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Holiday listening expands beyond classics

December 08, 2004 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

Like most years, 2004 has produced a bounty of holiday albums.

Here's an overview of the good, the rad and the downright sad choices for your holiday listening pleasure — or pain.

• "Barenaked for the Holidays," by the Barenaked Ladies, Desperation Records.

These platinum-selling Canadian pop-rockers never have been known for re-straint, so it figures that "Barenaked for the Holidays" checks in with a more-than-generous 20 tracks. Unfortunately, more than a few tracks, such as the cheesy in-strumental versions of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "O Holy Night" and the less-than-funny "Deck the Stills" and "I Have a Little Dreidel," are pure filler.

But worthy songs, such as the creative re-working of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentle-men/We Three Kings" — with Sarah McLachlan providing harmonies — and entertaining originals like "Elf's Lament," save "Barenaked for the Holidays" from being a holiday dud.

• "Have a Twilley Christmas," by Dwight Twilley, DMI Records.

Twilley became a critic's favorite with a couple of late 1970s rocking pop albums — "Sincerely" and "Twilley Don't Mind" — but never has enjoyed much chart success. This six-song EP though is a remin-der of Twilley's songwriting talents.

Original tunes like the bouncy "Christ-mas Stars," the punchy rocker "Christmas Night" and the offbeat "Christmas With the Martians" shine brightly.

• "Everything You Want for Christ-mas," by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Van-guard Records.

Fun is the word throughout this CD, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy bring its swinging horn-filled sound to songs like Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," "Is Zat You Santa Claus?" and "Blue Christmas."

The band's smart sense of humor is obvious on the original tune, "Last Night (I Went Out With Santa Claus)" and the obscure nuggets "Mr. Heatmiser" and "A Party for Santa."

• "Merry Christmas With Love," by Clay Aiken, RCA Records.

The "American Idol" runner-up does faithful, tastefully orchestrated versions of standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "O Holy Night" and "Joy to the World." A couple of less obvious choices, such as "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and "Don't Save It All For Christmas Day," help give this disc a slight element of originality.

But mostly, this kind of holiday album has been done to death, particularly by dozens of artists whose vocal talents and creative credentials surpass those of Aiken.

• "Rejoyce the Christmas Album," by Jessica Simpson, Columbia Records.

The one-time teen pop diva-wannabe and current multi-media star, Simpson manages some pleasant performances on the CD, like the rocking version of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" and a nice cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," sung with hubby Nick Lachey.

Otherwise, Simpson plays it safe, stick-ing to standards as "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)," "O Holy Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy, which features sister Ashlee Simpson providing guest vocals.

• "Silver & Gold," By Vanessa Williams, Lava Records.

In the liner notes Williams writes about trying to bring warmth and tenderness to "Silver & Gold," and this album sounds like a labor of love and not a hastily assembled product meant to cash in on the holiday season.

Highlights include a jazzy and funky version of "Joy to the World" with Brian Mc-Knight adding guest vocals, the Latin-tinged "Mary's Little Boy Child," the jazzy "Winter Weather" and the gospel-influenced "Rise Up, Shepherd And Follow."

• "Music From the OC: Mix 3 Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah," by various artists, Warner Sunset/Warner Bros. Records.

The Fox television hit, "The OC," may not have that much to do with the holidays, but this collection of tunes brought together under the show's banner is quite humorous and all together entertaining.

Contributors include A-list modern rock talents such as the Eels, Jimmy Eat World and the Raveonettes.

• "Christmas With the Kranks," by various artists, Hollywood Records.

By most accounts, the movie "Christmas With the Kranks" is nothing special.

But this eclectic soundtrack has its share of holiday treats, including "Merry Christ-mas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" by the Ramones, "Hey Santa Claus" by the Stonesy garage rockers the Chesterfield Kings and a humorous contribution by a group called the Butties, who combine "Joy to the World" with the Beatles' "Please Please Me."

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