Various Artists: Maybe This Christmas, Too

Andrew Gilstrap

Various Artists

Maybe This Christmas, Too

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2003-11-04
UK Release Date: Available as import

Maybe This Christmas, Too marks the second entry in Nettwerk's series of Christmas compilations, and like its predecessor, it's a nice little package. For the most part, it naturally consists of Nettwerk artists, but that's a pretty strong stable of talent to choose from. Some of the bigger names like Sarah MacLachlan don't make an appearance, but there's enough quality here that her absence isn't really a problem.

Rufus Wainwright kicks things off with "Spotlight on Christmas", a perfect example of his meticulous toyshop brand of pop. Spry and acoustic-based, it's a clever piece of class-conscious commentary that, in the end, simply advises everyone to "put the measuring away 'cause it's Christmas". Newcomers Eisley follow up with "The Winter Song", which does a fairly good job of evoking a quiet walk on a winter evening (sister Sherri and Stacy Dupree can oversing at times, but it'll be interesting to see what they do in the future with their soaring harmonies.

One of the stranger tracks is the rendition of "O Holy Night" by Avril Lavigne and Chantal Kreviazuk. To be honest, I listened to this one just waiting for Lavigne to screw things up; apart from a couple of bum notes, though, she acquits herself fairly well. She's not in the same league vocally as Kreviazuk, but she's not Cartman from South Park, either.

Maybe This Christmas, Too takes a bit of a downer turn with the lovely "Silent Night" courtesy of Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan. This moody rewrite graced Rice's O as a hidden track and it's a far cry from the uplifting carol that we all know. "Silent night, broken night . . . I've found some hate for you", sings Hannigan a cappella, concluding "I should be stronger than weeping alone / You should be weaker than sending me home". At just under two minutes, it's short but incredibly potent, and a good lead-in to Rilo Kiley's "Xmas Cake", which uses jazzy guitar chords and a piano-led wintery feel to tell a frosty tale of poverty and interpersonal conflict ("the cold war is on between you and me").

Guster provide a bit of respite in the form of "Donde Esta Santa Claus", complete with castanets, bouncing rhythm, and silky backing vocals. The song's goofy charm provides a light-hearted breather before the Be Good Tanyas trill their way through "Rudy", a pretty tale of "Rudolf the red-nosed wino" and his struggles to survive. By now, you're probably thinking that Maybe This Christmas, Too comes cloaked in a black cover to match anything Spinal Tap ever imagined; to be sure, the subject matter is a far cry from tales of sugarplums and presents under the tree. Part of the holiday season, though, is reflecting on not only your own fortunes, but the relative misfortunes that might have befallen others. To that end, Maybe This Christmas, Too does a fine job of representing the less than stellar aspects of a wintry, commercialized holiday like Christmas.

The compilation takes a turn, though, with the Dave Matthews Band's "Christmas Song". Delicately played, this gentle apocryphal tale of Jesus's life seems to center on one message: "love, love, love". It's a nice lead-in to Oh Susanna's organ-tinged, gospel rendition of "Go Tell It on the Mountain". Suzie Ungerleider, the one-woman force behind Oh Susanna, is criminally obscure despite several records of incredibly strong songs, but her clear, strong voice is a perfect match for this song.

Barenaked Ladies, as they're known to do, bring humor back to the record with "Green Christmas", a tongue-in-cheek cut about experiencing Christmas from a location that never receives any snow. From here, the disc doesn't become a comedy showcase, but things do close out on a relatively lighthearted note. Martina Sorbara's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" possesses a vampish, bluesy feel, while Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna & Blitzen" features bouncy vintage rock piano and backing vocals straight out of an Eels song. Personal preference probably dictates whether the Flaming Lips' rendition of "White Christmas" is funny or depressing, but it's definitely unique. The disc's final cut, a rendition by Sixpence None the Richer of "It Came upon a Midnight Clear" that is surprisingly insistent and inspiring, closes out a Christmas compilation that's more enjoyable than most records of its type. It doesn't get too schmaltzy (it's even irreverent in spots) and it doesn't lean too much in the direction of either candy-coated glee or icy depression. This mix feels just about right.

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