· My tip of the top hat for best new holiday CD goes to Maybe This Christmas, a 13-track collection on the Nettwerk label benefiting the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign. Except for Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan's take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a few fan-club rarities, the rest are new compositions or re-interpretations exclusive to the CD.

Taking a somber yet quirky alterative stance, the disc features a nifty lineup that includes Sense Field, Phantom Planet, Vanessa Carlton, and Neil Finn of Crowded House and Split Enz. Highlights include Ron Sexsmith's beautiful title track, Dan Wilson of Semisonic's "What a Year for a New Year," Bright Eyes' laid-back "Blue Christmas," and Coldplay's somber lounge minimalist "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Another yuletide blast new for this year is the Brian Setzer Orchestra's Boogie Woogie Christmas, further infusing the former Stray Cats guitarist's style with big-band swing. The Surfdog Records collection features an all-covers set list, with a duet with Ann-Margaret on "Baby It's Cold Outside," a supercharged "Sleigh Ride," and the obscure "(Everybody's Waitin' for) The Man with the Bag" by Kay Starr.

· Looking for a more subtle tone to trim the tree by? The Inside Out imprint has just released A Christmas Album from the renowned California Guitar Trio. Softly played in the classical style, the traditional selections of "Greensleeves," "Oh Christmas Tree," and "Carol of the Bells" surprisingly wander into beautiful innovations of Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" and John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas/War Is Over."

· Two new super-groups have captured my imagination. Original Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr has formed The Healers, with Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey and Alonsa Bevan of Kula Shaker. The band is set to release its debut early next year, one of many artists hugging up to the musician-friendly iMUSIC/Artist Direct label. Also newly formed and touring through this spring is Eyes Adrift, made up of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Sublime drummer Bud Waugh, and Meat Puppets guitarist Curt Kirkwood. Material from the new group bears the SpinArt label and features the 15-minute "Pasted" as well as the Jon Benet Ramsey-referencing "Inquiring Minds."

· Love & Rockets has just re-issued its self-titled fourth album from 1989, now a two-CD set featuring six bonus tracks and the mysterious Swing! sessions. Recorded at the same time as the original album, the Swing! EP is legendary with fans, featuring the strange shimmy of "The Early Worm," the jangle pop of "1000 Watts of Your Love," and three other tracks that evoke images of the 1950s and Residents-esque creepiness. Also included in this nice Beggars Banquet release are an interview from 1989 and an expanded 20-page booklet.

Television Alert:

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno welcomes the Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik this evening, The Wallflowers on Thursday, and Prince on Friday; The Late Show with David Letterman hosts David Gray on Friday and Coldplay on Monday; Late Night with Conan O'Brien features Brian Setzer on Thursday overnight; Last Call with Carson Daly sits down with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes this evening overnight, The Roots on Thursday overnight, and Tori Amos on Friday overnight; and Saturday Night Live's musical guest this weekend is Phish.

New Releases Coming Tuesday, December 17:
... and like the winds, young grasshopper, are subject to change

Blu Cantrell - Bittersweet (Arista) with guests Missy Elliott and Lady May

Dashboard Confessional - MTV Unplugged 2.0 (Vagrant) acoustic performance from earlier this year with a bonus DVD

Gangs of New York - original motion picture soundtrack (Interscope) soundtrack to the new Martin Scorsese film

Little Jeans - Little Jeans (Asian Man) debut bedroom rock from this Hawaiian quartet

Nas - God's Son (Columbia)

New Order - Retro (Warner Bros) four-CD box set

The Shiners - See Rock City (Planetary Records) second album from this critically acclaimed Americana band from Richmond, Virginia

various artists - Metamorphosis (Le Grand Magistry) featuring The Music Lovers, The Blood Group, and Scarboro Aquarium Club

various artists - The Drive-Thru DVD (Drive-Thru) more than three hours of videos you'll never see on MTV from Senses Fall, New Found Glory, and The Starting Line

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