December 08, 2003 12:00 PM

>One Wish—The Holiday Album Whitney Houston Houston brings a decided spirituality and gospel fervor to her first Christmas collection. In strong voice throughout, the diva takes it back to church, where she began singing, on such carols as “The First Noel” and “Joy to the World” (one of two songs that originally appeared on 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack). The soulful set, however, may be best remembered for the singing debut of Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina, 10, who, on the duet “The Little Drummer Boy,” shows that she could follow in the footsteps of her mother, father Bobby Brown and grandmother Cissy Houston.

Ashanti’s Christmas Ashanti There’s nothing revelatory on this 10-track R&B disc of new holiday confections like the slinky, jazz-laced “Christmas Time Again” and such reworked classics as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But Ashanti’s choir-girl alto shines on unadorned standards like “Silent Night” and “Winter Wonderland.”

All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan Kenny Chesney Willie Nelson rides to the rescue on this otherwise routine effort, joining Chesney for a duet on “Pretty Paper.” On the too-cute title song, Chesney plays off the ’40s novelty tune “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” while his unexceptional rendition of “Jingle Bells” will leave you feeling ho-hum.

Go Tell It on the Mountain The Blind Boys of Alabama The venerable choral group refreshes the genre with this passionate, inspiring album. The group’s gospel roots are movingly evident, and they benefit from the presence of a number of guest artists, including Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples and Chrissie Hynde, who helps the Boys import the moody British classic “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

A Very Special Acoustic Christmas Various Artists With its elemental feeling, bluegrass is a fertile ground for producing traditional Christmas music, as this album richly demonstrates. Marty Stuart has fun with “Even Santa Claus Gets the Blues,” and Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless are among others who perform admirably. Not all the artists are roots folk, though: Norah Jones sings and plays the quiet “Peace.”

American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics If you’re a fan of the FOX TV talent show, then this may be just your cup of egg nog. Featuring mostly traditional carols sung by Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke as well as first-season faves Justin Guarini and Tamyra Gray, the CD has a little something for everyone. Kelly Clarkson, who gets her own bonus two-track disc, wins our vote with a powerful a cappella version of “O Holy Night.”

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