Various Artists - Holidays Rule (2012)

Holidays Rule is this year's Christmas compilation from Hear Music and, as usual, it's available at both Starbuck's and at Amazon. It's also one of the finer seasonal collections the mega-huge coffee empire has ever released and the seventeen song CD may just be their most eclectic ever.

With just a couple of major exceptions Holidays Rule is loaded with a boatload of current pop and rock stars, many who arrived on the scene just in the last couple of years.

Among the old timers and veterans are Irma Thomas and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Their "May Everyday Be Christmas" features a more modern arrangement than the famous New Orleans outfit is normally known for. Rufus Wainright and guest Sharon Van Etten acquit themselves well with a slightly new slant on the overplayed, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Southwestern rockers Calexico check in with "Green Grows the Holly" while folk-rocker Andrew Bird's "Auld Lang Syne" is enhanced by his dignified fiddle work.

I've never liked Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" at all (It always felt like he wrote it in the shower in his spare time) but The Shins completely remodel the ex-Beatle's tune with needed improvements that make it far more enjoyable. Speaking of the knighted one, his contribution to the affair is a laid back version of "Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)." Here, the famous Englishman continues in the direction he took earlier this year with his Kisses on the Bottom CD. He sings over top of Diana Krall's very cool piano playing and John Pizzarelli's jazz guitar. The spare arrangement is part jazz, part lounge music, and very satisfying.

Among the newer artists are current Grammy nominee, fun., who open the disc with an offbeat, techno, and slightly eerie take of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." The Civil Wars stay true to themselves with a bare bones reading of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Heartless Bastards ("Blue Christmas"), The Head and The Heart ("What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"), and Fruit Bats ("It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas") all turn in worthy performances.

Chris Thile, former mandolin player for Nickel Creek, formed the Punch Brothers after his old band broke up and his new crew conjured up a very nicely rendered version of the only religious song on the album, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

Every track was recorded especially for Starbucks and the CD was produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists with Sara Matarazzo of Search Party Music. McCartney's production company, MPL, was on board as executive producer.

As with most compilations not everything operates on the same level. However, the unevenness that is almost always apparent on these types of releases is never as overt on Holidays Rule as it is on many other various artists sets and everyone involved gets extra credit for trying something different.


  1. I had thought that I was only interested in the McCartney track, but you have piqued my interest in hearing the whole thing, even the "slightly eerie take of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride."


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