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Seasonal Sounds

A roundup of holiday gift ideas

By Sarah Quelland

Modern folk-rock singer Jewel has gracefully withstood criticism, condescension and controversy since the staggering success of Pieces of You (which spent 114 weeks on the Billboard 200 and is currently certified at 11 million), the sneering reception of her book of poetry, A Night Without Armor, and the only moderate sales of her sophomore album, Spirit. But moved by the spirit of the holiday season, the luminous Alaskan beauty has released Joy: A Holiday Collection, a lovely presentation of Yuletide classics, along with a rich original, "Face of Love," and a reworked Christmas version of "Hands."

Jewel is one of the most talented female vocalists in modern music, and hers is one of the most compelling traditional Christmas albums released so far this year. Her renditions of "O, Holy Night," "Silent Night" and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" are as soft and delicate as winter's snowfall, and her sweet, glistening vocals give a beautiful resonance to "Joy to the World" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." She's coy on "Winter Wonderland" and playful on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (both of which explore her admirable yodeling abilities). The haunting harmonies of "I Wonder As I Wander" and "Gloria" are exquisite, and her ethereal version of "Ave Maria" is positively stunning. Also this season, Jewel makes her film-acting debut in Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil, also starring Skeet Ulrich, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and others.

Rock-oriented albums of the season include KROQ: Best of Acoustic Christmas, featuring cuts by Smash Mouth, Blink 182, Cake, Garbage, Everclear and others; A Very Indie Christmas which features Santa Cruz-based the What-Nots; and A Very Special Christmas Live! a collection featuring Mary J. Blige, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman and John Popper. Country offerings include Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas; An All-Star Country Christmas featuring Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis; and George Strait's Merry Christmas Wherever You Are.

Give Christmas some style with Ray Brown's Christmas Songs With Ray Brown, which gives standards a blues, swing, jazz kick and features notable jazz vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Etta James and Diana Krall; the newly remastered Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra and The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas with Frank, Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina; or Christmas in New Orleans, a two-disc set featuring Louis Armstrong. Or bring out the holiday's soul with A Soulful Christmas, featuring the Platters, the Drifters and Patti Labelle; A Motown Christmas, with greats like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes; or the '70s celebration Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Christmas, showcasing gems from the Jackson 5, Bill Withers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and James Brown.

For a holiday with a dramatic flair, it would be hard to find better accompaniment than Michael Crawford's A Christmas Album, a lush, formal collection of rich classical arrangements that plays like a concert; Andrea Bocelli's Sacred Arias, on which the Italian tenor delivers an impeccable rendition of Schubert's "Ave Maria"; or Magic of Christmas featuring Natalie Cole and the London Symphony Orchestra.

If you're seeking something earthier, try Voices of Christmas Past, a worthy collection of traditional songs that capture the spirit of Christmas through vintage recordings, or A Folk Christmas, a collection highlighting Jeanie Fitchen beautifully accompanied by guitar, violin, mountain dulcimer, recorder and other instruments.

PLAN AHEAD: Danzig, Samhain and AFI, Dec. 2 at Maritime Hall in San Francisco; Hot Town Jubilee, Dec. 3 at Fuel; ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dec. 3 at the Oakland Arena; Chad Brock, Dec. 3 at the Saddle Rack; Glad I'm a Girl Benefit with Penelope Houston, Noelle Hampton and others, Dec. 4, Cubberley Community Center; Agent Orange, OuttaLine and others, Dec. 4 at the Cactus Club; Godspeed, Dec. 4 at the Usual; Melissa Etheridge, Dec. 6 at the Flint Center in Cupertino; Sloe and 8Stops7, Dec 7. at the Usual; Boy Kicks Girl, the Huxtables and others, Dec. 9 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz; True to Form and Broken Vision, Dec. 10 at the Cactus Club; Morrissey, Dec 10-11 at Maritime Hall; Salmon, Dec. 11 at the Cactus Club; Jonathan Richman, Dec. 11 at the Catalyst; Marcy Playground, Dec. 13 at Palookaville in Santa Cruz; Slow Gherkin, Dec. 18 at the Catalyst; Buckcherry, Dec. 19 at Maritime Hall; Red Hot Chili Peppers and 311, Dec. 28 at the Cow Palace.

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From the December 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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