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.
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?
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."
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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"?
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!