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They Might Be Giants
The holidays are a time for us all to come together, so here's Holidayland, an EP of Christmas- and Hanukkah-related tracks from They Might Be Giants. In addition to the sole new track, a remake of the Sonics' "Santa Claus," the disc offers four previously released gems. The best of these, taken from the group's second record, Lincoln, is "Santa's Beard," in which the narrator's wife is seduced by a friend dressed as the jolly one. Ho ho ho, indeed. Plus, there's "Festival of Lights," originally on the Hanukkah comp Festival of Light 2; "Careless Santa," from John Flansburgh's side project Mono Puff; and a German-language version of "O Tannenbaum." But while these are high-quality tunes, and it's certainly nice that Holidayland is multiple-holiday-encompassing, this EP delivers a miserly amount of music, clocking in at a Scroogelike twelve minutes.
A Christmas Celebration of Hope (MCA)
What would Christmas be without a jolly old fat man belting out a little holiday cheer? With his beloved Lucille pressed firmly against his bowl-full-of-jelly belly, B.B. King lets loose with characteristic aplomb and grace on the sultry "To Someone I Love;" the slick, organ-laden "I'll Be Home for Christmas;" and a number of other carefully chosen favorites that offer a whole new meaning to the term "holiday blues." In welcome contrast to the annual assault of seasonal Muzak, Christmas Celebration rings as clear and true as a silver bell on a cold December night.
Making Spirits Bright: A Smooth Jazz Christmas (GRP)
Somewhere among the din of the hustling and bustling holiday shopping at the Gap and Old Navy is a really bad Christmas album merrily chugging away just out of aural reach. If ever overtaken by the need to bring the experience home, mallgoers can seek out that album, Making Spirits Bright. Banal performances such as Joyce Cooling's sterile cover of "The Christmas Song" and guitarist Jeff Golub's "Here Comes Santa Claus" might make St. Nick lose his last load of milk and cookies. While a few tasty crumbs shake loose here and there, including Diana Krall's swinging play at "Jingle Bells" and Joe Sample's teasing solo instrumental take of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," this fruitcake just isn't very appetizing.
A Nancy Wilson Christmas (Telarc)
Jazz chanteuse Nancy Wilson has made a name for herself by coupling her vocals with some of the best players in the business, including Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Ramsey Lewis and Benny Golson. With her first complete Christmas offering, Wilson continues the tradition by teaming with flutist Herbie Mann and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Star Big Band. From her swanky strut through "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" to her gentle rendering of "The Christmas Song," Wilson injects these holiday standards with a much-needed dose of sincerity.
The Gift (Telarc)
After eyeing the smarmy black-and-white cover shot that features Jon Secada striking the quintessential '50s crooner pose, shoppers looking for a white-elephant present might select this dubious-looking Gift. But if Charlie Brown taught generations of children anything about Christmas, it's that holiday cheer comes in all shapes and sizes. Secada radiates a comforting warmth throughout this collection, which drips with sweeping orchestral arrangements and traditional song selections. It is old-fashioned and perhaps a little too conservative for those looking for some spice in their holiday music, but it does capture the spirit of the season with its simple charm.