Clarkson delivers a compelling holiday offering with ‘Wrapped in Red’
It is a moment that every serious artist should seize – the holiday album. Kelly Clarkson has been holding out – like since 2003. Now 11 years after being crowned the first American Idol and becoming one of few to transcend merely being a contestant on the show, Clarkson finally releases that Christmas album. What Clarkson does do that is respectable and captivating is that she eschews the traditional carol-dominated Christmas in favor of one with more risks. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it innovative mind you, but it definitely pushes more boundaries than most artists are, which is a testament to Clarkson’s rebellious spirit.
“Wrapped in Red” opens Clarkson’s first Christmas album both brightly and inspired. Vocally, Clarkson sounds both clear and commanding, proving to be a perfect suitor for holiday-oriented songs. What particularly stands out are Clarkson’s effortless ad libs and nuances; girl can sang! The proceeding “Underneath the Tree” pushes the momentum to even loftier heights, sporting a quick pace and a very tongue-in-cheek sound. Like the opener, Clarkson sounds incredibly refined utilizing her instrument to the fullest. Having a nice vocal arrangement intact with supporting vocals certainly doesn’t hurt. Hard to ever go wrong with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and of course Clarkson doesn’t. The slackening of tempo arrives at a most opportune time, letting the listener catch a breath following the energetic opening duo. Also, some colorful melodic changes keeps things spicy.
Smartly (if calculated), “Run Run Rudolph” returns the ‘groove’ missing from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, also reinstating a quicker pace. Clarkson’s vocal approach is gritty and bluesy, showing off her upper register. “Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)” keeps things bluesy, but slows the tempo down providing the best of both worlds. Clarkson doesn’t reinvent R&B singer Charles Brown’s original, but she sings it superbly. She follows it up with the horn-filled six-eight balladry of “Every Christmas”, which continues to serve as confirmation of Clarkson’s artistry and prowess. Oh and some organ and a backing gospel choir doesn’t hurt her cause either.
“Blue Christmas” certainly is one of the more ubiquitous carols, and often proves enjoyable from various artists interpretations. While this cut shows more calm, cool, and collected Clarkson for the most part, she definitely makes some melodic changes on the final verse. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” finds Clarkson duetting with Ronnie Dunn. The results are enjoyable, though I find myself more intrigued by the version released by Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera on Cee Lo’s Magical Moment. The chemistry between Clarkson and Dunn doesn’t seem to gel perfectly. Following the jazzy number, Clarkson drops “Winter Dream (Brandon’s Song)”, certainly no ‘carol’ I’m familiar with. Regardless, the pop/singer/songwriter oriented number definitely provides something unique that few holiday albums have.
If “Winter Dream” was too unfamiliar, she atones with both “White Christmas” as well as “My Favorite Things”, but popular and memorable carols. “White Christmas” is beautifully performed, particularly given its stripped approach. It’s definitely not the most exciting number of Wrapped in Red, but it’s easily quite a pure one. As for “My Favorite Things”, it receives a jazzy interpretation, borrowing elements from John Coltrane’s famous interpretation of the classic. Need a recent contrast? Mary J. Blige also performed this favorite from The Sound of Music.
After once more going ‘standard’, Clarkson expands with “4 Carats” and “Just for Now”. “4 Carats” may not be synonymous with “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Silver Bells”, but it’s definitely a worthwhile spin. “Just For Now” has more of a singer/songwriter feel, taking a bit more a restrained approach initially. It’s not my favorite, but it’s no deal breaker either. “Silent Night” closes (featuring Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood), as it seems it almost always does on every Christmas album. Clarkson doesn’t stray to far from the Christmas hymn here, which is a positive thing. Sometimes reinterpretations aren’t as, um, kind….
Ultimately, Wrapped in Red is a solid Christmas album courtesy of one of today’s finest voices. It isn’t perfect, but this particular album seems to have more ‘oomph’ compared to MJB’s recent A Mary Christmas (I love MJB btw). Clarkson always excels vocally and the arrangements are overall exceptional as well. If I were looking for that obligatory new Christmas album to add to the collection, this one would be high on the list of possibilities.
Favorites: “Wrapped in Red”; “Underneath the Tree”; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; “Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)”; “Every Christmas”
Kelly Clarkson | Wrapped In Red | RCA | US Release Date: October 29, 2013