Album Review: Kelly Clarkson, “Wrapped In Red” (2013)

I’m a sucker for Christmas music- especially the classics. While my fiance would rather listen to South Park’s Christmas album while we’re decorating our tree, I’m a stickler for tradition, and we end up listening to Bing Crosby instead. That being said, I do enjoy contemporary Christmas music as well, especially when one of my favourites releases a Christmas album.

The years of calling Kelly Clarkson one of my favourite artists has admittedly come and gone; I haven’t actually bought one of her albums since 2008, but I still have a soft spot for the American Idol winner. And I couldn’t resist picking up her new Christmas album, Wrapped In Red. The disc (which is Clarkson’s first Christmas album, and sixth studio release) includes a mix of Christmas classics, and new songs co-written by Clarkson, with production from Greg Kurstin (whom has also worked with P!nk, Sia, The Shins, and Lily Allen).

The album begins with the title track, Wrapped In Red. The original Christmas song was co-written by Clarkson, and features appropriately cheery backing music: jingling bells, an angelic choir, and tinkly piano. Lyrically, Clarkson sings about seeing her loved one on Christmas (“So I’m at your door with nothing more/Than words I’ve never said/In all this white, you’ll see me like/You’ve never seen me, yeah/Wrapped in red”), but the real delight of the song is Clarkson’s vocals. She saves some of her more impressive vocal runs for later, but she sounds lovely as ever on this track. The chorus isn’t particularly memorable, and the song took a few listens to grow on me, but it’s a pretty good track and a nice opener for the album.

Another original appears next with Underneath The Tree. The track sounds like a sequel to Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” with almost identical backing music. Clarkson’s voice is filled with Christmas cheer, and the track is upbeat and fun, but it falls a bit flat. Mostly, I’m not a fan of “original” Christmas songs (just stick to the classics, thanks), as they usually end up being corny and this track is no exception.

Thankfully, Clarkson takes my advice and covers the first of the classics with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. She plays it straight here- no frills, no exuberant background music, no lavish production- and the result is a beautiful rendition of the famous Christmas song. Clarkson cited Rosemary Clooney as an inspiration for the album, and she certainly channels her during this beautiful song; Clarkson’s voice is gorgeous and listening to this song will help anyone get into the “Christmas Spirit.”

Clarkson covers quite a few other staple Christmas songs. Run Run Rudolph is a fun little number with a country flair to it, reminding the listener of Clarkson’s Burleson, Texas roots. Though the loud, fast-paced song isn’t my favourite, it’s a nice change from all the ballads. Please Come Home For Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing) is a gospel-tinged number, which Clarkson sounds right at home singing, with her soulful vocals. Clarkson’s rendition of Blue Christmas might be my favourite cover of the song- I’ve never been a fan of Elvis’ popular rendition- mostly just because I love listening to her lush vocals during the track. My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music, is also included. Funnily enough, Clarkson’s fellow Idol alum, Carrie Underwood, just performed the song for a remake of the film. Though I haven’t heard Underwood’s version and can’t compare the two, I have to say Clarkson’s is interesting- she does a Broadway-esque style rendition that sounds like it would’ve fit right in on the Idol stage. Meanwhile, Clarkson duets with Ronnie Dunn (from country duo Brooks & Dunn) on Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Again, they sing the song pretty straight and it sounds pretty much identical to the renditions we’ve all heard over the years. That’s not a bad thing though- this song is a classic for a reason, and they do it justice in their own way. A jazz band and piano break add a classy touch to the song and makes me like it even more.

Of course, no Christmas album would be complete without White Christmas. I told this story on Twitter yesterday, but I thought I’d share it here: when I was a child, I misunderstood the meaning of White Christmas and thought it was a racist sentiment. So, being the clever child that I was, I began singing, “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas”…until my mother heard me and explained that “White Christmas” meant snow…not people 😉 Anyway, Clarkson’s version of the song is just lovely. There’s no deviation from the classic covers we’ve heard, and though I’ve noted that on three different songs now, let me just say how much I appreciate the fact that Clarkson just sings these traditional songs as they are intended to be sung (with the exception of My Favourite Things, that is. But I can overlook that one). There’s nothing more annoying than when an artist thinks they can do better by a standard by remixing it in some way; it’s a classic for a reason and it should stay that way. So thank you, Ms. Kelly Clarkson (or, Mrs. Kelly Blackstock, since she’s recently gotten married) for keeping it simple, classic, and traditional.Clarkson Live 2012

There’s a few other “new” songs, though. Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song) was apparently written for Clarkson’s new husband, and the lyrics are aptly romantic (“First winter here in your arms /Flames rising as we fall like the stars/Making angels in the snow, warm fuzzy, frozen through/Is this a dream?”). The song is a cute one, despite not being terribly exciting or catchy. Every Christmas is a blues-y little number where Clarkson works out her lower register, and the track actually does sound like one that would’ve been on Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. Again, the song is nice enough, though ultimately forgettable. 4 Carats is a strange song right from the opening bars, which sound oddly similar to Heart’s “Barracuda”. This track is for all the gold diggers of the Christmas season, as Clarkson sings, “Well Santa I’ve been thinking, and I just need one thing: You to bring me something shiny”. I guess it’s funny in a way, but I don’t really like the idea of a song flat out pointing out the fact that everyone turns Christmas into a commercial, gift-giving holiday. I prefer my Christmas music to be about love and family, instead of what fancy jewellery I could possibly want.

The weirdest moment, however, comes with Just For Now. The track opens sounding like it’s going to be “Jingle Bells”, until Clarkson starts purring, “just for now…”. As she sings the first verse, anyone familiar with Imogen Heap’s music will instantly recognize the track as being a cover of Heap’s song. The song being sung over an instrumental version of Jingle Bells is such a strange juxtaposition, and the first time I heard the song, I literally said, “Why is Kelly Clarkson putting Imogen Heap into my Christmas music?!”…but it actually works. Clarkson slows down Heap’s song, removes all the ambient music and echoing, and just sings over the instrumental. It’s really lovely- in an admittedly strange sort of way- and while the song has really nothing to do with Christmas (at all), I still love it and it’s probably my favourite song on the album.

The album ends with one more duet, this time between Clarkson and country singers, Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. McEntire begins Silent Night with her distinctive vocals, before Clarkson and Yearwood take up the other verses. Though I’m not really a fan of either McEntire or Yearwood, I have to admit that the three women sound lovely together; their voices blend flawlessly, and each of them bring a nice flavour to the song. The song is mostly acapella and really showcases their voices, and the track closes the album on a stunning note.

Wrapped In Red is a great Christmas album. I obviously enjoyed the classic covers most, but even the new songs were pretty good and not overly cheesy. Kelly Clarkson has a voice made for belting out Christmas songs, and this album is the perfect one to put on during this holiday season.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track List
1. Wrapped in Red
2. Underneath the Tree
3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
4. Run Run Rudolph
5. Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)
6. Every Christmas
7. Blue Christmas
8. Baby It’s Cold Outside
9. Winter Dream (Brandon’s Song)
10. White Christmas
11. My Favorite Things
12. 4 Carats
13. Just for Now
14. Silent Night

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IFfZRVRbqM]
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