At this point, recording a Christmas album is one of the hardest thing a contemporary artist can do. Pretty much everyone before them has already recorded one, so how can they possibly have something new to say? Not only do they have to bring a unique twist to the standards, but they can’t stray too far from the norm that alienates the audience that loves to listen to holiday music. You’re pretty much stuck in between a rock and a hard place.
Well, Kelly Clarkson is willing to jump in there with her new album, Wrapped In Red. Ambitiously, the pop star has co-written 5 original songs out of the 13 tracks that make up the album. She starts off with 2 of them, “Wrapped In Red” and “Underneath The Tree”. The latter has the feel of Mariah Carey‘s now classic “All I Want For Christmas”, but both of them have a epic pop feel that works extremely well. After that, Kelly settles into the standards to varying success.
With its string accompaniment, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sounds exactly like Amy Grant‘s version (who is the queen of contemporary Christmas music), but at least Kelly goes for a killer ending note. Same goes for “Please Come Home For Christmas”. In the arrangement, she doesn’t do anything new, but you can’t ignore the amazing vocals Kelly brings to the table. Surprisingly, her strongest moment comes with “Run Run Rudolph”. A song that rarely works, but Kelly’s pop/rock background works perfectly for it. She also takes on The Sound Of Music track, “My Favourite Things” (which has somehow become a Christmas song), and the big band jazz arrangement works quite well.
Her bluesy original song “Every Christmas” sounds like a combination of “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “Blue Christmas”, which is actually convenient since its the song that bridges those two standards. “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” (for her new husband) and “4 Carats” (an ode to Santa similar to “Santa Baby”) work much better as original tracks.
Another original track, “Just For Now”, which was actually written by Imogen Heap, stands out as the oddball of the bunch, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a great track, but it’s clearly Kelly’s attempt to push the boundaries of what constitutes a Christmas song, and a song written by Heap is just the way to do that.
The biggest disappointment is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. The sexy soulful track lends itself to a big showdown between 2 charismatic performers, but Kelly Clarkson found the wrong partner in Ronnie Dunn. His half-decent voice for country music does nothing to compliment Kelly’s powerhouse vocals. There’s no chemistry whatsoever. She should have employed someone like Michael Buble, Usher, Ne-Yo, Bruno Mars…the list is long.
One of the extra tracks is “Silent Night”. Kelly already did a spectacular a capella version of that song for the American Idol christmas album. So how do you tackle it again? Well, you get Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood to join you. The arrangement here has a much more church hymn feel to it and the combination of these three voices gives it an epic feel.
Wrapped In Red doesn’t reach the heights of other contemporary Christmas albums from Amy Grant, Faith Hill, or Sheryl Crow, but Kelly Clarkson has made a solid Christmas album that manages to stand out for the most important reason: her voice.