HOLIDAY CD REVIEW 

VARIOUS ARTISTS
God Bless America
(Columbia)
**1/2

It would be very funny if Celine Dion sang so hard while performing "God Bless America" that she actually choked on her own vomit, because I'm choking on mine just listening to her. And besides, she's from Canada. Thank god, however, that the booze-cured corpse of Ol' Blue Eyes is exhumed for a haunting rendition of "America the Beautiful"--for if anyone signifies the U. S. of A. to me, it's Frank Sinatra.

This album is a disappointment. And it's not even a Christmas album, but it's the perfect stocking stuffer for this embarrassingly patriotic holiday season. Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." is trotted out yet again, still fresh after the gazillionth karaoke performance. In fact, there's nothing new on this album, save for Dion's track and an "unreleased live acoustic version" of John Mellencamp's "Peaceful World." I love John Mellencamp, but classic turns of phrase like "If you're not part of the future, then get out of the way" just aren't working for me in my present state of mind.


DESTINY'S CHILD
8 Days of Christmas
(Sony/Columbia)
***1/2

If you're looking for the best new Christmas album for this year, look no further than Destiny's Child's 8 Days of Christmas, a Christmas record that actually has some meat to it. 8 Days opens with the title track, which is destined to be a classic. Sample lyrics: "On the fourth day of Christmas my baby gave to me/a candlelight dinner just for me and my honey/On the third day of Christmas my baby gave to me/a gift certificate to get my favorite CDs/On the second day of Christmas my baby gave to me/the keys to a CLK Mercedes/On the first day of Christmas my baby gave to me/qua-li-ty T-I-M-E!" Damn, girl, damn! The song is a hyperactive romp, replete with plinking bells, thick, juicy R&B/hiphop beats, and the divine voices of the mistresses Kelly, Michelle, and Beyoncé.

No, Christmas doesn't get any better than this. The remainder of the album is smooth, soulful, and exactly what should be playing in every spirited holiday home. Beyoncé kicks out a gorgeously overwrought version of "Silent Night," showcasing her magnificent voice; and the other gem is "A DC Christmas Medley," with snippets of "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Frosty the Snowman," "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," and "Deck the Halls."

When these girls go "thumpity-thump-thump" during the "Frosty" section, your booty will most definitely be going bumpity-bump-bump. I don't know about y'all, but after one spin of this disc, I'm dreaming of a black Christmas. Haaaaay!


BARBRA STREISAND
Christmas Memories

(Sony/Columbia)
**

America's most self-indulgent perfectionist turns out yet another Christmas album. What could be worse? Barbra does reggae? But I'm being harsh... because I secretly love the idea of Jews doing Christmas albums. I feel Babs' condescension in all the right places. Crack open Christmas Memories, however, and there's not a trace of irony, or even humor, to be found. Indeed, Streisand is characteristically so full of Christmas whimsy (and of her own self-worth), you begin to think she's Mrs. Claus herself. The accompanying easy-listening music vacillates between lushly orchestrated strings (er, studio keyboards) and tinny, '80s-caliber backtracks over which Streisand's voice is prominent, degraded, and cheap. As expected, Streisand busts out "Ave Maria," which is actually very pretty, as well as newly penned songs like "Closer," destined for the schmaltz pile.

The most revealing thing about this record, however, isn't the songs themselves, but Streisand's grandstanding liner notes: "I had finished recording all the songs for this album when September 11th, 2001 happened. The United States... indeed our world... would never be the same.... To all those who grieve those who have perished ["Perished"? Very Presbyterian there, Babs]... may you celebrate their precious lives with gratitude for the time you had together...." Thanks, Barbra.


GARTH BROOKS
Call Me Claus
(CD single)
(Capitol)
*

Call you Claus? No, I'm not going to call your wannabe, redneck ass "Claus." Especially not if this three-song sampler of selections taken from the upcoming Capitol release The Magic of Christmas is the kind of holiday cheer you're capable of mustering, Garth. "'Zat You, Santa Claus?" is a stretch for Brooks, and I'm always a fan of a cowboy who's willing to stretch. Unfortunately, it's a stretch in the wrong direction.

The production, coupled with Brooks' willfully hammy vocal delivery, sounds more like a selection from a high school production of A Chorus Line than a timeless Christmas classic. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is impotent as all hell, replete with a chorus of women practically screaming "Mary had a little lamb of God"--presumably with the intention of sounding impassioned, but ultimately sounding like the Supremes on helium. The title song, "Call Me Claus," is an original. Yeesh. I will go so far as to say that I feel betrayed (not to mention violated) by Brooks' Christmas selection. It's fluffed up by a glib, awful section of horns, and Brooks' voice is so wimpy and chipper, I suspect he's been hanging out with the cast of Rent to prepare for this Yuletide bullshit he's trying to dump on us. If Garth Brooks is a cowboy, I'm Tom Waits.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Our Favorite Things

(Sony Classical)
*** (Based on my Uncle Bob's holiday music criteria.)

If I'm not mistaken, Sinatra once said that Tony Bennett had "balls of brass," but here his chestnuts are merely roasting on an open fire. Don't get me wrong. My Uncle Bob would be "milking the old Italian cow beneath the mistletoe" to this album. And if that didn't leave him spent, "O Holy Night," featuring Charlotte Church and Plàcido Domingo would more than finish him off. Church's voice is undeniably beautiful, while Domingo has turned into a self-parody. But the real treat--the one that would have old Uncle Bob in a tailspin--is Vanessa Williams' "Do You Hear What I Hear?" ("Do you see what I see?" Yep--your legs, spread across seven pages of Penthouse.)

When attempting to gauge exceedingly traditional holiday material, I always use my wise, drunken Uncle Bob's criteria: Is the orchestration painfully overwrought? Absolutely. Do the vocalists smoothly bludgeon me with every phrase? No doubt about it. And, lastly, does the album feature at least one hot chick who's appeared in Penthouse? Score!

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