[HOT TRACK]Christmas in the family way

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[HOT TRACK]Christmas in the family way

When you think about Christmas albums, you think Frank, Bing, Nat and Elvis and their renditions of time-honored carols. Who would think Toni and original compositions?

With "Snowflakes," the breathy rhythm-and-blues artist Toni Braxton presents nine Christmas songs - six of them new - and two remixes. The originals are written by Braxton in collaboration with big names like Babyface, Isaac Hayes and Braxton's husband, Keri Lewis. The covers are the old familiars "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "The Christmas Song."

Braxton handles all of the yuletide tracks in a sultry yet easy-listening style; pop this CD in between Bing and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Grandma won't choke on her fruitcake.

The album cover depicts the singer and her voluptuous allure, framed from the chest up, barely contained in a skimpy red dress. But turn the booklet over and there's Braxton bursting out from the belly. Early this month, and soon after the photo was taken, she gave birth to a boy, Denim Cole Braxton Lewis.

Of the new songs, "Snowflakes of Love," a romantic ballad, is a tune that will have you yearning for a friend and a fireplace. The opener, "Holiday Celebrate," was co-written by Braxton's sister Tamar, who also added backing vocals. "Christmas in Jamaica" is a duet with the rap-reggae singer Shaggy. And on "Snowflakes of Love" Braxton samples the jazz fusion of the Earl Klugh Trio.

Braxton's career was born about 10 years ago in Maryland when she was studying to get her teaching certificate. In 1992, her deep, enticing voice got her signed on with LaFace, the record company started by Babyface and L.A. Reid, which was later bought by Arista Records. Early on she was known in the industry as "The First Lady of L.A. Face." Her first hit, "Give U My Heart," was in the sound track of the Eddie Murphy film "Boomerang." Her 1993 debut album, containing "Breathe Again," earned her Grammy awards for best new artist and best female R&B vocal performance.

"Snowflakes" won't become a standard inclusion in every family's Christmas music library; nor will it match the brisk sales of Braxton's other three albums. But it is notable for its novel approach - a collection of exclusively classic carols might have been a better commercial strategy - and that Braxton and Lewis recorded and produced the songs in the later stages of her pregnancy.

by Park Soo-mee

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