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Michael Roberts navigates a host of holiday releases

This year, we've wrapped our roundup of holiday albums a bit differently. Instead of delivering it to you in one big lump (like coal), we're parceling out the reviews online, with each weekday until Christmas devoted to recordings in a different category. Look for them on the Backbeat blog. In the meantime, try a taste from each group to see if they make you hungry for more.

Noel Notables

Los Lonely Boys, Christmas Spirit (Epic). I've always wanted to like this band more than I actually do. Still, this disc is worth a spin, thanks to its cleverly bluesy treatment of "Carol of the Bells" and a version of "Jingle Bells" featuring an unbelievably embarrassing impression of Jimmy Durante.

Reissues and Retreads

New Kids on the Block, Merry, Merry Christmas (Columbia/Legacy). Originally issued in 1989, Merry, Merry Christmas is a reminder that these guys were always dreadful singers, not to mention a bit creepy. I don't know what's worse: the treacle-fest "This One's for the Children," or "Funky, Funky, Xmas," which isn't, isn't.

Jazz to the World

Spyro Gyra, A Night Before Christmas (Heads Up). It's no shock that this album kicks like a glass of warm milk. However, I did enjoy one cut: a fun, lively version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" co-starring Spyro drummer Bonny B and guest warbler Janis Siegel. How did that slip by lack-of-quality control?

Variety Packs

Various Artists, We Wish You a Metal Xmas and Headbanging New Year (Armoury). This tribute to what Ronnie James Dio calls "my least favorite holiday" turns out to have grins a-plenty, courtesy of cameos by the likes of Ratt's Stephen Pearcy, who brays "Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer." But nothing can top "Run Rudolph Run" by Lemmy Kilmister, who unleashes gurgles from hell. Proof that "Santa" is an anagram of "Satan."

Christmas Alternatives

The Flaming Lips, Christmas on Mars (Warner Bros.). This companion disc to Lips frontman Wayne Coyne's years-in-the-making movie curio is dominated by eccentric (and not especially hook-filled) soundtrack backgrounders, not yuletide favorites. On the other hand, what family meal wouldn't be improved by a listen to that future classic "The Gleaming Armament of Marching Genitalia"?

Surprise Packages

Jim Jones & Skull Gang, Jim Jones & Skull Gang Present a Tribute to Bad Santa Starring Mike Epps (Koch). How bizarre is this mix of quasi-sentimentality and hard-core rhyming? The opening cut follows the couplet "Seems chestnuts don't roast on an open fire/Just niggas that'll open fire" with a shotgun blast. Don't expect consistency: The unexpectedly affecting "Christmas in the Ghetto" follows comic Mike Epps's promise to steal your new sweater. Merry Christmas, bitch!

 
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