Shelby Lynne "Merry Christmas" (Everso)
The wild child of alt-country singer-songwriters plays it pretty straight on her holiday outing, contributing two blues originals to her touchingly spare, intimate performances of seasonal standards ("O Holy Night," "Silent Night") and pop and country chestnuts ("Christmas Time's A-Comin'" and the Peanuts gang's "Christmas Time Is Here").
Sean Smith "Christmas" (Tompkins Square)
Bay Area guitarist Sean Smith's solo acoustic recording harks back — favorably — to John Fahey's celebrated Christmas recordings. The spare arrangements and reverential performances quietly convey the humble spirit of the holiday's origin.
Various Artists "Gift Wrapped II: Snowed In" ( Warner Bros.)
A something-for-everyone grab bag like this virtually assures that hardly anyone will connect with everything. The 21 tracks span Devo's loopy Euro-dance original "Merry Something to You," Tegan and Sara's rodent-friendly update of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" and the Flaming Lips' work-in-progress live run-through of "Little Drummer Boy." Available as an iTunes download and a limited edition vinyl double-LP set.
Various Artists "Now That's What I Call Christmas! 4" (EMI/Universal/Sony)
The marquee number on this fourth edition of the cross-label compilation is Rihanna's new reggae-soaked original "A Child Is Born." The two-CD set of contemporary and classic holiday tracks also pulls in Lady Gaga's festive 2008 single "Christmas Tree," but the majority of the cuts on the disc billed as "superstars of today" have appeared previously, just as most tracks on the second disc featuring stars of "yesterday," including Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Johnny Mathis et al., have been recycled endlessly.