The holidays are reputedly a magical time, and there is perhaps nothing more magical -- if that's the right word -- than the famously cheerful pop star Jessica Simpson crooning "Winter Wonderland" with the famously sinister pop star Ozzy Osbourne. The duet was featured on the 2003 "Osbourne Family Christmas Special," and it belongs in everyone's regular Christmas rotation. (A YouTube clip is here.)
It's an instance of the genre-bending that makes Christmas music great, and the genre-bending goes on locally, too. From punk to polka, from handbells to hip-hop, there's holiday music from the Madison area in a sackful of styles.
Perhaps the city's most fully-realized holiday record is Yuletide Swank, the 2004 release by rockers Arena Venus. It was the now-disbanded group's only full-length CD, and it departs radically from the taut power pop of the group's other release, the EP Plucked. Yuletide Swank has a lush, loungey sound (vibraphone is prominent) that complements the silky alto of lead singer Courtney Collins. She purrs her way through a holiday repertoire featuring tracks familiar ("Sleigh Ride") and less familiar ("The Man With the Bag"). A reunited Arena Venus performs tracks from Yuletide Swank in a holiday show at the Brink Lounge Dec. 20.
Another full-length holiday release by a local artist is Forever Christmas, the 2003 CD by Whitewater polka bandleader Steve Meisner, son of Wisconsin polka legend Verne Meisner. Forever Christmas boasts bouncy arrangements of holiday classics, as well as Steve Meisner originals like "Tundra Serenade."
Closer to home, Madison singer and songwriter Adam Schabow, of the Shabelles and the Kites, is preparing a release of all-original Christmas songs, with titles like "There Isn't a War on Christmas." Demos of some of the new tunes are on the Shabelles' MySpace page, and on Dec. 11 Schabow will be performing holiday material at the High Noon Saloon with a group he is calling the Eggnogs. "The album is free for anyone who wants one," he messages.
Perhaps the year's most ambitious local Christmas release is Madison's Musical Holidays Vol. 1, a compilation produced by the West Washington Avenue recording studio Paradyme Productions. The CD features tracks by the country band Mad Trucker Gone Mad, rappers Rob Dz and DLO, the rock combo Clear Blue Betty, blues rockers Altered Five and others. Sales of the new CD benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
If traditional music is more to your liking, check out A Madison Christmas, the 2004 release of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Or look to Madison Area Concert Handbells, which has released a whopping three Christmas CDs.
Numerous local artists have recorded Christmas tracks. Perhaps the best of these is "Christmas Letter," by Lou and Peter Berryman, which lampoons those notoriously overwrought holiday missives. Also fine is "Snowglobe" by local rockers The Wrong Ways. And going back a few years, there is "You Shattered My Christmas" by 1980s favorites Phil Gnarly and the Tough Guys; the track has just reemerged on their MySpace page.
Holiday tracks by Arena Venus, Steve Meisner, Altered Five, and The Wrong Ways are available for listening in the downloads at right.
A Christmas subgenre unto himself is local singer and songwriter Art Paul Schlosser, who has included Christmas tracks on various releases. His holiday tunes are noteworthy for, among other things, their titles: "Have Yourself A Dairy Little Christmas," "I'll Be a Gnome for Christmas" -- and, yes, "Santa's in Jail."
Now that's the spirit.