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Kate, Kate & Anna, Martin, and the Reverend

Searching for some cool holiday CDs? Here come our annual recommendations (it's a Puremusic tradition).

TO: KATE, a benefit for kate's sake
•  Various Artists

On top of being a beautiful record, we're putting this up front because it's a fundraising effort for Kate Kirk, one of two sisters afflicted with a rare and fatal genetic disorder called Niemann-Pick Disease type A/B. Caroline's symptoms have progressed too far for treatment, but Kate has been approved for a potentially life-saving bone transplant. You can find out more at forkatessake.org.

Along with entertaining originals by Americana artists such as Jim Lauderdale, Steve Earle, and Rosie Flores, there are also excellent versions of a handful of classics. Jason and the Scorchers do a rave-up of "Oh! Holy Night" that breathes new life into this slow tear-jerker. BR549's take on Mel Torme and Robert Wells' "The Christmas Song" is a mighty nice groove. But Buddy and Julie Miller singing "Away in a Manger," well, that brings the donkeys and sheperds right into your living room, and that song alone is worth the price of admission--or in this case, donation.

•  Kate & Anna McGarrigle

A disc of great joy from musical royalty. First of all, just buy it before Christmas draws any closer. It's a little hard to imagine what it must be like to have Rufus and Martha Wainwright for children. When the kids duet on "Some Children See Him," it's breathtaking. But their mom and aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, were revered Canadian singers long before them, so I guess it's taken in stride--but not by this listener. Anna's daughter Lily has a beautiful voice that's also featured on much of the record, as is that of their old friend Emmy Lou Harris, on "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

But the unexpected track that really laid me out was a recitation by Ian Vincenzo Dow, "Counting Stars," with the sisters singing, and playing piano and accordion. Every single cut has many layers and will bear many holiday plays. I was very grateful that there was plenty of Rufus, we consider him one of the great musical talents of this time. But it's Kate and Anna who are steering the sleigh, and it's a precious and magical ride.

•  Martin Sexton

Martin is one of those very rare solo artists that literally gives you the impression that other people are playing, and singing. His voice sails and soars with an effortlessness that is only superseded by the powerful grace that coaxes and commands rhythms and melodies to come flying out the hole in his guitar. You can hear that he's totally in his body and totally in the tune when he's laying it down, and that's much rarer than it sounds. It's one of the earmarks of greatness.

He is joined by his daughter and his dad on a couple of tunes, and producer Crit Harmon on a little lead guitar and hand claps, but mostly the artist is putting down the jam like a one man band, with cookie tins and salt and pepper shakers, "human" drums and horns, all in a cabin deep in the Adirondacks. I love the interplay he sets up by singing real high and tuning his guitar very low, down to C. We will surely be circling back to this artist for reviews and an interview in the near future. He is one soulful dude. Especially for people who love the sound and feel of "essential" or solo-based records, this is a Christmas must-have. And please note that part of the proceeds go to Camp Sunshine, for children with life-threatening illnesses.

•  Rev. Horton Heat

Here's that Rockin album that you need for the Christmas party! The egg nog has kicked in, and all the liquor's coming out. Time for the Reverend (aka Jim Heath) to get this party started, with the rockabilly Gospel on "Santa Claus is Comin to Town." There's a hilarious tone to his singing voice that reminds me of Fee Waybill of the Tubes, it's so smart and so ridiculous at the same time. And when you hear the electrifying instrumental version of "Jingle Bells," you may find yourself moving to it for the first time. (Kinda scary, I know.)

But this Dallas trio is also famous for tremolo-soaked spy grooves and barroom rockin, and the title song provides both, plus a great organ solo, player unknown. My personal favorite is the trio's slammin send up of the Buck Owens/Don Rich classic, "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." Be sensible, all the Xmas records can't be crooners, some of them have to ROCK. You need this one. Get a Heat on!  • Frank Goodman

return to other reviews      listen to clips

• buy To: Kate here      forkatessake.org 

      westernbeat.com     cota.org

• buy The McGarrigle Christmas Hour here or here     

      mcgarrigles.com      nonesuch.com

• buy Camp Holiday here or here   


• buy We Three Kings here      

      reverendhortonheat.com      yeproc.com

some previous Holiday CD tips here and here

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