Sting
If on a Winter's Night...

(Deutsche Grammophon)
The two versions of Sting — the bass-playing Police singer and the lute-slinging new-age folk star — never seem to intersect, and his latest album is firmly in the folk tradition. For If on a Winter's Night..., Sting has assembled a crew of English folk artists, symphony-caliber string players and jazz sidemen to create a hushed, sometimes ponderous album that mixes medieval melodies with his increasingly husky voice. If Sting's latest doesn't quite sound like a Christmas record, that's because it isn't one: The disc is more a meditation on the season itself, with the only overt references to the Christian holiday coming through centuries-old English carols such as "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Cherry Tree Carol."

Halford III
Winter Songs

(Metal God)
Rob Halford, the Judas Priest singer best known for his four-octave range and for being metal's most famous gay icon, returns to his solo project with this collection of holiday gems, all decked out with meedly-meedly-mee riffage. In addition to the four original songs here, Halford picks carols with an appropriately mysterious, sacred bent to them — the minor-key march of "We Three Kings" is ramped up with double-time drums, and "Oh Come O Come Emanuel" even quotes the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Halford pulls out "Winter Song" by MOR goddess Sara Bareilles (of "Love Song" fame) and maintains the song's solemn, piano-ballad vibe. Two of Halford's original songs, "Christmas for Everyone" and "I Don't Care," shake and boogie like a T. Rex update; both inject a little metal-edged glam-rock into the holiday season.

Various Artists
The Sounds of Christmas 2009

(www.SOCMusic.net)
The particulars of this Christmas comp are as good as (and maybe even better) than the music itself: Not only does William Shatner close out the disc with a typically tortured spoken-word version of "Good King Wenceslas," but the proceeds go to benefit the over-actor's Hollywood Charity Horse Show (which is apparently a real event). Aside from Shatner, the big names on The Sounds of Christmas were last heard on your local soft-rock radio station. Huey Lewis & the News turn out to be a credible a cappella act, as its doo-wop take on "Winter Wonderland" proves. Former Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung contributes "When I Hear a Christmas Song" with his trademark golden pipes and plenty of saccharine sentimentality. Richard Marx channels Chuck Berry with "Santa Claus Is Back in Town," but Hayseed Dixie takes the fruitcake with its bluegrass mashup of "Winter Wonderland" and Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop." Now, if someone would only turn "Stairway to Heaven" into a carol, this season would be a lot more rocking.

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