Home Listening for the Holidays

Seattle Weekly home-tests some Christmas-and-related albums.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Christmas Remixed 2: A Six Degrees Collection

(Six Degrees)

The second installment of the multiculti label's holiday mash-up series follows such unlikely selections on 2003's edition as Dean Martin's "Jingle Bells (Dan the Automator Remix)" and Bing Crosby's "The First Noel (Attaboy House Party Mix)." Don't laugh—like them, the Kaskade remix of "White Christmas" and Ohmega Watts' treatment of Charles Brown's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" are subtle, if a little surreal. Mostly, beats come to the foreground with vocals mixed low, as on Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald's "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (John Beltran Remix)." Their voices are ghostly echoes warmed by Beltran's Latin rinse, which gives it an exotic, Martin Denny vibe. It's both spooky and comforting, strange and wonderful, even if it makes your folks think someone spiked the eggnog. RACHEL SHIMP

VARIOUS ARTISTS

"A Cylindrical Christmas"

(cylinders.library.ucsb.edu)

Everyone loves an old-fashioned Christmas, but how about one that predates even your great-grandparents? The Special Collections Department at the University of California at Santa Barbara houses over 5,000 wax cylinders—the first recording medium, predating shellac discs. Now, they've made it possible to browse the collection and, with some exceptions, either listen via streaming audio or download MP3s or unedited 24-bit WAV files. That's a lot of music to swallow, but if you want to narrow it down, just type "Christmas" into the library's search engine. Thirty-seven items turn up, not all audio-ready, but you can easily whittle them down to a single, burnable CD-R's worth. Check for stuff by the Edison Concert Band and Edison Mixed Quartet, like the robust "Bells of Christmas" (1910) and "Hail! Hail! Day of Days" (1913). Steve Porter's "Christmas Morning at Clancy's" (1908) and Ada Jones and Len Spencer's "Down on the Farm" (1906) are essentially comedy sketches with musical effects. And if Harry E. Humphrey's "Night Before Christmas" (1914) and Bransby Williams' "The Awakening of Scrooge" (1913 or 1914) are straight readings of well-known tales, their craggy voices and scrim of surface noise make them feel even more classic and/or vintage. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

VARIOUS ARTISTS

For Kate: A Benefit for Kate's Sake

(Western Beat)

Suitably enough for a record made to assist children seeking organ transplants (including 3-year-old Kate Kirk, named in the title), this is a sweet, charming collection, and it definitely helps that the participants actually sound like they get a kick out of the holidays, rather than relying on forced cheer. It also doubles as an alt-country Christmas collection, put together by the E Street Band's Garry Tallent: steel guitars and vocal twangs, Steve Earle and John Prine, covers of people named Dylan and Willie. Alongside Joe Ely's Tex-Mex "Winterlude" and the Big Happy's old-school rockin' "Gift Wrapped Boy," some of the best material comes out of left field: Raul Malo channeling Roy Orbison on "Pretty Paper," Rosie Flores' Motown hoedown, Jason and the Scorchers' supercharged take on "Oh! Holy Night," Jeff Black's gorgeous lounge version on "Winter Wonderland," Sex and the City actor John Corbett doing well by Guy Clark's "Ain't No Trouble to Me." There'll be No Depression at Christmas. JASON GROSS

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Now That Sounds Kosher!

(Shout! Factory)

This isn't exactly a holiday record (though there's plenty of Hanukkah shout-outs), but when else will you play this other than right after your parents ask why you haven't found a nice mate for the holidays? Like any comedy album, the songs only come across as well as the jokes do, and if Borscht Belt yuks are your cup of chicken soup, then you'll lachen yourself silly with this. Even though it's pumped as a "primer in the history of Jewish-American comedy," and Mel Brooks and Tom Lehrer provide impressive production numbers, the real mensch here is Allan Sherman (who turns "Greensleeves" into an ode to a nice Jewish knight). His early-mid-'60s hits wed popular and classical fare to wacky lyrics, an initiative later taken to the bank by Weird Al Yankovic (represented here by "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi"). Even many of the lesser recent acts here get a lot of mileage out of the idea: Guns & Charoses' "Don't Worry, Keep Kosher," the Beach Boychiks' "Be True to Your Shul," the Soggy Matzoh Boys' "Man of Constant Tsuris," all of which are much funnier than you'd think. JASON GROSS

TONY ORLANDO & DAWN

A Christmas Reunion

(Bayside)

CAPTAIN & TENNILLE

Saving Up Christmas

(R2)

The piney scent of bedecked Christmas trees, fuzzy velvet stockings hung by the fire . . . and the intrepid return of '70s pop-rock? A Christmas Reunion, Tony Orlando & Dawn's first recording in 28 years, features some straight-up, traditional Christmas music (a skillfully rendered "Ave Maria/ O Holy Night"), some light-jazzy tracks, and, of course, more than a little Christmas tree sap. Unfortunately, Captain & Tennille's Saving Up Christmas lacks Reunion's traditional-cheesy balance, leaving us with the irritatingly bouncy, Toni Tennille–written "Tahoe Snow" and a version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" complete with munchkin voices and demonic-sounding ho-ho-hos. HEATHER LOGUE

BRIAN WILSON

What I Really Want for Christmas

(Arista)

Last year, Wilson fleshed out a decades-old concept (Smile) with a fresh new band to imitate his scattered old band, and it worked. Here, he revives another aged concept and against the odds goes two-for-two. The Beach Boys had their own hit holiday record in '64, and even though Wilson's re-creation reprises a bunch of traditional classics (with a few originals), the sound and feeling is much fuller and richer now, because since the last time, he's flowered into a wonderfully extravagant production nut like his hero Phil Spector. Wilson's sweetly strained voice leads alto/soprano chorales backed by twangy guitars, booming percussion, stretched-out horn lines, and buzzing harmonicas. As such, not only does he rev up B-Boys oldies like "Little Saint Nick" and "The Man With All the Toys," he also makes "Deck the Halls" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" fun again and scores with a newly penned title track, written with Bernie Taupin. JASON GROSS

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Ze Christmas Record—ReLoaded 2004

(Ze)

A quarter-century ago, Ze Records honcho Michael Zilkha had an idea—who better to celebrate Christmas' spiritual celebration than a bunch of disco weirdos? Hence, this pair of reissued 1981–82 holiday albums. Along with a handful of straightforward tributes ("Sleigh Ride" gone girl group, Lisi's melancholy "My Silent Night," Miss OD's dreamy "Bells of Christmas"), most of the Ze roster is strangely detached or oddly fascinated by Christmas, making for some interesting interpretations, with holiday locales including the Midwest, N.Y.C.'s Riverside Drive, Detroit, and hell. For any clubber who doesn't entirely trust (but doesn't hate) the December season, you'd be hard-pressed to find more appropriate fare: Alan Vega's spooky "No More Christmas Blues," Cristina's sleazy "Things Fall Apart," the Waitresses' humbugged pop-disco stroke "Christmas Wrapping," Charlelie Couture's surreally skanking "Christmas Fever," Was (Not Was) aping Devo and Charles Bukowski, and James White's jagged funk peppered with hilariously out-of-tune caroling horns. JASON GROSS

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