ON THE 12TH DAY of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Twelve local artists . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum—A Northwest Christmas Harvest (Silver Platters) The danger of holiday compilations spotlighting local artists in any town is that at least a few of the entries will sound unprofessional and shoddy. Another pitfall is that the artists too often take the opportunity to showcase their "wacky" side. On this disc, however, a range of Seattle acts earnestly rework Christmas classics, often to nice effect. M-Pact's funky a cappella take on "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is one of many highlights, including a reverent "Greensleeves" (Michael Partington), jingle-jangling jazz numbers by Aaron Parks and Ryan Burns, and a gospel send-off of "Silent Night" (L.J. Porter). (R.A.M.)
Eleven billion dollars . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Platinum Christmas (Jive) Well, $11 billion is about how much these acts grossed in 2000, so they've got reason to celebrate. Maybe that's why they all sound so damned perky and reflective. Who's hot is who's here, from Britney to Christina to the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Santana, R. Kelley, Dave Matthews, and Whitney have jumped on the sleighwagon as well. Most of their songs—usuals like "Silent Night" and "Little Drummer Boy"—are delivered with the emotive flair you'd expect. Unexpected? Dido's lovely "Christmas Day" and TLC's funky "Sleigh Ride." Still not enough to rescue this disc, which at least could have been a benefit album! (R.A.M.)
Ten pair of Converse . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, It's a Cool, Cool Christmas (Jeepster import) Just want to sit around the rec room of your parents' house and watch the snow fall outside, TV on, sound off, stereo blasting? Spring for this UK-only all-semi-star comp, a dream mixed tape for college radio enthusiasts that features Grandaddy, the Dandy Warhols, Belle and Sebastian, Saint Etienne, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Low, Teenage Fanclub, and 15 more. Throw some marshmallows in that hot chocolate, button up your cardigan, and tap that right foot of yours till it falls off. (M.M.)
Nine photo sessions . . .
Christina aguilera, My Kind of Christmas (RCA) She's on a hell-bound mission to out-plastic-soul Britney and 98 Degrees put together, and here's her latest salvo: 11 holiday tunes both standard and new. Also includes "This Year," a seasonal-minded riff that puts the XXX into Xmas: "You'll be my spring ahead, my fall behind/The shimmy in my hips when I bump and grind/You'll be my Santa Boy, all dressed in red/And ride that little reindeer all through my head." (M.M.)
Eight departed divas . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Christmas Belles (Lifetime/Rhino) It's tasteless to have fun at the dead's expense, but we really do love these ladies. Included are the no-longer-living legends Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughn, and Julie London, as well as some living ones, such as Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne. The disc's filled with classics and classic performances as well as some less well-known gems. London's "Warm December" is amazing, worth the price in itself. (R.A.M.)
Seven years in prison . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Ally McBeal—A Very Ally Christmas (Epic) Poor Robert Downey Jr. went and recorded "White Christmas" with Ally fixture Vonda Shepard between a short prison stint and what will likely be a much longer one. Thus, no white Christmas for Rob. In another ironic gesture, he also belts his way through Joni Mitchell's "River." Too bad Vonda's not going up the river with him—her monotonous renderings of the standards would make even Santa fall asleep face first in his eggnog. To send this ill-conceived disc way over the edge, Macy Gray warbles her way through "Winter Wonderland." Before playing, hide the glass ornaments! (R.A.M.)
Six complainers complaining . . .
Andras Jones, A Curmudgeon for All Seasons (Great Big Island) OK, there's just one complainer on this Olympian's anti-holidays album. But he bitches enough for six people, and not just about Christmas. Independence Day ("The Firecracker Kid"), Thanksgiving ("Thwak!"), and Memorial Day ("Flashback Barbeque") all get dissed in Jones' highly unimaginative, barely listenable fashion. (M.M.)
Five months of hell! . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, How the Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack (Interscope) As if it weren't enough that we had to endure a five-month marketing blitz, now we'll get pummeled with this musical tie-in. Of course, Grinch star Jim Carrey's all over the disc, with dialogue snippets and an ill-advised "collabo" with Busta Rhymes. Somehow, the Eels (the peppy "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs") get dragged into this mess, sharing space with the ubiquitous 'N Sync as well as Ben Folds, Barenaked Ladies, and Smash Mouth. Please make it stop. (R.A.M.)
Four Snoopy dances . . .
cyrus chestnut and friends, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Atlantic) Celebrated jazz pianist Chestnut pays simultaneous tribute to the holiday season and the music of Vince Guaraldi on this CD. It emphasizes the score for the classic television special the disc is named after as well as some non-Guaraldi standards. Unfortunately, most of these selections sound like Chestnut at his most, um, watery. (M.M.)
Three dollar budget . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Christmas Singles (Parasol) Many bands on Parasol-distributed labels released notable underground discs this year, and some of these artists show up for this well-meaning alternative to the usual array of mega-artist major label compilations. Aside from a few choice tunes by artists like Friends of Sound and Elizabeth Elmore (ex of Sarge), this collection falters. Maybe it's because of the lo-fi recordings or the lack of focus. Still, two Seattle contributors, Toothpaste 2000 and Matt Bruno, come through with pleasant enough tunes, making this noteworthy on a local level at least. (R.A.M.)
Two castanets . . .
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Mambo Santa Mambo: Christmas from the Latin Lounge (Rhino) The emphasis here is equally on Latin and lounge, which ought to make your office Christmas party a winter wonderland indeed, if you have a taste for kitsch. But some moments—the Enchanters' doo-wop "Mambo Santa Mambo" and salsa queen Celia Cruz's "Jingle Bells"—satisfy even noncollectors of leopard-print sofas and tiki-ware. (M.M.)
And a Martha making pear Brie!
VARIOUS ARTISTS, Martha Stewart Living: Home for the Holidays (Rhino) Surely you didn't think that everybody's favorite pleasant homemaker was going to leave that happiest time of the year undecorated sonically as well as visually, did you? And what do you know? Turns out her preferences in music are as unerringly middlebrow as her curtain suggestions. Good (the Pretenders' "Silver Bells") or bad (Dan Fogelberg's "What Child Is This?"), everything on here ends up sounding pretty indifferent but tasteful, always tasteful. (M.M.)