· Also packed with slick playing is The Jethro Tull Christmas Album by Ian Anderson and company. Featuring nine original compositions and a few traditional songs such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Greensleeves," Anderson's flute is quick and masterful, drawing out all riches of a medieval forest Christmas. With Martin Barre's stellar guitar work and guest viola and cello, this is a classical Christmas that's not stuffy or boring.
· Audio cut-up chemists and DJ mix-masters will feel at home with Six Degrees Records' Christmas Remixed, re-grooving dried chestnuts through twin turntables, all cozy with martinis and beer nuts. This space-age hip-hop mishmashes vocal loops of oldie-moldies over modern beats with surprising results. Classics by Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Kay Starr, and Dean Martin go under the splicing knife, holding onto the integrity of the original melody while spinning, dipping, and funkin' through a dust storm of electronic re-interpretation. One highlight is NMO's re-mix of Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," selecting just a snatch of his vocal passages and tumbling them into a rotating, drunken groove. Sometimes it's creepy how cool the re-mix feels, like the sexy cartoon taunt of Louis Armstrong's and Velma Middleton's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," re-invented by Mulatto Beat. Other re-mixers include Dan the Automator, Mocean Worker, Attaboy, and Robbie Hardkiss.
· Another music re-animator has taken a different route, letting his Fab Four flag fly. Tom Marolda of The Toms hides behind St. Nick's Lonely Hearts Band, a well-executed CD tribute to the studio sound of The Beatles. In what might be considered an impossible challenge, he re-interprets 13 classic Christmas songs such as "Frosty the Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by performing them one by one in the style (and in the order) of the songs on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Strange but true. The Not Lame Records' release also contains two bonus originals.
· Slowing things way down into the rhythm of a snowfall at night, Mobile Records offers up a dreamy and pensive Seasonal Greetings: A Compilation of 13 Christmas & Winter Songs. Opening with Low's underwater masterpiece "Long Way Around the Sea," the tender set heaves with sad strings and ethereal electronic pulses. Lovingly crafted from new songs by Orso, Badly Drawn Boy, Opiate, and others, the collection also features rarities including Saint Etienne's 1993 seven-inch B side "My Christmas Prayer" and Komeit's "Atomized" from 2000. A nice surprise is housed in the CD's booklet: a re-printing of Paul Auster's "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story," first published in the New York Times on Christmas Day 1990.
· The Very Special Christmas CD series expands to a sixth edition this year with the Very Special Acoustic Christmas collection on Lost Highway Records. Benefiting Special Olympics, the cover contributions and originals are from top-shelf singers-songwriters on the Southern side of the tracks, including Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley, Alan Jackson, Dan Tyminski, and Rhonda Vincent. One cosmopolitan cut stands out: Norah Jones' beautiful rendition of Horace Silver's "Peace."
· If you want your Christmas vibe classic and tasteful, check out jazz pianist Eric Reed's new Merry Magic, the second release in the new holiday series from Max Jazz Records. Instrumental with the exception of a few smooth vocal tracks such as the romantic "What Are You Doing on New Year's Eve," this 13-cut CD from the child prodigy and his trio is candlelight-jazz heaven. A classy caress in its softer selections, this one should come wrapped in mistletoe. Other traditions run through their fingers include "Santa Baby," "The Christmas Song," and Sammy Cahn's "Christmas Blues."
· The most mainstream new compilation, Nettwerk Records' Maybe This Christmas Too?, packs songs from Rufus Wainwright, Sixpence None the Richer, the Dave Matthews Band, and Barenaked Ladies, but the most fantastic must-hear Christmas track of the season is nestled within. Simple, brave, and free in its hopefulness, the Flaming Lips' cover of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" is like an outtake from the Eraserhead soundtrack; the words rise through the night air like helium balloons as Wayne Coyne's warbling croon wishes well his fellow man. I feel the love, Wayne.
· Speaking of the Flaming Lips, their recent Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell EP features a new yuletide nugget, "A Chance at Christmas (Say It Isn't So)." Other cool Christmas tracks are found scattered among a handful of new CDs. The return of Pat Benatar with her new Go album on the Bel Chiasso label features a hidden bonus track, the thankful and somber "Christmas in America" from 2001, written in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Oregon native Tom Heinl shares his holiday ditty "Christmas Tree on Fire" on his new With or Without Me CD on the Leisure King imprint. Heinl introduces his new "Stereoke" concept on the disc, as the CD contains both a vocal and vocal-free version so you can sing along the next time you try to fight a family-room blaze with a tube sock and a couch cushion.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno welcomes Tom Jones tonight, Sting on Thursday, Ruben Studdard on Friday, The Blind Boys of Alabama on Monday, and Train on Tuesday; The Late Show with David Letterman hosts Rod Stewart on Thursday, The Alkaline Trio on Friday, and Alicia Keys on Monday; Late Night with Conan O'Brien boasts Michelle Branch this evening overnight, Randy Newman on Friday overnight, and My Morning Jacket on Monday overnight; Last Call with Carson Daly features Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on Friday overnight; Jimmy Kimmel Live offers No Doubt on Thursday overnight and G. Love & Special Sauce on Friday overnight; and Saturday Night Live's musical guest this weekend is Jet.