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Kick Out the (Holiday) Jams

Here are ten holiday releases to deck your halls.

Davie Allan and the Arrows
Fuzz for the Holidays 2
(Spinout) 
Ever since the Ventures proved that you can turn surf-rock into holiday gold, guitar-led bands that are long on twang and reverb have taken a swing at Christmas classics. To wit: California-based sextet Davie Allan and the Arrows have turned out their second batch of mostly instrumental tracks, which are full of echo-laden guitar runs and raunchy saxophone eruptions. "Blue Christmas" takes on a sinister edge with Allan's string-bending technique, and the original "A Winter Song" struts with a bit of glam-rock pomp. There's nothing groundbreaking here — but what is Christmas about if not tradition?

Various Artists
Stockings by the Fire
(Starbucks Entertainment) 
Because Starbucks is more a lifestyle brand than a coffee purveyor, your favorite baristas have again compiled a mix of seasonal tunes that alternate between jazzy swing and Seasonal Affective Disorder. For real — does every comp aimed at hipsters and NPR listeners have to include a version of Joni Mitchell's beautifully depressing "River"? (Apparently so, and here Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae turn in a rather rote version.) Hem's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" will likewise have you contemplating jumping from the Bedford Falls Bridge, but other contemporary artists such as A Fine Frenzy and the Bird & the Bee liven things up. Ella, Frank and Nat pop up for a bit of classic cheer, and the similarly minded Diana Krall keeps the mood buoyant and suave with "Winter Wonderland."

Various Artists
Classic Soft Rock Christmas
(TimeLife) 
Sadly, the AM Gold-spoofing Web sensation Yacht Rock never got around to filming a Christmas webisode; consider this a worthy stand-in. This disc compiles songs from genre-defining lite-rockers Kenny Loggins (singing a buzz-killing "The Bells of Christmas") and Hall & Oates, who offer their faithful reading of "Jingle Bell Rock." Air Supply goes for broke on a massive and orchestral "The First Noel," while Jim Croce gets wistful with "It Doesn't Have To Be That Way." The fellows in America earn their wings for turning their evergreen "Tin Man" into "White Christmas." (Though I bet that if you tried, you could repurpose "A Horse With No Name" into "The Twelve Days of Christmas.")

Various Artists
Peace on Earth: A Charity Holiday Album
(Hardtofindafriend.com
Some of the sleepiest, shaggiest bands in indie rock get into the holiday spirit with this album, which collects eighteen mostly original tracks from acts such as Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla and Springfield, Missouri's Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. Rather than rehash Christmas carols, many of these bands take inspiration from the varying moods of the holiday season, from hope and peace to longing and loneliness. The Long Winters sing of the plight of the working man "Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes)," the Great Lake Swimmers sound uncharacteristically upbeat on "Gonna Make it Through This Year." This comp is curated by the music blog It's Hard To Find a Friend and is available by download only; all of the proceeds go to the Toys for Tots program. 
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