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 a blog each weekday through December 24 devoted to recordings in a different category. Part four features "Variety Packs" -- six new compilations that draw from styles like metal, pop, alternative (sort of), Latin music and, well, sexiness. Slip that in your stocking.
We Wish You a Metal Xmas and Headbanging New Year (Armoury) is a tribute to what Ronnie James Dio calls "my least favorite holiday." But music lovers with a special fondness for the days when Aqua Net was a standard weapon in every rocker's arsenal will likely beg to differ after spinning this loopy release. The album overflows with cameos by people like Tony Iommi, George Lynch, Steve Morse, Tracii Guns and Ratt's Stephen Pearcy, who brays, of all things, "Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer." Still, nothing can top "Run Rudolph Run," in which Dave Grohl and Billy Gibbons support Lemmy Kilmister, who unleashes gurgles from hell from one end of the track to the other. Proof that "Santa" is an anagram of "Satan."
An Alternative Christmas (Alternative Addiction) is advertised as a charity recording, albeit one whose beneficiary is not being publicly revealed. (Mmmm-kay.) Whatever the case, the album includes a few recognizable acts, such as Better Than Ezra ("Merry Christmas Eve") and Lifehouse ("Silent Night"), along with lots of lesser-knowns. And while a majority of the material smacks of the contemporary-Christian variation on rock -- meaning rather unconvincing -- there are a couple of wild cards. Honeyhoney's saucy "The Naughtiness of Me" actually lives up to its moniker, at least in this context, and "She's a Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas," by the pop-punkers in Patent Pending, might actually offend your mom. Consider yourself warned.
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Ditto that for All Wrapped Up! (Hollywood). This EP is aimed straight at tweens, who'll be more tolerant of the work of Aly & AJ ("Greatest Time of Year") and Demi Lovato ("Wonderful Christmas Time") than will most of their parents. Nonetheless, grownups may actually have something resembling interest in Miley Cyrus's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," if only because her voice is nearly as deep as Bruce Springsteen's. And I must confess that I kinda liked the ridiculous over-the-topness of "Joyful Kings," by the Jonas Brothers. In an ironic way, though! I swear!
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I didn't get nearly as much of a rise out of A Sexy Christmas, perhaps because my definition of sexiness is apparently different from that of the compilers working for Time Life, whose imprint is stamped on the cover. Toni Braxton's "Snowflakes of Love," Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and Diana Krall's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" fit the bill to at least some degree, but not so much Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" or Dean Martin's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" -- and Kenny G's "Wishes" is capable of killing an erection at thirty paces.
Latin Christmas: Tesoros Navideños is also a Time Life product, which means it's not all that auténtico. But for every snoozer of a song by Jon Secada ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and Gloria Estefan ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), not to mention "La Virgen Lava Pañales" by Placido Domingo (I'm told the title translates to "The Virgin Washes Diapers"!), there's good stuff from Ed Calle and Arturo Sandoval ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), Tito Puente ("El Tamborilero [The Little Drummer Boy]") and even Esquivel (a suitably idiosyncratic and baroque "Snowfall"). That's more than enough to compensate for the presence of José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" on approximately the billionth Christmas compilation in the past forty years.
Finally, the most curious assemblage of the season: Taste of Home: Home for Christmas, another Time Life product. It's not because of the material. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that most of these songs -- by Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Burl Ives, Doris Day, Gene Autry, etc. -- were on the sort of albums my parents used to get as bonuses when they bought a new set of tires back during the Lyndon Johnson administration. But the CD comes with a subscription card for a full year of Taste of Home magazine ("A $23.94 Value!") plus a CD-ROM larded with "473 Delicious Recipes!" Unfortunately, however, I don't think it juliennes fries. -- Michael Roberts