It's a Wonderfull CD Like or lump it, it's Christmas album show-and-tell, and our intrepid pop music critic must earn his wings. But it's his fantasy, and he's got something up his sleeve.

December 15, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

"This is not a topic for debate," Christine said firmly. "If you're finally going to be in New York the day I have my Christmas party, you are definitely going to be there."

I knew better than to argue. Once Christine has her mind set on something, she is as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. So when she said I was going to be at her annual Rock Critics Christmas Party, then, by God, I had a party to attend.

"Now, you know the rules," she said. "Come dressed as a genre of Christmas music, and bring up to three new CDs to represent that style. When it's your turn, you'll tell everyone about your discs, and, as Santa, I'll decide whether you get a sugar plum or a lump of coal. So, I'll see you at 8, right?"

Crosstown traffic being typically impossible, it was closer to 8: 30 when I rang the buzzer at her building.

"We're just getting started," she said, letting me in. "And that better be an actual costume you're wearing."

"Trust me," I said. "Would I dare risk the wrath of St. Nick?"

"That's St. Nicky to you," she said, leading me into the living room. Then, taking her position by the fireplace, she took a handbell off the mantle and rang it in classic Salvation Army style. "OK, do I have your attention?" she asked. "Then let's begin. I've put everyone's name on a piece of paper, and placed them in this Santa hat. Now, let's see who goes first."

She drew a name. "All right, Bill. You're up."

But as Bill took his place by the tree, I couldn't help but wonder what he was doing in a leprechaun outfit. Nor was I the only one. "Hey, Bill," teased Amy. "You sure you got the right holiday?"

"Sure and you're not going to mock the traditional dress of me people?" said Bill, in a bad brogue. "Faith and begorra, I'm representing the Celtic Christmas Tradition."

"Isn't that when Santa slam-dunks your presents down the chimney?" I joked.

"Only in Boston," he answered, dropping the accent. "But I'm talking Celtic music, not Celtics basketball.

"Like this album, 'A Celtic Heartbeat Christmas' (Celtic Heartbeat 82929). Now, I know that these selections aren't your usual let's-go-caroling tunes, and that not everyone associates jigs and reels with Christmas. But few things suggest the calm beauty of a snowy Christmas Eve as well as Clannad's 'A Dream in the Night,' or the warmth of a fireplace as well as Cormac Breatnach's 'Oiche Nollaig.'

"If you want something truly traditional, though, I'd suggest you go with 'Midwinter Night's Dream' (Blix Street 10033) by the Boys of the Lough. It's mostly pipes, tin whistle, fiddle and concertina, and has the homespun feel of a bunch of friends sitting around the kitchen and having a few tunes. If any CD is going to have you dancing a jig around your Christmas tree, this is it.

"But I'd stay away from this album," he said, holding up a copy of Peter Buffett's "Star of Wonder" (Hollywood 20732). "It's a nice enough idea, presenting a dozen well-known carols in the airy, atmospheric style of Enya. But where Enya seems angelic and ethereal, the best singer Kim Robertson can do is sound breathy. I'd give this album a big lump of coal."

"And I'll give you a nice green candy cane," said Christine. "Very good. OK, Amy, it's your turn."

Back to the '70s

Amy's outfit was almost as startling as Bill's, though not quite as green. It was classic '70s retro regalia -- platform shoes, elephant bell-bottoms and a garish rayon blouse. Topping it all off was a big, floppy hat and sunglasses the size of drink coasters.

"Like Bill, I'm here to represent people of my ethnicity," she said, taking her place by the tree. "That's right -- funky people. And if you want to get down with The Big Man this season, you could do a lot worse than 'Quad City All Star Christmas' (Atlantic/Big Beat 82970).

"OK, it's a bass record, so we're not talking an Andy Williams Christmas here. But it isn't all just shake-dat-booty, either. Some tunes actually have more than three notes in them, and you can more or less recognize the melody to 'White Xmas.'

"Besides, even if 'Da Jam' sounds about as Christmassy as 'Whoot, There It Is,' at least you can dance to it," she said. "That's more than can be said for '12 Soulful Nights of Christmas' (SoSoDef 67755). I mean, any album that has both Chaka Khan and Faith on it ought to make you want to get up and shake it. But I only got up to take it out of the CD player. A good album if you want to make sure your kid gets to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Parental Advisory sticker

"Which brings me to 'Christmas on Death Row' (Death Row 90108). Now, I'm sure I speak for most parents when I say that the one thing I most want for the holidays is a Christmas album with a Parental Advisory sticker on it. But once you get past the obligatory gangsta stuff, this isn't too bad. It's too long -- 16 tracks? Hello? -- but Nate Dogg's 'Be Thankful' and Danny Boy's 'This Christmas' are actually kinda nice. Just don't play Snoop Doggy Dogg's 'Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto' for junior."

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