** 1/2 Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "The Lost Christmas Eve" (Lava). This hard-rock conglomeration led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul O'Neill has turned its vision of Christmas as the ultimate rock opera into a cottage industry of bestselling albums and top-grossing holiday tours (the orchestra plays the Universal Amphitheatre on Thursday). The third installment, available individually or as part of a four-disc box set with the three studio albums plus a bonus DVD, revolves around an angel sent to Earth to find a human who best represents the spirit and message of Jesus. Although the pounding keyboards, wheedling electric guitars, surging synths and belted lyrics can be overwrought, especially after two previous outings, somehow you've got to admire the sheer audacity of it all.
** 1/2 The Reality TV Singers, "Christmas in the Fishbowl." Another of the growing number of online-only releases, this is the choice for the "Survivor" on your list. Trying to extend their 15 minutes of fame are participants from "Survivor: All-Stars," "Paradise Hotel," "American Idol" and other unscripted TV series. Some of it is delightfully self-deprecating, such as "Survivor" Rob Cesternino's reworking of "The 12 Days of Christmas" as "The 12 Minutes of Fame." Too many of the others try to take themselves seriously. Available as a download from www.thefishbowl.com.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 21, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Trans-Siberian Railroad -- A review of the Trans-Siberian Railroad's album in Saturday's Calendar section gave the wrong location for the group's concert on Thursday. The band plays at the Arrowhead Pond, not Universal Amphitheatre.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 24, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Trans-Siberian Orchestra -- In a correction Tuesday about the location of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Thursday concert, the group was called the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
** 1/2 Joe Nichols, "A Traditional Christmas" (Universal South). This country singer applies a twang that's equal parts Merle Haggard, Randy Travis and George Strait to 10 of the most tried-and-true holiday songs. Country fans should enjoy the ride, but the musical scenery's pretty unremarkable.
** Clay Aiken, "Merry Christmas With Love" (RCA). "American Idol" singers and Christmas music go together like hot cocoa and marshmallows, and Aiken delivers the fluffiest, sweetest, whitest musical marshmallow imaginable. It's all soothing vocalizing, minimal thought required or inspired.
** Jessica Simpson, "Rejoyce the Christmas Album" (Columbia). It's the time of year to be charitable, so let's be thankful this pop sweetheart minimizes the nasal quality that can give her vocals a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard quality. She valiantly attempts to inject some R&B punch into some numbers, breathy sultriness into others. It also yields one sobering prospect: Next Christmas, Ashlee.