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Christmas album review: Kelly Clarkson's 'Wrapped In Red'

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Kelly Clarkson Wrapped in Red

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ARTIST: Kelly Clarkson
TITLE: “Wrapped in Red”
LABEL: RCA Records
STYLE: Contemporary Multi-Genre Christmas

NOTABLE: Original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson has recorded an occasional Christmas single over the years, but “Wrapped in Red” is her first full-length holiday album. She uses the larger format to explore a variety of genres and sounds, including Phil Spector-ish girl group, blues, country, soul, and contemporary pop.

In an interview with Marisa Fox for the October 26, 2013 issue of Billboard Magazine, Clarkson said she relished the opportunity to push stylistic boundaries: "I always get asked what genre I'm in: 'Is this country or pop or rock? What are you?'" she said. "And what's cool about making the Christmas album was, 'Oh, there are no limitations! We can do whatever we want!'"

Clarkson co-wrote five original songs for the collection. Guest star Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks and Dunn) assumes the “wolf” role in the duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood take turns on both lead vocals harmonies in a county church version of “Silent Night.” The Deluxe Edition, available at Target, contains two extra songs – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.”

HIGH POINTS: “Wrapped In Red” serves up a nearly perfect balance of familiar holiday chestnuts and new material. Clarkson’s big, powerful voice is perfectly suited for glitzy, upbeat originals like current single, “Underneath the Tree” as well as the title track, both of which harken back to Phil Spector’s classic “wall-of-sound” production style. She also shines in front of a big-band horn section on “My Favorite Things” and a rockin’ Memphis blues verson of “Run Run Rudolph.” Clarkson is in her “American Idol” finals element on “Every Christmas,” an original soulful ballad on which she really lets loose.

Slower numbers like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and a lovely “White Christmas” showcase Clarkson’s tone and phrasing, and are equally effective. A cover of Imogen Heap’s dysfunctional family Christmas tale, “Just For Now,” is a an unexpected and unconventional highlight.

LOW POINT: Clarkson belts when she should croon, and literally overwhelms Dunn on a too-fast version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” No matter how well Clarkson sings, a few of the song choices – especially “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Blue Christmas” – invite comparisons to the superior definitive versions already recorded by other artists.

GRADE: A-

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