Here are the ones we're still listening to.
1. Maybe This Christmas Too, Various Artists (Nettwerk)
This is the sequel to one of our favorites from last year (same title, minus the "Too"), and both are an attempt to appeal to the music consumer who's a bit too hip to plunk down $18 for that Streisand Christmas album. (Incidentally, why does every Jew with a recording contract at one point or another feel compelled to turn out a Christmas album?) Last year's version collected both tried-and-true holiday classics and newly penned original takes on the season (our faves included Coldplay, Bright Eyes and Ron Sexsmith), and this year's model is more of the same, albeit with different artists. Too runs the gamut from megasellers like the Dave Matthews Band and Barenaked Ladies to indies like Rilo Kiley and The Be Good Tanyas. Plus, as with last year's version, some of the songs you most anticipate are some of the weakest (The Flaming Lips' "White Christmas," for example), and the ones you didn't think you cared so much about turn out to be unexpected surprises (e.g., Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan's rewritten "Silent Night," Rufus Wainwright's "Spotlight on Christmas," Eisley's "The Christmas Song"). Perhaps the most unintentionally bizarre contribution here: Avril Lavigne and Chantal Kreviazuk's bravely non pitch-corrected version of "O Holy Night," which reveals that if it weren't for charm, The Matrix and studio technology, the multi-platinum Canuck would still pining over sk8er bois in anonymity. A portion of the proceeds go to Toys for Tots.
2. Putumayo Presents Christmas Around the World, Various Artists (Putumayo)
Celebrating 10 years of issuing albums from some of the best-known world music performers--their regional compilations are excellent starting points for world music novices--Putumayo has released this follow-up to 2000's A Putumayo World Christmas. A caveat to those who own the first one: Strangely, the new album lazily duplicates four songs found on the original track. Still, for a truly original peek into what Christmas sounds like outside of our homeland (mostly, anyway, as four of the artists are American, although they largely turn in stylized performances, e.g., Michael Doucet's Cajunized take on "We Three Kings"), you can't lose with either. It's rather remarkable to hear melodies drilled into our brains year after year presented in such anomalous fashion. The disc travels from Haiti (New York Troubadour's "Yoyeux Noel") to France (Los Reyes' "White Christmas") and Barbados (Banks Soundtech Steel Orchestra's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen") to Cuba (Ramon F. Velez's "Paz en la Tierra, Joy to the World"), and you get to reap the aural benefits from the comfort of your dysfunctional family's home. A portion of the proceeds go to the nonprofit Putumayo Cross-Cultural Initiative.
3. Ho Ho Hospice, Various Artists (Volunteer Records)
Here's one of our favorites from last year, and we're telling you about it again for three reasons: It wasn't very well distributed last year, so it was extremely hard to find; the folks who put it out are looking for submissions for next year's sequel (take note, local bands); and, it's simply that good. A two-disc set that rounds up 49 songs, the compilation focuses mostly on original holiday-themed songs (with a couple of traditionals tossed in) that most often fall under the heading of modern guitar-pop, contributed by artists well known to fans of this stuff, like The dBs, Klark Kent (aka Stuart Copeland of The Police), Whiskeytown's Mike Daly, NRBQ, Five Iron Frenzy, Red Dirt Rangers, Flat Duo Jets and Graham Parker & Nona Hendryx, as well as artists you've never heard of, but might actually want to seek out once you hear this. All proceeds go to the care of hospice patients. Available at all Tower and Virgin stores (not that there are either of these in Tucson), or online at www.cdbaby.com for only $15.98. For info on how to contribute a song to next year's compilation, point your browser to www.hohohospice.com.