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A brief guide to holiday music.

By Michael Henningsen

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  First off, it's not all cool. In fact, holiday music for some is as welcome a seasonal addition to their lives as gout. Truth be known, most Christmas music embodies the very soul of commercialism--how many versions of the same old carols do we need to hear in a lifetime? The answer, of course, is plenty. And with annual regularity. Because, while most holiday tunes amount to little more than the pinnacle of cheesedom, they also serve to get us in the spirit of the season. It's amazing to me that so many holiday-based recordings are made and released each year. For this piece alone, I was charged with sorting through upwards of 30 releases, most of them new. What follows is a Christmas "wish list" of sorts, seven (that's the Lord's number) records recommended to offer a diverse cross-section of the best of musical holiday cheer. Deck your stereo!

RIYL = Recommended If You Like ...


Elvis Presley
If Every Day was Like Christmas (RCA) reissue

RIYL: Well, Elvis. And everything you eat chicken-fried.

Sounds Like: The King had too much time on his hands. But this one's got 24 tracks, including some rocked-up versions of the classics as well as several more contemporary songs.

Makes You Feel ... : Like the world is a much simpler, crime-, hunger- and worry-free place than it really is--the ultimate denial record

Best Song: C'mon! "Blue Christmas," for Christ's sake!

Worst Song: "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Biggest Selling Point: "Christmas Message From Elvis/Silent Night"

Cheese Factor: Kraft Singles


Various Artists
Celtic Christmas III (Windham Hill)

RIYL: Overcast skies and Irish whiskey

Sounds Like: The IRA is on vacation

Makes You Feel ... : Relaxed and reflective

Best Song: "The South Wind" by Paddy Glackin and Micheal O' Domhnaill

Worst Song: They're all quite nice

Biggest Selling Point: "Boasts an all-star line-up"

Cheese Factor: Sharp cheddar


RuPaul
Ho Ho Ho (Rhino)

RIYL: Liposuction, breast implants and a tummy tuck

Sounds Like: A Superfly holiday

Makes You Feel ... : Like a natural woman

Best Song: "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus"

Worst Song: "Santa Baby"

Biggest Selling Point: Whole lotta woMan

Cheese Factor: Whiz


Asleep at the Wheel
Merry Texas Christmas, Y'all (High Street)

RIYL: Tejano music, Mojo Nixon and Willie Nelson

Sounds Like: Christmas in July

Makes You Feel ... : Like there's still a God ... and a Santa Claus

Best Song: "X-Mas in Jail" and "Silent Night" featuring Don Walser and Willie Nelson

Worst Song: "Feliz Navidad" featuring Tish Hinojosa and Ray Benson

Biggest Selling Point: The perfect accompaniment to barbecue and Shiner Bock

Cheese Factor: Head


Jim Brickman
The Gift (Windham Hill)

RIYL: Solo piano, Suzanne Ciani and George Winston

Sounds Like: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Makes You Feel ... : Like having another glass of wine

Best Song: "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Winter Peace"

Worst Song: "Starbright" featuring (ugh!) Kenny Loggins

Biggest Selling Point: That whole "I'm a sensitive Alan Alda-type" thing

Cheese Factor: Brie


Vince Charles and Friends
A Caribbean Christmas (Oglio Records)

RIYL: Steel Drums and lounge kitsch

Sounds Like: An excuse to smoke dope on Christmas Eve (as if you need another one)

Makes You Feel ... : Like you're on a cruise

Best Song: "Joy to the World"

Worst Song: "Away in a Manger"

Biggest Selling Point: There's nothing quite like it

Cheese Factor: Cream


Various Artists for the Earth
A Very Green Christmas (Seventh Wave)

RIYL: Lots of drama and curious, sweeping arrangements

Sounds Like: The environmental activists are at it again

Makes You Feel ... : Responsible, like Smokey the Bear

Best Song: "Oh Holy Night" by Suzanne Ciani

Worst Song: "Adeste Fideles" by Suzanne Ciani

Biggest Selling Point: Love your Mother

Cheese Factor: Cheese is dairy which is from animals which is cruel. Somehow.


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