CD No. 1: Traditional Songs for the Holidays. Martha chose these tracks especially for me. She says so in the liner notes. But how did she know that Luther Vandross' hot-fudge-sundae tone would be just the ticket to make me believe in "This Is Christmas" again? And Barry Manilow?! "American Bandstand" was the song I used to rock out on when I got my first record player on Dec. 25, 1975. His earnest rendition of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" is a true classic on a par with "Feliz Navidad," which, unbelievably, is also on this album! But the capper in the collection is Mariah Carey's "Silent Night." After four minutes of this siren's breathy moan in my ears, I'm indeed spent for the evening.
CD No. 2: Jazz for the Holidays. Martha writes, "When choosing the perfect music for entertaining, you really can't go wrong with jazz." Damn straight. I mean, jazz is background music, whether it's smooth-trumpet sensation Chris Botti on a honey-baked "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" or too-cool fusion cats Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea -- and you thought these guys were too "serious" to "Deck the Halls" -- there are so many swinging sleigh rides on this disc that I could enjoy them without really listening.
CD No. 3: Classical Favorites for the Holidays. Ever the cultural maven, Martha has assembled "timeless pieces" for this volume, which, she explains, "have added their beauty and richness to our holiday traditions, becoming almost synonymous with the season." It's so true. The excerpts from "The Nutcracker" -- by the Philadelphia Orchestra, no less -- take me back to my grandpop, who would crack his belt high in the air before giving me a big red Santa behind every time I'd interrupt Lawrence Welk on the boob tube. "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria" (sung in the proper Latin) righteously put the Christ back in Christmas, where he belongs. I can still see the glowing manger on display at midnight Mass. And I'm still grateful for the wine I would share in the sacristy with my favorite priest back when I was an altar boy.
Recipes, Tips, & Crafts: As if personally selecting more than 50 pieces of music for my listening pleasure is not enough, Martha also graciously includes in her holiday gift box a whole stack of cards with easy-to-follow instructions on how to conjure exotic cuisine (like the elusive "Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies"), how to host hassle-free parties (hint: Place name tags on your guests' glasses to avoid potential cootie mishaps), and how to create elegant decorations on the cheap (scarf stockings, corn-husk votives, felt coasters). Golly, now that I know the secret of felt coasters, my St. Ides will appear positively festive, resting on milk crates by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Martha will soon be there.