Music Article

The Eagles, Jackson 5 and James Brown: Christmas CD preview

Our music experts check out the latest releases to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list

Christmas albums should be enjoyed by the whole family, right? Not in the '90s, Santa baby. Like the turkey at dinner, this year's yuletide discs are carved up into niches — jazz, blues, alterna-rock, country, punk, and, er, music by the cast of Bonanza. So, in the spirit of giving, here's the EW guide to what Christmas albums should warm the hearts of which friends and family members. Kick it, jolly fatman!

For that teenage niece bored with last year's X-mas disc from Mariah Carey: All-4-One's An All-4-One Christmas, wherein the New Hack Swing quartet blandly croon the standards, with mild hip-hop and reggae beats for a contemporary feel. The Andy Williamses of their generation. C

For the rock fan whose rare 45 of the Eagles' ''Please Come Home for Christmas'' is worn out: The charity compilation Christmas of Hope includes that Eagles hit plus songs from Carey, Elton John, and others — but since when is U2's majestic ''New Year's Day'' a Christmas song, and a hopeful one at that? B

For Michael Jackson fans too young to remember the years before Santa gave him a new nose: A Motown Christmas Carol unwraps gems like the Jackson 5's ''Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,'' as well as chestnuts from the Temptations (''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'') and Stevie Wonder (''Silver Bells''), all from the label's heyday. A-

For John Tesh lovers ready to try something new: Jazz To The World brings together such jazz-lite masters as Anita Baker, Stanley Clarke, and Herbie Hancock for an album only one notch above Muzak. C-

For your Aunt Esther, who's such a nut for Luther Vandross she even loved his leaden-fruitcake Songs album: Vandross' This Is Christmas, a modest collection of Quiet Storm-style yuletide standards and soggy originals. B-

For the coed who lost her virginity to the strains of Juliana Hatfield: You Sleigh Me!, a spotty but mostly palatable collection of spirited alter-Nativity, includes the usual standards and originals by Hatfield, Collective Soul, Everything But the Girl, Victoria Williams, Tori Amos, and others. Jill Sobule's goofy ''Merry Christmas From the Family'' does for dysfunctional homecomings in about four minutes what the movie Home for the Holidays squanders two hours on. B

For your Eisenhower-era uncle: Two tube-inspired sets — Christmas in TV Land: Classic Favorites From Holiday Specials and Yules of Yore: TV Land Tunes from Christmas Past — on which standards are warbled by the likes of Dinah Shore and Bonanza's Cartwright boys (TV Land) and John Davidson, Jim Nabors, and Bobby Vinton (Yules of Yore). Both: C

For the party animal at the office: James Brown's Funky Christmas, a jumpin' collection of 17 nontraditional sides (like ''Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto'') from 1966 to 1970. Essential for anyone whose bash needs a jingle-bell backbeat. A

For your acupuncturist: Winter, Fire & Snow mixes artists from the world-beat (Gipsy Kings, Clannad) and adult-contemporary (Julia Fordham, Phoebe Snow) realms, performing originals dull enough to lull you into a New Age trance. C+

For your Mohawked cousin who hangs a Christmas bulb off his nose ring each December: Punk Rock Xmas, carols as twisted as Christmas lights just out of the box, courtesy of such deviant elves as the Ramones and the Dickies. A

For the wacky great-uncle who brings a whoopie cushion to every family gathering: Dr. Demento: Holidays in Dementia, a set of yuletide novelties, including ''A Terrorist Christmas'' (''On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me/A knife with a very sharp blade''). B+

For your Tarantino-loving film-major brother: Two collections steeped in Sturm und Twang. The Blue Hawaiians' Christmas on Big Island dips the standards in slippery slack key guitars and some mock-Elvis singing, while the Ventures' Christmas Album includes surfari-ized versions of ''Jingle Bell Rock'' and ''White Christmas.'' Both: B

For the monster-truck fanatic in the family: The Tractors' rowdy but good-natured Have Yourself a Tractors Christmas, which sounds like Christmas eve in the local roadhouse: ''I can't afford the tinsel/But that's all right with me.'' A-

For the family hell-raiser trying to mellow out this season: Joe Diffie's soothing Mr. Christmas. Then again, he does toss in ''Leroy the Redneck Reindeer.'' B-

For that aging-hipster second cousin who might consider a bunch of Christmas numbers by '80s has-beens ''edgy'': The Edge of Christmas, featuring oldies by Queen, Pat Benatar, and Dave Edmunds. High point: the Pogues' tragic ''Fairytale of New York.'' B-

For that youthful-hipster second cousin who might consider a bunch of sodden Christmas numbers by '90s never-will-bes ''edgy'': The indie-rock collection A Christmas Present For You, featuring bands like Dirt Merchants and kittywinder. Low point: Grover's massacre of the Pogues' ''Fairytale of New York.'' D

For the relative who knows the fine differences between Perry Como and Andy Williams: Santamental Journey — Pop Vocal Christmas Classics celebrates the fruitful years from 1942, when der Bingle's ''White Christmas'' instigated the secular Christmas music craze, to the mid-'60s, when pop-rock novelties began to supplant carolers like Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney. A-

For the boomer who still fondly recalls his first Yes concert: Emerson, Lake & Palmer's I Believe in Father Christmas. The title song has a snowy grandeur, but their ''Nutcracker Suite'' could turn off even Rudolph. C

For that older sister who can't get enough lite FM radio: Amy Grant, Olivia Newton-John, Belinda Carlisle, and others singing the seasonal gloss on Mother & Child. C

For your most obsessive record-collecting pal: Must Be Santa!: The Rounder Christmas Album, a charming collection of oddball Christmas bulbs from NRBQ, George Thorogood, polka kings Brave Combo, and more. A-

For the wife who wishes Dan Fogelberg had made a yuletide album: Clint Black's ambitious Looking for Christmas features new songs written or cowritten by Mr. Lisa Hartman. Maudlin and over-orchestrated at times, but heartfelt. B+

For that friend on Prozac: Even Santa Gets the Blues combines nifty blues old-timers (B.B. King, Charles Brown, etc.) with negligible-to-lousy new recordings from Hadda Brooks and Isaac Hayes. A slapdash (or is that slap-Dasher?) set. C+

For Granny (before she gets run over by a reindeer): Billboard Top Christmas Hymns, featuring Julie Andrews, Ray Conniff with the Singers, and Johnny Mathis — so hearth-shatteringly warm they'll melt the marshmallows on her yams. A+

And for Fluffy and Fido: The barking doggies of The Jungle Dogs: Christmas Unleashed. Finally, Santa Paws leaves a little something under the tree that you don't have to clean up after. A

Originally posted Dec 01, 1995 Published in issue #303 Dec 01, 1995 Order article reprints