Various Artists and Rosie O'Donnell & Friends

Christmas Records

Martha Stewart Living:

Home For the Holidays

(Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia/Rhino)

Rosie O'Donnell & Friends

Another Rosie Christmas (Sony)

If there's a single word that best describes morning person/richest woman in the world Martha Stewart, that word is most likely "shrewd." She takes simple ideas and items and turns them into something interesting, as though anyone could do it. With this album, she (or her "people") cook up another winner -- a Christmas album made using accessible ingredients, but assembled in such a way that it seems new and exciting. There's nothing radical on Home for the Holidays, but neither is there anything too sickeningly familiar. "The First Noel"? Here, it's a gorgeous a cappella rendering by Emmylou Harris. "Silver Bells"? How about the inimitable Roches layering it with their lovely harmonies? Add Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby," the Pretenders' "2000 Miles," the generation-spanning classic Bing & Bowie take on "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth," plus Ray Charles, Nicolette Larson, Jane Siberry, and more, impeccably chosen and sequenced. If it's not surprising that Stewart's recipe comes out delicious, it's more so that the shrill Rosie O'Donnell's comes out palatable -- at least barely. O'Donnell is friendly and innocuous, her charitable efforts tireless and deserving of applause. But why must she insist on singing? Mind you, a typical O'Donnell dinner consists almost entirely of treacle, so it's no surprise to find Another Rosie Christmas liberally sprinkled with bad apples like Barry Manilow, Jewel, and Destiny's Child. Even the Ray Benson-penned " aka I'm Gonna E-Mail Santa," sung by 12-year-old Billy Gilman and O'Donnell, is a generic and obvious novelty. However, apart from her "Silver Bells" with Sugar Ray, where even double-tracking can't put her in tune, O'Donnell's voice in the studio isn't nearly the cackling horror routinely unleashed on the audience of her television show. On "Nuttin' for Christmas" with Smash Mouth, she comes across as well as any fake punk chick -- she would've made a fine Tuscadero sister on Happy Days -- and on most of the songs, including "Merry Christmas From the Family" with the Dixie Chicks (you were champing at the bit for a Christmas song with the word "tampon" in it, weren't you?), her voice is acceptably buried in the mix. Still, nothing can explain away the horror of her duet with Ricky Martin, the questionably titled "Ay, Ay, Ay It's Christmas." Perhaps she thought she'd be singing this one with Ricky Ricardo?

(Stewart) ***

(O'Donnell) *

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