Various Artists ‘Holidays Rule'
Here's a seasonal sampler of ear candy for you: Paul McCartney crooning an old-fashioned arrangement of Mel Torme's classic “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” alongside indie-popsters The Shins' Beach Boys-style cover of McCartney's original “Wonderful Christmastime.”
Yes, McCartney's name crops up a couple of times since the various-artists collection “Holidays Rule” is, after all, on Sir Paul's MPL Communications label, but there's more variety to be found in here than in Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. There's alt-rockers fun. giving an upbeat treatment to “Sleigh Ride” with its ELO-influenced orchestral sound; singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten doing a lounge-y jazz duet rendition of “Baby, It's Cold Outside”; Calexico bringing a haunting Southwestern flavor to the acoustic guitar and brass of “Green Grows the Holly”; the Heartless Bastards bringing rural barroom sadness of “Blue Christmas”; Fruit Bats getting playfully folk-poppy on “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and on and on with selections both familiar and obscure by the likes of Punch Brothers, The Head and the Heart, Irma Thomas and the Preservation Jazz Hall Band, the Civil Wars and Holly Golightly.
Like the liner notes say, it's a nice list, worth checking at least twice.
— Gene Triplett
The Polyphonic Spree ‘Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One' (Kirtland Records)
Ex-Tripping Daisy leader Tom DeLaughter's heavenly, robe-draped choir, the Dallas-based Polyphonic Spree, has finally made its first holiday album, “Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One,” and it's a beauty, especially if you're enamored of the kind of orchestral dream-pop the Flaming Lips have been known to create on such modern classics as “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshima Battles the Pink Robots.”
In fact, the music of DeLaughter's large, theatrical assemblage has often been favorably compared to Oklahoma City's psychedelic sons of the underground, which is dazzlingly justified on the Spree's magnificent, harmony-layered cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” its spacey deconstruction of “Silver Bells” (featuring the School of the Seven Bells), its shimmering reworking of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the joyously rhythmic “Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy).”
It's all wondrous weirdness, but it maintains the spirit of the holidays — and all of its moods — throughout.
— Gene Triplett
Various Artists ‘Festivus' (Highline Records)
London indie label Highline Records trots out the best from its stable of alternative talent for an album of original holiday ditties that includes the Real Tuesday Weld's chiming, piano-driven, jazz-tinged meditation “Song of December,” Piney Gir's bouncy, alt-poppy “Every Day's a Holiday,” Glam Chops' playfully punkish “Countdown to Christmas” (featuring British alt-rock band Art Brut's Eddie Argos on vocals), and Los Angeles-based chanteuse Correatown's whimsically folky “Christmas Time is Here.”
Will any of these tracks become seasonal classics? Maybe not. But this one's for good little music geeks looking for something completely different stuffed in their stockings this year.
— Gene Triplett