser, contains some equally unpleasant moments. The answer to the question "Death, where is thy Sting?" is "Right here, killing 'Gabriel's Message.'" However, the DVD makes up for such shortfalls with Run-DMC's zany "Christmas in Hollis," No Doubt's vintage "Oi to the World" and "Merry Christmas Baby," a Stevie Wonder-Wyclef Jean collab that former President Bill Clinton gives his trademark lip-biting thumbs up. Still, the most moving holiday disc of the season is the oldest: The 25th Day of December (Riverside), a sterling reissue originally cut by the magnificent Staple Singers in 1962.

At last, a gift worth getting — and giving.

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