Holiday Albums

Claus Encounter

Got a Mr. Hankey or a Prancer on your gift list? Chris Willman reviews holiday albums suitable for every music fan imaginable

The good news: Mannheim Steamroller took Christmas off this year. The bad news: Anyone searching for the ideal ''Silent Night'' still has roughly 6 billion fresh variations to sift through. To help make sense of the myriad choices, we've determined which new holiday CDs might best suit the season's most famous figures.

MRS. CLAUS

Santa's better half seems like the forgiving sort, so she'll probably ignore those tabloid stories, pick up Whitney Houston's One Wish: The Holiday Album (Arista), and hope the household of daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown (who joins Mom on ''Little Drummer Boy'') really is calm and bright. But while Houston's interpretive powers are up to snuff, producer Mervyn Warren's standard-issue lite-R&B arrangements could use some of the singer's volatility. For mainstream jollies, the North Pole's first lady might do better indulging her Harry Connick, Jr. crush with Harry for the Holidays (Columbia). Much of the merry Frankster's big-band fare is predictable, but at least he has the chutzpah to enlist George Jones for a duet and to turn ''Nature Boy'' into a baby-Jesus ballad. Houston: C+ Connick: B-

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