The holidays are a time for the warm, fuzzy things that remind us of family, of our place in the cosmos. Despite the etymology of Christmas, for most of the world it's not about history's most famous carpenter. It's about making gingerbread houses with your honey and bugging the crap out of your neighbors with a caroling group. It's about rampant capitalism and getting into serious credit peril.
Only a snobby Scrooge would talk smack about collections of yuletide songs. Sure, we wouldn't listen to some of these records with your ears, but in an effort of come-all-ing, we've found a good recipient for each of the following holiday albums.
Christmas Remixed (Six Degrees)
This is the second installment of the coolest Christmas series we've seen yet-11 classics retrofit into jazzy electro-thump, but with the original singers (Bing Crosby, Joe Williams, etc.). 46Bliss' remix of Mahalia Jackson's "Silent Night" is a frickin' masterpiece. Great for everyone except the ugly 20-something in the family whose band replaced him with a drum machine.
What I Really Want for Christmas (Arista)
The nuttiest (and most talented) Beach Boy harmonizing through 15 Christmas classics. The quintessential San Diego holiday album, perfect for that semi-hip uncle who wears Hawaiian shirts in December and still says "groovy."
Hanukkah Rocks (Reprise)
An instant classic! A good-natured, wryly hilarious Jewish holiday record by Guster's Adam Gardner and the Zaboni's Dave Schneider that would make They Might Be Giants proud. Perfect for Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, Luddites, Satanists-even Scientologists might get it.
A Taste of Christmas (Warcon)
Eighteen teen-rock heroes (including Gatsby's American Dream, Plain White T's, Skindred, Funeral for a Friend and San Diego's My American Heart) do their Hot Topic take on Christmas songs. Just the right thing for the time when pubescent li'l Johnny figures out Santa Claus doesn't actually exist and neither does punk music.
Christmas (Chairkicker's Union)
One of the most melancholy Christmas albums you'll ever hear, but not necessarily the most somber release from slow-motion beauties, Low. Those who like their Christmas music deity-free might get spooked by the dismal picture that believers Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker paint of Jesus circa 2005, but this is a stunning, stunning EP. Good for those of you who prefer to temper their joy to the world with a few frowns for the room.
Steve Lukather and Friends
Santamental (Bop City)
As Toto's guitarist, he smoothed you out with the yacht-rocking sounds of "Rosanna" and "Africa." Here, he's equally as smooth on 10 electric-guitar holiday faves (mostly instrumental with pals like Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Edgar Winter and Gregg Bissonette). Just right for that rocker-dentist in your family or bearded people who wear sailor hats.
A John Waters Christmas (New Line)
The cinematic superfreak pulls together a collection of obscure Xmas gems from the past, plus a new elves-as-slave-labor ditty called "Here Comes Fatty Claus" and a track by the Coctails, which has Sea and Cake man Archer Prewitt. Worth it alone for the kid-sung "Santa Claus is a Black Man." Good for the aspiring pop-culture humorist in the family.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle
The McGarrigle Christmas Hour (Nonesuch)
The Canadian songwriting sisters who penned Linda Rondstadt's "Heart Like a Wheel" gather their famous friends (Emmylou Harris, Teddy Thompson) and relatives (Kate's loin-products, Martha & Rufus Wainwright) around the art-folk campfire for some haunting chestnuts. Three McGarrigle originals and an original each from Martha and Rufus mix with nine classics. Perfect for that sweater-wearing metrosexual in the family who uses the holidays as an excuse to max-out on his depression.
Favored Nations Acoustic Christmas (Favored Nations)
A hit-and-miss collection of eight instrumental Christmas classics and two with vocals, focusing on guitar of all styles (jazz, funk, samba, Hawaiian slack-key) by virtuosos like Andy Timmons, Greg Koch and Peppino D'Agostino. Good for someone who's barely cool enough to know Kenny G rots the mortal soul.
Holiday Heart (Volunteer)
A two-CD set of original holiday tunes by "alternative-ish" songwriters like Ron Sexsmith, Rick Derringer and the Dismemberment Plan, plus some talented no-namers. All proceeds (after recouping costs) go to the Saint Barnabas Hospice in New Jersey. A great way to break the news to your record-store-loitering son that Grandma may not make it to New Year's. www.hohospice.com.
A Christmas Kind of Town (Yep Roc)
Philadelphia's rootsy rockers do a whole variety show here with 12 songs packed around eight Xmas-oriented skits. The covers of classics are grand, but the original songs just might be the best thing to happen to Christmas since rum and eggnog. Stuff this and Low's album into an alternative rocker's stocking and watch the shit-eating grin bloom beneath their always-5-o'clock shadow.
Reverend Horton Heat
We Three Kings (Yep Roc)
The Rev stops singing about hooched-up hoo-ers for just long enough to craft a rockabilly Christmas album that's safe for even the littlest greaser in the family-12 classics and one original called "Santa on the Roof." Ripe for those who still decorate their lawn with sun-faded plastic reindeer from 1975 and have mastered the deceptively tricky art of gift-wrapping cartons of Pal-Mals.
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album (A&M)
A re-release of the 1968 holiday album by pop's greatest trumpeter, featuring the Tijuana Brass' Ameriachi style and the wonderfully cheesy lounge coos of jazzman Shorty Rogers. Great for bedding Mrs. Claus while Santa's doing his one-night workaholic thing.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Dig That Crazy Christmas (Surfdog)
The man who resuscitates the '50s on a daily basis returns with his second big-band Christmas-jive record in three years. I mean, if you're already buying a loved one a metal lunch pail featuring an obscure and unnaturally happy cartoon character, why not?
Martha Stewart Living Music: The Holiday Collection (Sony)
Yes, she's a stonehearted homemaker who can do marvelously crafty things with a prison cot and some toilet paper. But this three-CD box set just screams "Yuletide." One CD is standards (with Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, etc.), another jazz (Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti, Louis Armstrong, etc.) and one classical (New York Philharmonic, Mormon Tabernacle, Placido Domingo, etc.). It proves that the holidays are the only time of year when smooth jazz doesn't commit grievous crimes against the state of art. Morals and credibility be damned, I'm buying this for my mother and burning a copy for myself.