Right on first boot after using that new kernel of mine (because I made sure ALSA & the right modules were compiled in – not just optional) ALSA worked. Fired up XMMS and pointed it at ALSA and it was playing away. Problem is that Gnome uses ESD so some devices dont work. I found a howto on getting ESD / ALSA to play well together, but all I needed to do was apt-get install libesd-alsa0 and then run esd and it works.
Now all the assorted gnome programs have sound, volume control works – the whole shebang. I haven’t rebooted yet to see if ESD comes up after reboot, but I’d assume if “Enable sound server startup” in gnomes sound preferences is turned on – it should come up.