Steeped in tradition, Kelly Clarkson’s “Wrapped In Red,” pulls off the nearly impossible feat: it’s a new holiday album that will immediately fit in with the classics on your shelf.
Clarkson and producer Greg Kurstin have clearly studied legendary Christmas album of yore—most notably Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” and Andy Williams’ “Merry Christmas”— to lovingly recreate Christmas standards, as well as craft new ones in the image of those sets.
Of course, all the homage-paying wouldn’t matter if Clarkson didn’t have both the voice power to carry off the full-throated confidence on “Blue Christmas” or “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” as well as the sense of fun that her spritely, horn-laden “Run Run Rudolph,” her jazzy remake of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (with Ronnie Dunn) or some of the originals command.
“Wrapped in Red” and “Underneath the Tree,” two of the album’s five new songs, benefit from a Spector-ish production that recalls girl groups of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Of the two, “Underneath the Tree” takes the retro, bouncy wall-of-sound to the max. It’s a finger-popping, bell-ringing pleaser that could achieve that rare feat of becoming a new Christmas standard. That hasn’t happened since Mariah’ Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” in 1994.
Both the perky, sweet “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” and “4 Carats,” a song that wants to be a bit like Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” fit in well with the lighthearted tone of the other originals, even if the two suffer a little in comparison.
The one misfire on the album belongs to Imogene Heap’s “Just For Now,” a piano ballad that is only tangentially tied to Christmas and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the set in that it sounds way too contemporary. Take out the few holiday references and it could be a single on non-seasonal track for Clarkson or Pink.
When it comes to the traditionals, Clarkson brings just the right reverential tone, whether it be on the luscious, beautifully arranged “White Christmas,” or “The Sound of Music’s “”My Favorite Things.”
The album ends with a elegant rendition of “Silent Night,” featuring two of Clarkson’s idols: Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. It’s gorgeously rendered, although McEntire’s voice is so distinctive it overwhelms Yearwood and Clarkson a little.
Christmas albums often feel like slap-dash affairs meant to sell albums between sets of new materials, but not this one. Clarkson has created a keeper for seasons to come.
Kelly Clarkson sparkles on 'Wrapped In Red' holiday album
She looks to classic holiday albums of the past for delightful set