Merry & Bright

Stirring with the sounds of the season.

In the days before Christmas, all through my house, everything is stirring with the sounds of the season.

At this time of year I admit that all the self-important, egocentric rules about tunes go out the window. While a Mariah Carey will get nary a note of airplay in my abode 11 months of the year, her versions of "Silent Night" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" are heard repeatedly at the end of the year.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for the warmth, humor and good cheer that this season is supposed to cultivate in the Scrooge-iest of all of us.

My favorte carols? The Pogues' "Fairytale in New York" featuring Kirsty MacColl, XTC's "Thanks for Christmas," John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" and the Pretenders' "2000 Miles." But everything from Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley to Run-D.M.C. and Bon Jovi are bound to be heard at my home in any given December.

The past few years have brought a bumper crop of new holiday albums and compilations, many of which that have joined the regular rotation as we deck the halls. 2005 is no exception and I've been on vacation listening to the latest batch.


• "A John Waters Christmas" (New Line) - My absolute favorite of this year's offerings. With Tiny Tim and Alvin & the Chimpunks and songs like "Here Comes Fatty Claus" and "Santa Claus Is a Black Man," this can add more kitsch to your holiday than all the Rankin & Bass animated specials put together.

• "The Holiday Collection" (Martha Stewart Living Music/Epic/Legacy) - One jazz, one classical and one traditional disc make this a diverse and worthy addition to the Christmas compilation canon. Even though past Martha compilations were a bit more eclectic and original, this one stands up well, plus with recipe cards and craft tips, it's very Martha.

• "Sounds of the Season" (Rhino Special Products) - Everyone gets into the game come this time of year, but who cares? NBC put together a pair of comps for the season with the likes of Goo Goo Dolls, Rod Stewart, Seal and Leigh Nash on one and John Legend, Macy Gray, Al Green and Babyface on an R&B set. Solid seasonal fare from top to bottom.

• "Taste of Christmas" (Warcon) - It's not always a happy time of year, but with this one, "Blue Christmas" has been replaced by From First To Last's "Christmassacre," the Used's "Alone This Holiday" and Black Halo's "Homeless for Christmas." Nonetheless, this hard rock collection is all the better for Skindred's reggae-thrash "Jingle Bells" that bears no resemblance to the traditional favorite of the same name.


• "What I Really Want for Christmas," Brian Wilson (Arista) - I loved his "Smile" recreation and loathed his latest solo set, so I'm split to begin with. Nonetheless, the prince of pop makes me smile with a bunch of holiday faves that he once did as a Beach Boy, and a few more.

• "Winter Rose - Music Inspired by the Holidays," Ottmar Leibert (SSRI) - His flamenco stylings are always enjoyable, and that much more so here.

• "The Season," Jane Monheit (Epic) - Smooth jazz celebrates just as well as any other format, and all the better for Monheit's stellar vocals. Sappy and joyous.

• "Holiday," Craig Chaquico (Higher Octave) - Though most often associated with Jefferson Starship, this guitarist has reshaped his life as a new agey, easy listening tunesmith, and though a tad too synthy, it's made me feel as fuzzy as the soft focus of a Barbara Walters special.

• "Have a Twilley Christmas," Dwight Twilley (Digital MusicWorks) - Stuck in a power-pop time warp, this sounds severely dated, but it's almost a good thing as it works for Twilley.


• "Nick Holiday" (Nick Records) - Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron and the Fairly Oddparents singing holiday songs. Need I say more? Pure branded fun.

• "Radio Disney Jingle Jams" (Walt Disney Records) - Sugary sweet, poptastic stuff from the Disney crowd (Hilary Duff, Aly & AJ, Jessie McCartney, the Beu Sisters, etc.). But remember, Christmas is for the kids, so let 'em listen.


It's not just about Christmas! I may be the goyim, but I truly enjoy all of this season's sounds. And although the Rudolphs and Santas dominate, there's a fare market for Hannukah music out there. Here are a few notables for the festival of lights:

• "Hanukkah Swings!" Kenny Ellis (Favored Nations) - A Rat Pack-worthy entry from "Swingin' Dreidel" to "Hanu-calypso."

• "The Hanukkah Lounge - Instrumental Jew Age Music" (Craig CD) - A compilation that includes tracks from compiler Craig Taubman, this set is Vegas, baby.

• "Hanukkah Rocks," the LeeVees (Reprise) - If lounge doesn't spin your dreidel, then the LeeVees might. As upbeat, fun and goofy as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

So, with Ma in her kerchief and me in my cap, I'm settling in for a long winter's nap. May your days be merry and bright and filled with music that makes you happy.