Shawn Colvin, Martina McBride, 'N Sync, and Celine Dion are all dropping holiday records

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas inside record stores. Not on the shelves, necessarily — there’s still some shame (or there was, at press time) in hawking holiday product before Columbus Day. The storerooms, though, are already filling up with holiday albums, which labels start shipping in late summer regardless of whether retailers have been naughty or nice. Already released are new collections from Vince Gill and CeCe Winans, not to mention an album of farm animals mooing, barking, and braying ”Jingle Bells.” (Bahhhhh humbug.)

Also sleighing this way soon are carol-fests from Shawn Colvin, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Babyface, Martina McBride, Brian McKnight, ‘N Sync, and Xmas cash cow Mannheim Steamroller, plus some previously unheard Christmas tracks from the Beach Boys. The 800-pound gorilla in this year’s holiday bazaar, though, will be Celine Dion’s These Are Special Times. ”My Hearth Will Go On,” anyone?

It takes Christmas cojones to put out two holiday collections in the same decade, but Gill’s new Breath of Heaven comes just five years after his platinum Let There Be Peace on Earth. Don’t expect to hear ”Jingle Bells” with a steel guitar: ”A lot of country Christmas albums don’t sell much because artists cut ’em in the vein of their hit records,” says MCA Nashville president Tony Brown, who coproduced Gill’s heavily orchestrated album. ”But 9 times out of 10, people want to hear Crosby or Sinatra, where it sounds like Christmas music. That’s why we decided to make this one like an old classic pop-standards album.”

Inevitably, the glut of chestnut-heavy Christmas product inspires some cynicism. In many cases ”it’s plainly a way to pick up a quick buck,” grouses George Scarlett, Tower Records’ national product manager. ”And if we’re being charged at wholesale the level that requires us to sell it for 16 or 17 bucks, that’s pretty tough to swallow, because it’s not as if there’s a huge marketing campaign, or a huge songwriting royalty being paid, because a lot of this is public domain.” With that in mind, it’s no wonder the new release Scarlett most anticipates is the Thorazine single ”Merry Stupid F—ing Christmas.”