Starbucks peddles more than gingerbread lattes during the holiday season. The omnipresent coffeehouse also issues one of the more reliable Christmas compilations. But unlike previous editions, Santa Baby doesn't emphasize the kitsch. Though it still maintains the series' hip mix of the old and new -- despite such missteps as Sarah McLachlan's warbly tribute to Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall's forced phrasing on "Sleigh Ride," and Sinatra's melodramatic rendition of "The Christmas Song."
In contrast, Dean Martin gets all nice 'n' loose on the lost nugget "Christmas Blues," saving the production from overzealous strings. Meanwhile, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, and Eartha Kitt croon classic carols, and the new girls on the block hold their own. Aimee Mann drifts gracefully through "I'll Be Home for Christmas." And Pink Martini's "Little Drummer Boy" opens with bubbling bongo drums and swooning vocals from China Forbes. The exclusive track then grows incrementally, with layers of Cuban jazz that are hot as a fire and cooler than any known version of "Frosty."