Good Cheer For A Good Cause

With Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow and Run-D.M.C., among others.

Recorded at a party hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton last Christmas in honor of the athletes of the Special Olympics, this disc continues the holiday benefit compilation tradition that was kicked off in 1987.

The first track on this 11-song album is the Mary J. Blige and Sheryl Crow duet "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." The song is rollicking enough, although Blige's passion easily overshadows Crow's pallid delivery. Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis" seems utterly out of place, but trying to imagine the Clintons throwing their hands in the air, waving 'em like they just don't care, is enough to make the abrupt juxtaposition worthwhile.

Jon Bon Jovi offers an adequate sob-fest in his rendition of "Please

Come Home for Christmas." John Popper's "Christmas Blues" is a standout, featuring Eric Clapton on guitar and a pretty darn rocking harmonica/ guitar duet. Vanessa Williams' "What Child Is This" (RealAudio excerpt) is a lovely interlude that highlights her soaring style and a groovy jazz-tinged arrangement; this track would make a fine audio accompaniment to any swanky holiday shindig. On the other hand, Clapton's "Christmas Tears" finds him growling lyrics like "I can't help but cry" with such enthusiasm that one is tempted to leave him alone in a dark room so he

can do just that.

Tracy Chapman's "O Holy Night" (RealAudio excerpt) is charming, although singing along is impossible, given her tendency toward odd inflections rather than reaching for high notes that her voice simply can't reach. Following this, the producers inexplicably included the decidedly non-Christmasy "Give Me One Reason," which features that pesky Clapton popping up again to noodle along and trade verses with Chapman. It's fun to hear, but simply doesn't belong

nestled amid the Yuletide cheer. Then Jon Bon Jovi is trotted out to

caterwaul his "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Is there something we should know, Jon? Girlfriend not treating you right?

The grand finale features the whole kit and caboodle of performers crowding around the mikes for "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," (RealAudio excerpt) joined by 12 Special Olympics "global messengers." Thankfully, Blige takes the reins and leads this one-horse-open-sleigh, and the result is a merry, free-spirited jam.