Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped In Red is a generous set (16 tracks, including five original songs) and the most serious contender to dethrone Michael Bublé’s Christmas as that album you hear around the holidays at the bank, mall, pharmacy and your aunt’s house. It’s pop, it’s jazz, it’s even a little bit country, and it works, a feat only possible because of Clarkson’s voice and range and charm – you can hear her having fun on the record.
The lead single off Wrapped In Red, “Underneath the Tree,” is a sweet up-tempo Christmas pop tune reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” “Presents, what a beautiful sight / Don’t mean a thing if you ain’t holding me tight / You’re all that I need / Underneath the tree.” The jingle bells are sometimes too loud; it’s as though they think listeners won’t glean that this is a Christmas song without them.
Among other original songs, “Wrapped In Red,” which opens the album, is another vehicle for the American Idol’s big voice. It’s also another song in which the message is “you > gifts, money, stuff.” It’s nice and sweet, but you’re thrown by the time you get to “4 Carats,” on which Clarkson, who co-wrote the song, sings: “Santa I’ve been thinking / And I’m just needing one thing / You to bring me something shiny / Like a diamond ring, just a little something from Tiffany’s / Or a big ruby, you know red has always looked good on me.” It’s a less sexy “Santa Baby,” and one of the weaker cuts on Wrapped.
Among the classics, Clarkson does great covers of ballads “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas,” but it’s her “Blue Christmas” that sold me on the album. She captures the melancholy of the song in a nice soulful-country way. Among upper-tempo songs, “Winter Dreams,” an original composition, works, but “Run Run Rudolph” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a duet with Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, leave a bit to be desired. The other guests on the album are country stars Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood on “Silent Night.”
The Christmas album market is way past the point of over-saturation, but it’s great to hear someone like Clarkson try different things with the same old songs we hear every year. It’s also easy to envision “Underneath the Tree” becoming a new classic.
Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped In Red (RCA, 2013)
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 (feat. Ronnie Dunn)
9. Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)
10. White Christmas
11. My Favourite Things
12. 4 Carats
13. Just for Now
14. Silent Night (feat. Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood)
15. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
16. Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel
Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped In Red is out Oct. 29.