I never know if bands are trying to make Christmas carols sound cool and modern or if they're playing it straight.
Holidays Rule features 17 covers of traditional Christmas tunes by bands like The Shins, Punch Brothers, Calexico and Heartless Bastards. Nobody goes off into experimental land too crazily.
A highlight is Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten's duet for "Baby it's Cold Outside." They don't deviate from the jazzy back-and-forth, not unlike an old and boozy Dean Martin rendition.
The Shins cover Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," while Sir Paul does the Mel Torme classic, "The Christmas Song" — naturally substituting the line about "turkey" for "mistletoe." Apparently nothing rhymes with tofu.
The Heartless Bastards twang out on the straightforward "Blue Christmas." I just like that a band with "Bastards" in their name have covered a Christmas tune.
Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces turns her normal quirk factor way down for "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)."
Rounding out the compilation is a plucky, violin-soaked, bluegrass rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" from Andrew Bird with ... wait for it ... no whistling!
Whether or not you're going to be playing this CD in July remains to be seen. But it's nice to have a few new stabs at some well-worn Christmas tunes by some of your favorite current artists.