Holiday music sucks!  No, actually it’s only sappy overplayed Christmas music that gets annoying.  The listening environment counts too.  Anything played at Christmas Tree Shops while you are waiting for your mom to decide what size glass beads to buy will torture you.  Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane could be jamming right in front of you but the stink of scented candles and the puddle of sweat inside your jacket will ruin everything.

Relax.  The truth is there are some really great Christmas CDs available.  Here is a guide to some holiday music that won’t kill you.

Part One:  Christmas Present

Various Artists – We Wish You a Metal Christmas and a Headbanging New Year

The obvious comparison is to Twisted Sister’s 2006 release Twisted Christmas. This is way better.
The CD was produced by Ronnie James Dio’s wife/manager and one of the Kulick brothers.  (I can never remember which one is the producer and which was in Kiss, but it doesn’t matter for this review.)  It contains twelve very well-known Christmas songs performed by very well-known 70s and 80s metal and hard rock guys.  Here are just a few of the bands they were in:  Kiss, Motorhead, David Lee Roth (not him, thankfully), Alice Cooper (yes, him), ZZ Top, Foo Fighters, Black Sabbath, Dokken, Dio, Styx, Judas Priest, and Deep Purple.

The lineup is what makes this CD so successful.  All the musicians are really good (much better than anybody in Twisted Sister), but it’s really the variety that makes this work.  The concept could get boring very quickly (Beatallica, anyone?).  A different lineup and singer on every track keeps things fresh.

If you think you might like it, you probably will.  If not, read on…

Enya – And Winter Came…

Like the previous selection, this is exactly what you would expect.  Remember the song that goes “Sail away, sail away, sail away?”  No, not Randy Newman.  I mean the one that sounds like the music Jet Blue plays when it’s time to get off the plane.

This CD sounds just like everything else Enya has done. If you like her ethereal vocals, orchestral synth playing and new agey Celticness, you will dig this.  Holiday CDs can frequently disappoint, but I think this one works because Enya put a lot into it.  She wrote ten of the twelve songs and came up with interesting arrangements for the other two.

Many songs are not specifically about Christmas.  Some just refer to winter or the Star of Bethlehem.  Two songs are about time passing, which makes them really more appropriate for the Winter Solstice or New Years.

James Taylor – At Christmas

Smarm Sandwich.

Various Artists – The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs

This new compilation showcases the new generation of female singer-songwriters. It’s mostly very good, but I find myself skipping some of the standards.  That’s to be expected from a holiday comp and I don’t think it’s a big problem, especially for people who really like this kind of music.  Many of these women are good songwriters and it’s the original songs that I find most compelling.  Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, Brandi Carlisle, Lenka, Meiko, and Colbie Caillat all contributed very interesting songs.  Priscilla Ahn’s version of “Silent Night” is really cool and a couple lesser names handle their standards well.  KT Tunstall, Alice Smith, Katy Perry, and Nicole Atkins are among those who decided to turn their chestnuts into torch songs.

Like the metal CD, if you think you’ll like this, you probably will.

I’ll be back soon with Christmas Past and Future.  Shine on.

Rock Dad is hoping whoever brings presents for the winter solstice brings him the Genesis 1970-75 box set and a good rock and mineral field guide.