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DESTINY'S CHILD LEADS THE ONSLAUGHT OF HOLIDAY-THEMED CDS

A Bootylicious Christmas? Not quite. But superstar R&B girl group Destiny's Child is one of many acts, including Barbra Streisand and Toni Braxton, who are getting in on the holiday music game this year.

"We're just trying to spread more Christmas love, especially in light of what happened on Sept. 11," said Destiny's member Kelly Rowland by phone. "We want people to feel happy because there has been so much sorrow and so much pain."

The group's largely upbeat album, "8 Days of Christmas," features a peppy blend of original tunes and seasonal classics, mostly bearing the threesome's distinctive polyrhythmic, harmony-laden sound.

"We put Destiny's Child flavor into whatever song it was," said the group's newest member Michelle Williams, who shines on a gospel-steeped solo rendition of "Oh Holy Night."

Another of the album's highlights is a cover of the late Donny Hathaway's R&B staple, "This Christmas." What's remarkable about the remake is how the song retains its catchy appeal yet is completely restructured in order to fit a trippy, spare hip-hop beat. This rearrangement was borne out of necessity, said Destiny's lead singer Beyonce Knowles, who produced or co-produced nearly every song on the album.

"That was something that I had to make work, because we were in Japan and they told us that we needed to do a song that night," said Knowles. She had a number of instrumental tracks with her, but none had been recorded with the Christmas album in mind.

"But I was like, one of these Christmas songs is going to have to go over one of these tracks," said Knowles. As it turned out, Hathaway's tune came to mind while she was listening to a track submitted by Rob Fusari, who did the music for, what else, "Bootylicious."

"The whole time I was like, "Donny, don't be mad,' " said Knowles.

Another artist who is taking a revisionist approach to classic holiday tunes this year is country's Deana Carter on "Father Christmas," tilted as a tribute to her dad who plays guitar on the album. But instead of jazzing up songs like "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas," she stripped them down, creating one of the most intimate, at times even haunting, holiday albums in recent memory.

"It's a beautiful thing when you make the music as simple and as skeletal as it can be," said Carter from Los Angeles.

Carter's album marks a comeback the vocalist, who exploded on the country charts in '96 with her hit album "Did I Shave My Legs For This," which contained four No. 1 tunes, including "Strawberry Wine," the winner of the Country Music Association's Single of the Year.

But, after releasing one more album, Carter disappeared from the scene with industry speculation blaming her absence on everything from label troubles to dissatisfaction with her hometown Nashville to romantic woes.

"It's probably a little of all of the above," Carter said with a laugh. "Who, at some point, doesn't get frustrated with their job or their boss or the town they live in or the person they're married to. It's just life stuff."

Perhaps this "life stuff" is also the reason for the new holiday album's somewhat melancholy tone. When Carter croons "Blue Christmas" or "Merry Christmas Darling" about being apart from a loved one, you believe her.

"The songs are emotional," said Carter. "Sometimes when we're happy, we cry, too. When it's really great to see somebody that you haven't seen in a long time, it's like you're sad that you haven't seen them and you're sad that they're going to go away, but at the moment you're happy. It's happiness and sadness all in one big bowl of wax."

Here's a look at some of this year's other notable holiday albums:

odes from Babs. It should please fans, but the mannered sluggish string-laden sound may put off the uninitiated.

which features offerings from George Strait, Travis Tritt and Katty Mattea, is Dolly Parton's bittersweet survivor's anthem "Hard Candy Christmas" from the film soundtrack to the "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

generation with "Jingle Bell Rock" by Hall and Oates, Pat Benatar's bluesy "Please Come Home For Christmas," the Ramone's punk classic "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight)," and the Waitresses' wonderfully droll "Christmas Wrapping."

chestnut voice offers a sultry take on seasonal staples "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and that perennial fave from the Peanuts Christmas special "Christmas Time Is Here."

the book, the Good Book that is. Hammond, a smooth soul-gospel crooner, formerly of the group Commissioned, manages to sing 12 holiday tunes without ever mentioning the names Santa, Rudolph or Frosty.

combines the jazzy (Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett), the novelty ("Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"), the romantic (Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Baby"), and the "TRL"-ready ('N Sync, Britney Spears).

Mariah Carey's former backing vocalist comes up with a touching collection of seasonal soul ballads, including the moving "Mary's Song," which she sings from point of view of Jesus' mother cradling her newborn child.

bizarre multi-disc set features one CD devoted to classic pop acts like Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, another with a eclectic mix of artists ranging from Eartha Kitt to Amy Grant and a third CD of R&B singers such as Aaron Neville, Brian McKnight and the Isley Brothers. Sure, music and the holidays are supposed to bring people together, but do they all have to land on the same compilation?

Christmas album with winning contributions by Macy Gray ("This Christmas"), Stevie Wonder ("Merry Christnas Baby"), Wyclef Jean ("Little Drummer Boy"), Dido ("Christmas Day"), Sheryl Crow ("Run Rudolph Run"), Eve 6 ("Noel, Noel") and Stevie Nicks ("Silent Night").

e-mail cseymour@buffnews.com

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