I’m happy to report that this year there are at least two holiday albums that you might actually be tempted to keep around even after the Christmas rush subsides: "Festivus" and "Holidays Rule."
Even for those people (you know who you are) who enjoy a good Christmas tune now and again, come Dec. 26 even the catchiest holiday albums feel sort of like a bad hangover, removed quickly from iPod playlists in what amounts to a musical walk of shame. Did I really spend money on this stuff?
So I’m happy to report that this year there are at least two albums that you might actually be tempted to keep around even after the Christmas rush subsides – or at least not be embarrassed if someone finds them on your iPod come January.
“Festivus” by Highline Records is definitely the more adventurous of the two, featuring a slew of indie acts eschewing the usual holiday standards in favor of jangly, low-fi original songs about the season. The upbeat numbers are the standouts: The Werewandas offer a rockabilly love song to St. Nick with “I Love You Santa Claus,” and Piney Gir’s “Every Day’s a Holiday” feels like an instant classic with its sunny, guitar-driven girl-group vibe.
There’s also of course no shortage of sardonic indie sass – in The Real Tuesday Weld’s “Song of December” a plan to write a holiday love letter devolves into a last-minute Christmas Eve text, and on “Just Because It’s Christmas,” Skiffle and the Piffles admit to a less-than-significant other that the holiday season “doesn’t make me any less sick of you.” Despite a few duds – and what Christmas album doesn’t have them? – “Festivus” is a fun, winking and oftentimes even sentimental nod to the most wonderful time of the year.
The other notable release, Hear Music’s “Holidays Rule,” is more high profile and plays it safer with its interpretations of classics – but amazingly is able to hit home runs on most of them. On two of the best tracks, Grammy-nom sensations fun. prove with their take on “Sleigh Ride” that there’s pretty much nothing they can’t make magic with, and AgesandAges pulls out just the right dose of melancholy from “We Need a Little Christmas.”
Though dominated by younger artists, the disc has a few highlights from oldsters too: Irma Thomas shows the whippersnappers how its done with her slinky blues take on “May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas,” and Paul McCartney – who's made something of a cottage industry of insinuating himself onto indie collections and tribute albums – keeps the schmaltz to a minimum on a crisp, heartfelt “The Christmas Song.”
Contributions from Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten, The Head and the Heart and the Heartless Bastards (fine Christmassy name there), among others, all combine to make this one a keeper. Let’s hope I feel the same way on Dec. 26.
If you prefer your Christmas songs one at a time, here are two more than worth the cost of the download:
· “Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights),” J.D. McPherson. McPherson applies his honking ’50s-era style and Little Richard-esque vocals to a rocking holiday number worthy of any Christmas sock hop.
· “All Alone on Christmas,” The Midtown Men. Stevie Van Zandt of the E Street Band channeled Phil Spector when he wrote the song for Darlene Love, and this version by former “Jersey Boys” stars The Midtown Men keeps the same vibe, while ambling through a sharp new arrangement by Van Zandt. Plus, all proceeds go to Hurricane Sandy relief.
Peter Chianca blogs for Gatehouse Media’s Blogness on the Edge of Town and is author of “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.