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As we head into the holid... 

As we head into the holidays, there are seemingly endless opportunities to raise the red-and-green colors in a semblance of celebration. Sometimes it's with friends, sometimes it's with co-workers, and sometimes it's with family, all of whom can present entertainment challenges, depending on their tolerance for, as well as deviation from, tradition. Suitable music can be seasoned carols or contemporary ditties; one person's "Ave Maria" is another's "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Here's what's on the shelves this year to quiet souls or stir spirits.

Michael Leasure
Christmas 2000: A Thousand Years of Christmas Music (MTL Records)
by Lindy Shepherd

by Lindy Shepherd

For a trés traditional Christmas revelation, slide into jazzy guitarist Michael Leasure's easy-listening self-release "Christmas 2000," a solid hour of locally produced spiritual reverie. Subtitled "A Thousand Years of Christmas Music," Leasure's selections, orchestrations and arrangements are steeped in European lore. His classical guitar roams romantic history for true-to-their-roots revivals of evergreens, including lead track "Angels We Have Heard on High," "What Child Is This" and "The First Noel."

Lengthy classical sophistications such as "Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring" by J.S. Bach and the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" by Peter Tchaikovsky are rich and fulfilling. Then there's a touch of gothic shadow in "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," a traditional French number that keeps company with several other historical ghosts, like "Sanctus," from 13th-century Italy. The only weakness is the humble, brown-shaded packaging encumbered by Old English lettering; the colors should be as bright and enduring as the music inside.

Christina Aguilera
My Kind of Christmas (RCA)
by Billy Manes

by Billy Manes

Riding the frosty reigns of last year's Christmas chart buster, the single-only release of "The Christmas Song" (included here in the obligatory "holiday remix" mode), everybody's favorite crimping accident emerges with a premature full-length foray into the Johnny Mathis eggnog market with "My Kind of Christmas." Is it any surprise that pop-princess Christina Aguilera overthroats her way through holiday classics? Far too much, as it turns out, to be taken seriously.

Chipper kicker-offer "Christmas Time" pulsates with a considerable euphoria. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" paints Aguilera as the annoying flyback soloist at some over-wined, suburban candlelight nightmare. On "Angels We Have Heard on High," Aguilera echoes her joyous strains to the thump of a "follow me home, I live up the road" girl-jack beat. Somebody get this girl a swaddling cloth.

Chipper kicker-offer "Christmas Time" pulsates with a considerable euphoria. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" paints Aguilera as the annoying flyback soloist at some over-wined, suburban candlelight nightmare. On "Angels We Have Heard on High," Aguilera echoes her joyous strains to the thump of a "follow me home, I live up the road" girl-jack beat. Somebody get this girl a swaddling cloth.

Various Artists
Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes (Sony Music Entertainment)
by Liz Langley

by Liz Langley

When there's a track titled "Santa's Gonna Rock 'n Roll," you're hip deep in the cornball surrealism of the American musical. Nothing delivers this like the Rockettes, the high-kicking beauties so synchronous they look like a sequined centipede. The Rockettes are the focal point here, or would be, if you could see them. Except for tap, dance is a visual art ... nobody seemed to realize that when they put the Rockettes on CD. The listener is compelled to make up for this huge shortcoming with visual images from every hokey holiday special, which is exactly what this conjures.

Except for its Grinchy Whoville song ("Welcome Christmas," or as most of us know it, "Dah Who Doh-Raze,"), every variety of cliché is here: narrating Santa, a capella carol, belted-out finales, the swingy title "The Man with the Bag." Jesus. This aural rococo will only be appreciated by huge Broadway fans and lovers of camp. If corn is your favorite flavor, "Radio City" pops.

Various Artists
Platinum Christmas (Arista/Jive/RCA)
by Billy Manes

by Billy Manes

Hearing Britney Spears kick off this obligatory Christmas showcase with a wink of "I've been so good this year" only hints at what the listener is in store for on "Platinum Christmas" No matter, it makes for a passable revisit to the year that pop made, especially when you consider that Spears is rubbing stockings with other shiny ornaments like 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera. Alas, this is a full label-roster sampler, so all tastes (or nerves) are being duly scratched. R&B crooner Monica offers her standard reading of "Grown Up Christmas List," and is furthered in her rhythms and blues by slightly jeeped-down offerings from Joe, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston. Credibility dances by, almost, as Dave Matthews, Santana and Dido all stub their mistletoes on dull renderings. Snow turns to saccharin as this sleepy affair pushes the sacred holiday further into its materialistic slumber.

Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti
The Three Tenors Christmas (Sony Classical)
by Todd Deery

by Todd Deery

You better clear that eggnog out of your throat before you try to sing along with "The Three Tenors Christmas." Actually a live recording of a 1999 concert in Vienna's Konzerthaus, this is a black-tie, fully orchestrated affair of classic Christmas tunes sung by three of opera's most powerful voices. Recording with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti belt and croon their way through the classics, including "Silent Night," "Winter Wonderland" and "Feliz Navidad."

They also sing arrangements of lullabies by Brahms and Strauss. And in the strangest attempt yet to test their already considerable crossover appeal, they tackle John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas/War Is Over," complete with marching drums and angelic chorus.

Ottmar Liebert
Christmas + Sante Fe (Epic)
by Billy Manes

by Billy Manes

Ottmar Liebert continues his coffee-table music meanderings with a holiday wash guaranteed to either enlighten your quiet moments or send you out back for a cigarette (depending on your age)

For the most part, "Christmas + Sante Fe" is a series of variations on (extremely) classic traditionals, touched up by the nimble, if superfluous, fingerings of Liebert's tested style: "Winter Wonderland" is subtitled "Dig the Wonderland," and if you listen closely, you might hear a touch of the original. Otherwise, this is more Liebert's eggnog than Perry Como's. In fact, writing credits are essentially given to Liebert alone, even if "inspirations" come from way back when in the cold, which makes it all some sort of new age/Old World hybrid.

The record is an immaculate production of mood suitable for high-pitched Bloomingdale's shopping.

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