Candy Cane Mutiny

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Vonda Shepard/Various Artists
Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas (Epic)

This is a roundup of Christmas music from the past five seasons of Ally McBeal, but, alas, "Gonna Starve Myself for Christmas" isn't on here. Too bad, because that would've definitely made it onto a "Cruel Yule" tape. Instead, we get Vonda Shepard doing to Christmas standards what she does to old girl group hits on the show, but without the welcome plot interruptions and plugs for other great Fox programming. The series' newest cast member is on hand to perform Joni Mitchell's "River," but when Robert Downey Jr. sings "I wish I had a river I could skate away on," it's clearly in violation of his parole.
Rating: It's a regifter!

Michael Ball
Christmas (Hip-O/Universal)

"We've got Yule logs in our trousers": Spinal Tap gets festive spending "Christmas With the Devil" on Universal's Sleighed compilation.
"We've got Yule logs in our trousers": Spinal Tap gets festive spending "Christmas With the Devil" on Universal's Sleighed compilation.

Sure, I could surf the Internet long enough to find who the hell Michael Ball is, but why bother? Judging by his clasped hands and goofy altar boy grin on the cover, he's gotta be one of them newfangled Christian singers, dueting with Brian Kennedy and Elaine Paige, other luminaries who register not a blip on the secular celebrity meter. When the Ball breaks from traditional fare, it's with yet another version of Joni Mitchell's "River," which is especially wimpy when sung by a guy. Skate away, weeping man! Even with that sobbin' on ice, this could've been used as innocuous gift-wrapping music, but then there's the eggnog-curdling "From a Distance" -- made even more heinous by the loud THX "The Audience Is Listening" synthesizer washes at the startup. If God is indeed watching us, he's got both fingers in his ears.
Rating: It's a regifter!

Linda Ronstadt
A Merry Little Christmas (Elektra)

Linda Ronstadt's familiar art deco logo tips you off that this will be an orchestrated holiday companion piece to her Lush Life collaborations with Nelson Riddle. It maintains that course for the first four numbers before paring down to choir and harp arrangements. Somehow Ronstadt's precise phrasing -- which was never right for Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly covers -- seems perfect for tackling "I Wonder As I Wander" or dueting on "White Christmas" with that movie's other star, Rosemary Clooney. We've got a third sighting of "River" here (what's everybody trying to do, starve the Johnny Marks estate by not recording "Rudolph"?). Still, it's great to hear Linda singing the Mitchell tune with a string quartet sawing away behind her like it's "Different Drum." All in all, a nice CD to throw on for background music. I know you hooligans out there were expecting to read more fat jokes at Linda's expense. Well, for your information, that's jolly St. Nicholas on the cover, not Lady Ron. You people are bad! Really, really bad!
Rating: It's a taper!

The Irish Rovers
Songs of Christmas (Rover/Hip-O/Universal)

"Holly-lew-yar," you crow with uncontrollable glee, "the Irish Rovers finally have themselves a Christmas album." Hold on, are these the same Irish Rovers who in 1968 battled it out on the charts with acid rock newcomers like Blue Cheer and the Balloon Farm to score a goofy Top 10 hit about "The Unicorn"? Aye, Jimmy boy, they're one and the same, and to prove that they still have that story-song touch, they've recorded "Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake" ("Kelly came in with a hatchet and Murphy came in with a saw/But Miss Fogarty's cake had the power for to paralyze any man's jaw"). That one's a keeper, but unfortunately that's all I can take of this jiggery. Anyone else who wishes to hear everything from "Silent Night" to "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" played like the same goddamned Lucky Charms commercial, by all means cut to the head of the line. Should this brogue fest become a holiday hit and force those spectacled Scotsmen the Proclaimers out of mothballs next year, don't come a-sobbin' to me.
Rating: It's a taper!

Various Artists
A Country Superstar Christmas III (Hip-O/Universal)

Maybe they should've called this Forgotten Country Superstars III. To ears attuned to the cosmopolitan pap that passes itself off as country these days, Alan Jackson and George Strait must sound like the Sons of the Pioneers. Universal goes as far back as 1982 for old middle school country like Alabama's "Christmas in Dixie," and 1986 for Randy Travis' cover of Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper." A simpler time when fiddles and pedal steel weren't against the law on a Nashville recording, but still not enough to avoid the trade bin.
Rating: It's a taper!

Various Artists
Sleighed: The Other Side of Christmas (Hip-O/Universal)

A collection of irreverent covers of traditional fare and new Noel songs like Spinal Tap's "Christmas With the Devil" ("There's someone up the chimney and Satan is his name . . . Silent night, violent night"), Beck's "The Little Drum Machine Boy," Sonic Youth's "Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope" and Homegrown's "Christmas Crush," which relives the horror of finding Santa shagging a loved one ("Santa, get off of my girlfriend!"). Less Than Jake makes "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" funny again by racing through it in two minutes flat, and Red Peters turns in the novelty record sure to overtake it, "You Ain't Getting Shit for Christmas."
Rating: It's a keeper!

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