"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Loyal Dutchess

During her 12 years with Capitol Records, Suzy Bogguss never got around to releasing the Christmas album that's obligatory for country stars. She did, however, release five holiday songs for radio. Three of those Capitol songs are now joined by nine new recordings for Bogguss's long overdue holiday disc, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It's a perfectly pleasant project that never quite becomes special.

The most interesting tracks are the two she recorded with her good friend Chet Atkins before he died this past June. Atkins plays gut-string guitar on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and electric guitar on "Mr. Santa," and his understated lyricism is obvious on both, especially when Ricky Skaggs joins in on mandolin on the latter. Also of note is Bogguss's duet with Delbert McClinton on "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

McClinton, of course, has a sexy growl that Bogguss completely lacks. And it's the white-bread quality of her pretty pop soprano that makes this album such an underwhelming experience.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Suzy Bogguss, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703/690-4110.)