If you are just starting to build or are looking to add to a collection of yuletide tunes, this year's offerings have something wonderful for any holiday hipster. Following six volumes in his Coolest Songs in the World series, Little Steven Van Zandt and his Wicked Cool Records imprint collect 20 of his holiday favorites in Underground Garage Presents: Christmas A Go Go. Featuring The Ramones, Electric Prunes, Darlene Love, and Rufus Thomas, highlights include Bob Seger's rare "Sock It to Me Santa," Soupy Sales' "Santa Claus Is Surfin' to Town," and Joe Pesci's "If It Doesn't Snow on Christmas."
Billy Bob Thornton and his dapper Boxmasters offer up their Christmas Cheer on Vanguard Records. Finishing out with a mix of happy classics and a cover of John Lennon's "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)," the darker side of the season opens the disc with three originals that tell of spousal abuse, hope denied, family frustration, and jail's cold steel bars. Thanks Billy Bob; perhaps my Christmas won't be so bad after all.
Another broken-hearted Christmas ballad comes from Relient K in "I Hate Christmas Parties" from the band's Let It Snow Baby ... Let It Reindeer collection. Featuring blitzkrieg versions of "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "I'm Getting Nuttin' For Christmas," the holiday is rocking 'cause "Santa Claus Is Thumbing to Town."
The sunniest present in the bag is a CD meant for the kids but sure to made adults smile. The Wee Hairy Beasties boast a mighty indie-rock pedigree, bringing together The Mekons' Jon Langford and Sally Timms with Kelly Hogan and Devil in a Woodpile into a roots combo that hasn't forgotten monsters in the shadows, tummy trouble, and the "Belly Button Blues." Peppered with friendly PSAs about yellow snow, cleaning up after yourself, and eating your greens, the new Holidays Gone Crazy CD features the title track and "Dinosaur Christmas."
Most likely to be heard at David Lynch's, Tom Green's, or Crispin Glover's Christmas party this season? Julian Koster's The Singing Saw at Christmastime. The Merge Records release features 12 eternal classics from "Silver Bells" to "O Holy Night" put under the musical saw, flexed and drawn by a bow to produce an eerie, humble melody. Given that the man whose birth we celebrate was a carpenter himself, the lovely, soulful pine of this strange instrument might be the most perfect new music of all.
Amnesty International is the beneficiary of new themed compilation, asking My Brightest Diamond, Blitzen Trapper, and Parenthetical Girls to take childhood memories of Christmas as a launching point for their inclusion on I'll Stay 'Til After Christmas. Project compiler Daniel Gill found good company for the affair, with Au Revoir Simone re-envisioning Vince Guaraldi's classic "Christmastime is Here," Kevin Robinson's new solo project Man of Arms, and Jimmy Tamborello's and Figurine's misty heartbreaker "The Holidays Behind Us."
Cyndi Lauper has teamed up with The Hives for "A Christmas Duel," one of a handful of tunes that can only be found online this year.
Also worth searching for is a Christmas set that just rounded out The Raveonettes' four-part series of digital-only EPs. The duo's hypnotizing "Christmas Song" is a cool stroll into the land of twang guitar and breathy dames.
Analog, needle-dropping enthusiasts get a special treat this season with "Santa's Coming Over" by Low. The limited-edition Sub Pop seven-inch single is perhaps the weirdest - and most thrilling - of any original this year, backed by the joyful Max Romeo classic "The Coming of Jah."
New Releases Coming Tuesday, December 9
Barenaked Ladies - Ships & Dip III (BareNakedLadies.com) DVD documentary of last year's Carnival Cruise; look for the band to depart in February with Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall on "Ships & Dip V"
Ken Block - Drift (Rock Ridge) harmonic, soaring solo debut from the Sister Hazel vocalist, backed by a who's who of Nashville session players
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective (A Records) two-CD reissue from 2004
Cat Power - Dark End of the Street (Matador) six-song EP collecting unreleased material from her recent Jukebox sessions, covering Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now)," The Pogues' "Auld Triangle," and the James Carr title track
Common - Universal Mind Control (Geffen) with guests Cee-Lo, Pharrell Williams, and Chester French
The Dark Knight - original motion picture soundtrack (Warner Bros.) expanded "collector's edition" with a bonus disc of previously unreleased remixes by Paul van Dyk and The Crystal Method
Devo - "Watch Us Work" (iTunes & eMusic) EP featuring the original, karaoke, and Teddy Bears remix of the new song made famous in the Dell Computers ad campaign
Gary Fields - Sounds About Right (Aspirion) a man in the lush, romantic sound of a slower time, this easy-beat young crooner covers standards by Sammy Cahn and others with a cool vibe
Jimi Hendrix - At Last ... The Beginning: The Making of Electric Ladyland (Universal) expanded CD/DVD edition of the 1997 documentary, featuring interviews with Jack Casady, Steve Winwood, and Dave Mason, and bandmates Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding, and Buddy Miles
The Hours - "See the Light" (A&M) gatefold 12-inch and digital-only single; look for the Tony Kaye-directed video staring Sienna Miller
Justice - A Cross the Universe (Atlantic) live CD and DVD directed by Romain Gavras and So-Me
Mark Kozelek - The Finally LP (Caldo Verde) new on his own artist-controlled label; the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon founder shares eight interesting cover choices and other rarities, highlighted by a back-porch-pickin' take on Low's "Lazy," AC/DC's "If You Want Blood," and the "Bedtime Lullaby" from television's Yo Gabba Gabba!
Maroon 5 - Call & Response (A&M) remix collection with hands-on reinterpretations by Paul Oakenfold, Pharrell Williams, David Banner, and Of Montreal
The Smiths - Singles Boxset (Warner Bros.) import-only collection of the band's first 10 singles, plus two new exclusive discs
South Central - The Owl of Minerva (Egregore Music) collection of seven- and 12-inch tracks of invigorating dance rock that bursts with the collaboration between the two DJs and a five-piece backing band
The Welcome Wagon - Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (Asthmatic Kitty) debut produced by Sufjan Stevens
Robert Wyatt - Box Set (Domino) collecting new reissues of nine albums, from 1974's Drury Lane to 2003's Cuckooland
various artists - Revolutions In Sound: Warner Bros. Records - The First 50 Years (Warner Bros.) 10-CD box set celebrating the label's 50th anniversary