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Various Artists

An Alternative Christmas

Review by Gary Hill

It’s always a cool quest to look for new music to help set the mood for your holiday festivities. When you get a set like this it’s general an iffy proposition. Typically there is some good music and some that’s – eh. Such is the case here. There are actually two tracks I would have left off completely because I see little (in one case none) holiday spirit or connection in them. There are some great songs here and plenty that are quite good. With only a couple throwaways I’d consider this a winner. It’s available from as a download. and Itunes will also have the disc in digital copy, too. There is no physical CD of this one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 and Music Street Journal the Holiday Edition at

Track by Track Review
Thriving Ivory- Our December
This starts with a tasty keyboard oriented motif. After a verse it’s powered up into a hard rocking jam that’s very cool. I like this track a lot. It does a great job of using the lyrics to create an original motif that will get you in the mood for the holidays while still rocking out.

SafetySuit - Anywhere But Here
Here we get a more typical alternative rock texture. This is sort of an average song and I don’t really feel a Christmas vibe on this. It does have a cool guitar solo, but frankly there’s nothing very special about this. Add to that the fact that I hear absolutely nothing to do with the holidays (or even winter) in the lyrics and this is really the throw away track on the disc. My guess would be that they asked this group to create a Christmas track and the band just went ahead and sent this. If I had been putting this compilation together I would have relegated these guys to “not on the CD by their own default” and done with one less song. This takes away from the disc in terms of quality and mood.

Lifehouse - Silent Night
This is a bouncy little number that’s got a hint of a country edge to it. It’s balladic and fun, if a bit odd.

Ernie Halter - Angels We Have Heard on High
There’s a soulful texture to this and at times if reminds me of Tracy Chapman.

Better Than Ezra - Merry Christmas Eve
Now, this is exactly what a modern Christmas classic should sound like! It’s got a great “slice of Americana” texture in the music. This is an accessible track with lyrics that get right into the spirit of Christmas in the modern day. This one should be with us for years to come. It’s definitely one of the highlights here.

Honor By August - Happy Holidays
Lyrically this one is strong. It lacks a bit in the musical delivery department, though. It just seems a little understated and a tiny bit boring. There is a tasty instrumental section, though. When they bring it back to the song proper after that it feels a bit more energized. Parts of this remind me a bit of Sister Hazel.

NEEDTOBREATHE- Go Tell It On The Mountain
This soulful track is good, but not really a standout. I pick up some hints of Lenny Kravitz on this. They also create quite a gospel texture at times.

Honeyhoney- The Naughtiness of Me
Now, this is more like it. It’s still quite mellow, but also incredibly cool. Picture a French café. Now put a female singer at the front of a café jazz outfit. Have her sing this as a torch song. You’ve got a great idea of what this holiday song is like. This is another highlight of the set.

Shinedown- Happy X-Mas (War is Over)
Starting pretty much like the original John Lennon number they shift it out to a metallic jam as they carry on. This is a killer track and one of the major highlights of the CD. They play the entire vocal arrangement pretty close to the original. There is just a lot more fire and fury on the guitar. It’s a great way to update a holiday rock classic.

Ryan Star- River
Will someone please get Mr. Ryan some prozac, stat! This guy sounds really depressed. This is basically a piano and vocal ballad. It’s another where I don’t hear much holiday vibe. There are a couple little Christmas tune bits played on the piano, but it feels like he tacked them on to get this thing included. I would have given this one the “heave ho (ho ho),” just like that SafetySuit track for trying to skirt the holiday theme.

Patent Pending
She's a Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas – If the title didn’t give it a way, “jingle all the way to the bed sheets” will probably let you in on what this song is about. It might not be the best holiday spirit, but you can’t argue whether or not it’s a holiday based track. The music is punky bordering on emo and this is a fun track.

Kill the Alarm- Winter Wonderland
Although it opens with a verse sung acapella over the sounds of a bar and we get some classical elements mid track, this is a great alternative rock rendition of a Christmas classic. While it’s quite strong I’d say it falls mid-level in the set.

Schaeffer- Last Christmas
This is a modern holiday classic. This version is strong with some serious alternative rock elements making it rock out quite well. This one does climb to the level of “highlight.”

Negative Space- I’ll Be Home
Here we have a modern alternative rock sound with new lyrics that are based on the “I’ll be home for Christmas” concept. It’s a good tune, but not a standout.

Evans Blue- Oh Holy Night
Alternative rock and folk are combined in this powerful rendition of a Christmas classic. This is great, but there is better music here. That’s more a function of how strong some of the other music on the CD is, not any weakness in this piece.

16 Frames- For Christmas
I can’t think of a better way to end this. The Christmas sentiment is genuine and tasty. The music is a folky bit of alternative rock Americana. This is just a great song and a wonderful closing thought.

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