Dec 19, 2006

I Love Christmas Music!

This year in holiday sounds
By Kurt B. Reighley
Special to MSN Music

If you'd showed up at the office dressed as an elf in, say, July, some grouch from human resources would immediately circulate an all-staff e-mail explaining why tights and curly-toed slippers are not acceptable work attire (even for casual Fridays). But don the same outfit in December, and people smile at you. They might cross to the other side of the street, but they smile nevertheless.

What is the explanation for this phenomenon? Simple: Anything goes at Christmas. Want to eat sweets all day? No problem. Shop and spend recklessly, until the digits wear off your credit cards? You're a national hero. Drape the entire apartment complex in garlands of holly and silver tinsel? Here, let me hold the ladder. People just go cuckoo at Christmas.

Yet if your enthusiasm spills over into the specific area of Christmas music, those same loving friends and neighbors start giving you the hairy eyeball. They express shock if you whistle along to "Jingle Bells" at the supermarket, or pop Elvis' Christmas album in the CD player when your turn to drive the carpool comes around.

Listen to Classical Christmas on MSN Radio

Blame this double standard on overexposure. Madison Avenue has much to answer for. Once upon a time, folks only heard Christmas music in church, or when they welcomed packs of roving carolers into their home. Nowadays, the mall and television lousy with yuletide music from Halloween to New Year's Eve. Office supply vendors co-opt "White Christmas" to peddle more correction fluid and printer paper. What was once rare and precious is now hopelessly ubiquitous.

Familiarity breeds contempt. And yet, this is largely what makes Christmas music so charming. (Its familiarity, not its contemptuousness.) It is the great equalizer. Anyone can chime in on "Deck the Halls" -- fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Does it get any simpler?

Listen to Cool Yule for Cool Cats on MSN Radio

Alas, being a character -- an icon, even -- isn't enough when the music falls flat. Bass player Bootsy Collins, of Parliament, Funkadelic, and Bootsy's Rubber Band fame, is one of the founding fathers of funk, and an intergalactic fashion plate, too. But "Christmas Is 4 Ever" (Shout! Factory) stretches his cartoon-character shtick mighty thin. Updates of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Sleigh Ride" get goosed with monster-sized lashings of low-end bounce, but feel woefully short of genuine sentiment. Original numbers like "Happy Holidaze," featuring forgettable rhymes by Snoop Dogg, fare even worse. Pass the cranberry sauce -- this one's a turkey.

Listen to Pop/R&B Christmas on MSN Radio

Country singers Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison aren't exactly household names, but they've probably been in your living room recently: They're featured prominently in a recent TV ad campaign for Claritin. "Happy Holidays" (Ryko) won't clear up your sinuses, but it will elicit a smile, a laugh and maybe even a tear. Readings of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "The Christmas Waltz" and "Santa Baby" prance along with a Western swing feel, pitched right between classic country and vocal jazz. The duo even manages to redeem the maudlin "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk," replacing the overwrought sincerity of the original recording artist, John Denver, with a playful nudge and a wink.