A Merry Friggin’ Christmas, one of Robin Williams’s last films before his untimely 2014 passing (let’s hope it’s better than The Angriest Man in Brooklyn), might be saved by the possibility of a shirtless Joel McHale. A Merry Friggin’ Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore) has a few things going for it. It opens and closes with a pair of songs performed by Rufus Wainwright—“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the original “Christmas Is for Kids.” The Belle Brigade, featuring out singer Barbara Gruska, performs the original “Going Home for Christmas.” Nice Jewish boy Ben Kweller rocks the house with his rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and draws on his Texas roots in the original “Try to Love (Joy to the World).” Other holiday highlights include “The Weather Outside” by Spence Shapeero, “Best Time of the Year” by Alex Rhodes, and “More Than I Wished For” by FM Radio.
If variety is your thing when it comes to holiday music, check out The Classic Christmas Pop Album (Legacy). Depending on how you define “pop,” The Classic Christmas Pop Album might be a little confusing, with its inclusion of songs by “boy band” types such as Metro Station (a cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas”), Big Time Rush (covering Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”), NKOTB (“The Christmas Song”), B2K (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”), and Menudo (doing Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”). And by the time you get to Los Lonely Boys (singing Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad”), Mew, Glasvegas, and Phantom Planet, you might think someone spiked your holiday punch.
Looking to put some soul food into your holiday diet? Earth, Wind & Fire has been on the comeback trail for a few years and completes the circuit with the funky and festive Holiday (Legacy). Still brassy and soulful after all these years, EWF brings the joy and the funk to “Joy to the World” and “Winter Wonderland.” The group leaves its specific sonic mark with “What Child Is This?,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Sleigh Ride,” and shows off its worldly side with a version of the Japanese song “Snow.” The disc closes, fittingly, with “December,” a reinvention of the EWF classic “September,” co-written with Allee Willis.
If your tastes run toward down-home home cooking, you have plenty to choose from this holiday season, beginning with An Americana Christmas (New West). The 16-track compilation features a fantastic array of performers, from young upstarts such as Nikkie Lane (“Falalalalove Ya”) and Valerie June (“Winter Wonderland”) to more established acts such as Emmylou Harris (“The First Noel”), John Prine (“Everything Is Cool”), Bob Dylan (“Must Be Santa”), and Dwight Yoakam (“Run Run Rudolph”).
Cowpunk pioneer Jason Ringenberg (of Jason and the Nashville Scorchers fame) shifted gears in the early part of the 21st century, like other rocking daddies (including Ralph Cover, aka Ralph’s World), and became a purveyor of cool kids’ music under the Farmer Jason moniker. Maintaining his trademark twang, Christmas on the Farm with Farmer Jason (Courageous Chicken) features familiar songs such as “Jingle Bells,” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Up on the Housetop.” Where the disc really accelerates is on clever cuts including “All I Want for Christmas (Is a Punk Rock Skunk),” “Santa Drove a Big John Deere,” and “Eat Your Fruitcake.” Christmas on the Farm is fun for the whole family, either chosen or biological!
TV talent-show winner Home Free, a country a cappella group from Minnesota (really!), gets a place at the holiday table with Full of Cheer (Columbia). In addition to the original title track, the quirky quintet tries its collective hand at “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “O Holy Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and something called “Hairy Christmas.”
Celtic Thunder, a vocal group in the tradition of the Celtic Tenors and Celtic Woman, enter the festival fray with Holiday Symphony (Legacy). A mostly serious effort including “Gabriel’s Message,” “Mary Did You Know?,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Gaudete,” Celtic Thunder exhibits a lighter side on the five-song “Christmas Medley,” and wraps it up with a completely unexpected cover of the Pogue’s “Fairytale of New York,” even going as far as revising the song’s original homophobic content.
The 11-song compilation The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album (Legacy) serves up a meaty array of heavier holiday music arrangements. Rock guitar gods such as Jeff Beck (“Amazing Grace”), Steve Vai (Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here”), and Joe Satriani (“Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”). Halford—queer Judas Priest front-man Rob Halford’s side project—rocks the hardest of any performer on the disc, while the presence of right-wing nut-job Ted Nugent is an insult to the other musicians included here.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.