Take 'em for a spin

This is a crazy time of year for everyone — critics especially. Weep for us, won't you? My sagacious peers are head-down hammering out copy on the tsunami of new movies, books and more crashing off the pop-culture assembly line. It's crazy in music, too. Not only is the record biz spinning out holiday LPs, but major labels are also unloading big albums from big artists just in time to be wrapped up under the fraser fir. So in an effort to keep up with the Joneses — or at least the T-Pains — here's a quick look at a few releases that might have fallen through the cracks.

The Killers Album: (RED) Christmas EP (Island/Def Jam)

At this point of the yuletide assault, repeat spins of Bing and Burl are no doubt driving you fa-la-loony. So why not add a hipster touch to your holiday playlist with this likably odd digital EP from the Las Vegas glammers, who've been recording a charity song for a few years and here collect the curious six-song collection in one iTunes Santa bag. Happy Birthday Guadalupe uses merry mariachi in its romantic travelogue, while The Cowboys' Christmas Ball is a delirious hoedown. Credit frontman (and one of our faves) Brandon Flowers for selling each seasonal ditty with full festive bombast.

Download: Joseph, Better You Than Me, a duet with Elton John and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant

Grade: B+

T-Pain Album: rEVOLVEr (Jive)

I like T-Pain a lot better now that he's not on every single song on every other radio station. Of course, Tallahassee's Auto-Tune eccentric, who's using more of his "real" voice now, could reheat with this typically catchy, typically lascivious rap release. Say what you will about such past hits as I'm 'n Luv (Wit a Stripper) and Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin'), but the man born Faheem Rasheed Najm has a way with hooks. And he's more inventive than he gets credit for, new single 5 O'Clock with Brit Lily Allen and Whiz Khalifa being sexy-chill proof. One big negative? We despise when artists use the same title for albums and songs as far more iconic works. See 1966 Beatles album Revolver. That's just lazy, TP.

Download: 5 O'Clock

Grade: B-

Randy Newman Album: Live in London (Nonesuch)

"Some domestic details before I do this song....Surprisingly, in a switch, my second wife was younger than my first. It's crazy. And I pay for it every f------ day!" And with that, the Mark Twain of songcraft kicks into The World Isn't Fair, one of 22 tracks he recorded with the BBC Orchestra in St. Luke's, an 18th century Anglican church. While we wait for his first new original material since 2008's Harps and Angels, diehard fans of the 68-year-old Newman will devour this live recording with the singer-songwriter-smartaleck's increasingly bullfrog vocal charmingly high in the mix. Love every bit of it. In fact, after seeing Paul Simon at Ruth Eckerd Hall a couple weeks ago, Newman is now No. 1 on my concert bucket list.

Download: Losing You

Grade: A

Cracker, Lemonheads Album: Young Adult: Music From the Motion Picture (Rhino)

Times movie critic Steve Persall — who sits across from me here, the two of us searching each other's mugs for inspiration — has nothing but raves for this twisted Charlize Theron comedy. At the very least, I knew it was going to sound good. As he proved in Juno and Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman has cool taste in music, more melodic than Tarantino's strip-club boogie, more indie than Cameron Crowe's roots grandeur. Save for Diana Ross' kewpie-doll creepout When I Grow Up, most of the tracks are disgruntled '90s classics. Rolfe Kent, Reitman's go-to composer, contributes a score that is distant, vaguely chilly — and sublime, plus Matteo Messina's lounge-y takes on the Foos and Pearl Jam are sly fun.

Download: Veruca Salt's Seether

Grade: B+

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com and (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife).

Take 'em for a spin 12/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 5:48pm]

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