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Kelly Clarkson’s “Wrapped in Red” is a Wonderful Early Christmas Gift

November 4, 2013

By John Corrado

Wrapped in Red CD CoverReleased last Tuesday just a few days before Halloween, Kelly Clarkson’s latest album Wrapped in Red is the very definition of an early Christmas present.  That is, a very early gift for the December holiday, that provides a welcome addition to any collection of seasonal music.

I’ve found myself writing about several albums over the past few months, and Wrapped in Red is one of the best of the year.  This is a collection of songs that not only stands proudly alongside the annual favourites from Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby from which it was inspired, but also feels like a modern classic in its own right.

The album opens with the title track “Wrapped in Red,” an original song that makes full use of Kelly Clarkson’s powerful range, with sweet lyrics that are said to be inspired by the excellent 2003 film Love Actually.  The second track “Underneath the Tree” was also written for the album, in a style that recalls the upbeat sound of the 1960s.  This super catchy single could easily become the song of the season, and the chorus of “presents, what a beautiful sight, don’t mean a thing if you ain’t holding me tight” already feels like something we will be hearing and singing for years to come.  This is one of the best modern holiday songs since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” back in 1994.

These two original songs lead into a touchingly melancholic cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” made famous by Judy Garland in the 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis.  The swinging spirit of the 1950s and ’60s is evident on the fourth track “Run Run Rudolph,” an infectiously upbeat take on the song that Chuck Berry first recorded in 1958.  The fifth track “Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)” is a beautifully performed cover of the blues classic, that fits perfectly alongside the moving “Every Christmas,” another original song co-written by Kelly Clarkson.

These longing romantic themes bring us to a cover of the Elvis classic “Blue Christmas,” which is perfectly carried by her spectacularly full voice.  The eighth track is a jazzy take on the seductive classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a duet with country singer Ronnie Dunn backed up by an arrangement that recalls the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s unforgettable contributions to A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The ninth track “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” is dedicated to her husband Brandon Blackstock, and it’s an irresistibly romantic love song that paints a wonderful portrait of falling in love.

Kelly Clarkson bares her heart throughout Wrapped in Red, and it’s clear that the singer is delightfully in love with everything about the holidays.  Her take on “White Christmas” is a direct throwback to the 1954 film of the same name that served as a clear inspiration for the album, with a piano arrangement that once again reminds us of Vince Guaraldi.  These jazz influences lead directly into a wonderful big band cover of “My Favourite Things.”  Because The Sound of Music has become such a perennial favourite to watch over the holidays, the song fits in nicely alongside the other tracks.

The twelfth track “4 Carats” is the fifth and final original piece on the album, an energetic song with backup vocals and layered instrumentals that recall the famous Wall of Sound heard on Phil Spector’s 1963 production A Christmas Gift for You.  The thirteenth track is a cover of British singer Imogen Heap’s 2005 song “Just for Now.”  This ballad feels decidedly more modern and downbeat compared to the rest of the album, but is none the less a strong example of her powerful vocals.

The fourteenth track is a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” that features guest vocals from country singers Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood.  The sound of these three distinct voices are lovely together as the instrumentals slowly fade out and the song ends on an a cappella note.  The fifteenth track “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is an excellent showcase for her powerhouse voice, backed up by the intimate sound of a jazz band.  The album ends in a hauntingly spiritual way with the classic hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.”

Kelly Clarkson knows her way around these classics, and the jazzy arrangements on many of the tracks provide a perfect backdrop for her powerful voice.  The new songs fit in nicely with the classics, and the album is filled with the feel good spirit of Christmas from beginning to end.  It’s only the beginning of November, but Wrapped in Red already feels like a modern classic.

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