This week's music |


This week's music

From Nat King Cole's ''Christmas for Kids'' to ''Martha Stewart Living: Home for the Holidays,'' we rate this week's holiday albums

Christmas for Kids: From One to Ninety-Two
Forget the marketing ploy that this collection is rugrat-ready. (They’ll be too busy with PlayStation 2.) Instead think of this set, which includes several tunes never before released on CD, as wondrous, romantic fare for wide-eyed big kids. Cole sings with such warm, disbelief-suspending authority that even wacky lyrics like ”little Christmas tree/…give yourself to me” sound plausible and seductive. A
Craig Seymour

Navidad Cubana
With Cuban music hotter than Havana in August, Christmas albums were only a matter of time. Here, the not-so-cleverly-named L.A. outfit works traditional holiday melodies into its instrumental style with little imagination. As with any decent salsa, toe tapping is unavoidable (particularly on upbeat numbers like ”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and ”Good King Wenceslas”), but the flute solo on ”Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” makes me wish I lived somewhere else. C-
Evan Serpick

Martha Stewart Living: Home for the Holidays
No one questions Stewart’s ability to whip up a Christmas feast for 13 cents, but can she compile a collection of holiday music? Fear not. Along with instructions on making snow globes, this bundle of cheer includes noels from Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, and the Pretenders. Any album that includes Eartha Kitt purring her way through ”Santa Baby” two tracks away from Charles Brown’s bluesy ”Merry Christmas Baby” deserves a spin at least once a year. B+

Blue Christmas
As a mainstream country artist, Shelton, a hunky sex symbol with a somewhat operatic pop voice, never got much respect. But his Christmas album finds him in his glory, doing an Elvis impersonation on the title cut, adding a schmaltzy jazz lick to ”Winter Wonderland,” and turning warm as a yule log on the ballads. Who needs Andy Williams? B
Alanna Nash

Sleighed: The Other Side of Christmas
Now this is more like it — a Christmas disc brimming with crass, tasteless tunes (the Little Stinkers’ ”I Farted on Santa’s Lap [Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink for Me],” Less Than Jake’s ”Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”) and wiseass offerings from Beck (”The Little Drum Machine Boy”) and Sonic Youth (”Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope”). The perfect holiday album for the Grinch in us all. B+

The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album/Christmas With John Fahey Vol. II
Long before there was Leo Kottke, let alone Alex de Grassi and his ilk, maverick instrumentalist Fahey was coaxing out patches of vintage Americana from his acoustic guitar. Filled with heartfelt and adventurous interpretations of familiar and durable holiday melodies (”It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” ”Auld Lang Syne”), The New Possibility — here combined with tracks from a later Fahey Christmas recording — has been a deserved insider favorite since its 1968 release. A
Steve Futterman

Yule B’ Swingin’ Too!
This second collection of venerable jazz artists performing seasonal music dredges the bottom of the eggnog bowl. Some songs — Ella Fitzgerald’s rich, reverential ”White Christmas” — strike the right note, but the arch approach of swingers like Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, and Jimmy Dorsey is more redolent of palm trees and open verandas than evergreens and roaring fireplaces. C+
David Hiltbrand

A Charlie Brown Christmas
The original soundtrack to 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a holiday staple because Vince Guaraldi’s spare, plaintive jazz-piano-based score suggests the melancholy often lurking beneath the mistletoe. Unfortunately, pianist Chestnut’s update of the classic largely favors showy musicianship over a contemplative mood, with full-bodied instrumentation and vocal guest spots by Brian McKnight and Vanessa Williams. It’s enough to make a Peanuts purist go ”AAUGH!” B-

NBC Celebrity Christmas
Happy birthday, Jesus! Wanna hear stars from series like Frasier, Just Shoot Me, and The West Wing sing Christmas carols? Are you sure? Actually, Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes gives a charming performance of ”The Christmas Song,” and ER’s Alex Kingston bravely warbles the odd, medieval-sounding ”Coventry Carol.” The whole thing is pretty tacky, but a portion of the proceeds goes to charity, and Jay Leno’s vigorous reading of ”’Twas the Night Before Christmas” is really…fast. D+
Kristen Baldwin