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Notable CDs | Five new and noteworthy Christmas Albums

HAPPY CHRISTMAS Volume Four

STYLE Unpretentious and not irreverent alternative-rock Christmas standards; unpretentious Christmas originals.

WORLDVIEW "I celebrate the day that you were born to die, / so I could one day pray for you to save my life" ("I Celebrate the Day," by Relient K).

OVERALL QUALITY Makes one want to track down Happy Christmas Volumes One through Three (or to petition Tooth & Nail Records for a comprehensive boxed set).

THROUGH THE MANY WINTERS

STYLE Blue-eyed R&B renditions of carols (eight) and originals (two).

WORLDVIEW "What Christmas expresses to us universally, beyond even what it represents to Christians specifically, is . . . in our bleakest winters . . . there will always be some sign in the heavens or nature to guide us on our way" (the liner notes).

OVERALL QUALITY Well worth the detour into the Hallmark Crown stores, where the disc is exclusively sold.

CHRISTMAS PRAYER

STYLE Adult-contemporary renditions of mostly traditional, mostly sacred Christmas fare.

WORLDVIEW That because 12 years have passed since Aaron Neville's Soulful Christmas, the world is ready for another seasonal album from the Grammy-laden Mr. Neville.

OVERALL QUALITY The latest admissible evidence in the case establishing Mr. Neville's identity as not only one of the most distinctive soul singers of all time but also one of the most exquisite.

A SKAGGS FAMILY CHRISTMAS

STYLE Bluegrass-tinged, acoustic renditions of mostly traditional, mostly sacred fare.

WORLDVIEW "We believe family is one of the greatest things about Christmas. God gave us His very best gift in Jesus Christ, and we wanted to keep Him as the focus of this CD" (the notes).

OVERALL QUALITY Sustains the gorgeous instrumental simplicity and vocal precision for which Ricky Skaggs and his in-laws, the Whites, have become justifiably famous.

WHAT I REALLY WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

STYLE Beach Boys--style versions of nine carols and five Brian Wilson originals.

WORLDVIEW That since it has been 41 years since The Beach Boys Christmas Album, the world is ready for another, and this time more sacred-oriented, Brian Wilson yuletide collection.

OVERALL QUALITY Mr. Wilson's obvious fondness for these songs imbues his trademark attention to instrumental detail and vocal harmony with a festive enthusiasm that's entirely appropriate to the season.

In the spotlight

As is clear from his role as a hero in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Santa Claus (Father Christmas to the English) is not reviled as the enemy of Christmas in every quarter of Christendom. A modern-day Mammon to many American Christians, Santa was to Mr. Lewis and others of his bent part of a benign mythology that was perfectly suitable to an orthodox dramatization of God's grace.

Something of that attitude comes through in Tooth & Nail's indie-Christian showcase Happy Christmas Volume Four. In "(Ho Ho Hey) A Way for Santa's Sleigh," Emery tells of Santa's arriving in response to children's prayers, and in "Of Two Bearded Men," Number One Gun compares Santa's gift-giving to that of the Magi, concluding that "Jesus doesn't hate Santa Claus, 'cause he knows Santa only does his job." That "his" may refer to Jesus as well as to Santa qualifies Number One Gun for honorary citizenship in Narnia.

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