The wooziest, weirdest Christmas album this year is Bootsy Collins' impish, elfish Christmas Is 4 Ever (Shout! Factory, A-), introduced with the pre-emptive warning, “I'm sure there's going to be more than one unpleasant surprise before we're done.”
Decorating with free-style rap and spunky singing, trippy scratching and bouncy rubber horns, Collins lets loose with a “colorized” audio movie about the holiday, “N-You City” and celebrates a highly intoxicated “Happy Holidaze” with help from Snoop Dogg.
Classic Christmas tunes are stomped on and changed up, too, like the big-band/hip-hop rewrite of Rudolph, now a “funky soul reindeer.” Composer Johnny Marks may be rolling in his grave, but you'll be rolling on the floor with laughter.
Also good for some perverse holiday cheer is comic swinger Richard Cheese's collection, Silent Nightclub (Surfdog, B).
The (intentionally) worst lounge act ever, Cheese makes unlikely holiday connections to Madonna's “Like a Virgin” and Vanilla Ice's “Ice Ice Baby,” pays homage to the Barking Dogs' rendering of “Jingle Bells” and hopes that Santa won't let him crap out at the tables on “Christmas in Las Vegas,” a ruthlessly sardonic piece of special material.
Hall and Oates' classic, creamy R&B stylings are applied with exceedingly good care to Home for Christmas (DKE, A), a distinctive and hearth-warming package of Philly-style cheer.
Standouts include the first-rate original, “No Children Should Ever Cry on Christmas” and the rousing, gospel-flavored read of “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”
TWANGIN' AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE
George Strait plays ‘em way too straight on Fresh Cut Christmas (Hallmark, C). It's only available at Hallmark stores, but why bother?
Even more boring is Wynonna's assembly-line production, A Classic Christmas (Curb, C-), hardly salvaged by a show-closing original.
Really jumping out of this pack is Brad Paisley Christmas (Arista, A-). What makes this set are clever Paisley originals, including the instant legend of Santa's high-tech, secret-agent snoop, “Penguin, James Penguin”; the morning-after, wishful thinking of “364 Days to Go”; the flashback to a 13-year-old Brad (on the “Jamboree USA” radio show) debuting his very own “Born on Christmas Day”; and the political-correctness-slamming skit and song, “Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday,” which bleeps “Christ” out of all yer favorite tunes.
KOSHER FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Speaking of which, please to note how that nice Jewish lady Bette Midler neatly segues out of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” just before the zinger affirmation, “Christ our Lord,” on her new album Cool Yule (Columbia, A-).
Midler's entertaining variety show mix of swinging seasonals (“I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “Mele Kalikimaka”) and poignant ballads (including a slightly rewritten and heart-rending “From a Distance”) is so ecumenical it could play on Shalom TV. Special guest Johnny Mathis joins on a classic counterpoint medley of “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow!”
Threatening to set back Judeo-Christian relations, by contrast, is Dee Snider's heavy-metal assault on the seasonal fare, fronting Twisted Sister on A Twisted Christmas (Razor & Tie, D).
A CRUNCHY GRANOLA CHRISTMAS
Sarah McLachlan evokes a snowy, north country holiday with the wispy, atmospheric Wintersong (Arista, B+).
Smoky, sorrowful stylist Aimee Mann's One More Drifter in the Snow (Super Ego, B) is not what you need to hear if you're already in a holiday-spawned depression. On the upside: the relatively obscure Jimmy Webb song, “Whatever Happened to Christmas,” and Mann's wonderful original, “Calling on Mary,” are important additions to the oeuvre.
As this title very aptly implies, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (Walt Disney, C) is not a festive filmic romp in the snow. Halloween goblins discover that other holiday and kidnap “Sandy Claws.” Dark and spooky music by Danny Elfman prevails.
© 2006, Philadelphia Daily News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.