Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red
2013, RCA Records
Buy the album
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 Dreams (Brandon’s Song)”
10. “White Christmas”
11. “My Favorite Things”
12. “4 Carats”
13. “Just for Now”
14. “Silent Night”
This will be the first time and probably only time (unless she releases another Christmas album) I’ll ever review a Kelly Clarkson album. I actually don’t mind Kelly Clarkson. She’s adorable, seems much more down to earth and girl-next-door than your normal pop star and her songs aren’t terrible and some even have a rock edge to them. I don’t own any of her albums but she’s tolerable. My only issue is she keeps dying her hair blonde! I don’t think it suits her. She’s much prettier as a brunette.
Five of the songs here are originals: “Wrapped in Red”, “Underneath the Tree” (which was released as the lead single), “Every Christmas”, “Winter’s Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” and “4 Carats”. They’re all pretty good songs. “Wrapped in Red” has an upbeat 1960s vibe to it. Reminds me of The Ronettes. “Underneath the Tree” is a modern holiday classic that brings to mind Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. “Every Christmas” seems like a modern retelling of “Baby, Please Come Home for Christmas” while “Winter’s Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” is what I call “American Eagle music”. Something that you’d hear playing at hipster stores like Old Navy or Aeropostale. “4 Carats” is a modern pop number.
The rest of the album is mostly comprised of old standards that are dusted off by Clarkson’s powerful vocals. We already know these songs are good. The question is always does the vocalist and does the arrangement do them justice? The answer is yes. Everyone else agrees too because the album was a success right out of the gate. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 and has already been certified platinum.
With Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson has turned in a classy holiday album that I’m sure I’ll revisit over the years. She is truly the only good thing to ever come out of American Idol.
Highlights: “Wrapped in Red”, “Underneath the Tree”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Every Christmas”, “White Christmas”
Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby (Deluxe Edition)
2012, Verve Music Group
1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Winter Wonderland
4. White Christmas
5. Merry Christmas, Baby
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
7. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
8. Blue Christmas
9. Red-Suited Super Man
10. When You Wish Upon A Star
11. We Three Kings
12. Silent Night
13. Auld Lang Syne
14. What Child Is This
15. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
16. Silver Bells
Producer: David Foster & Rod Stewart
For the past decade Rod Stewart has been content to become a crooner covering the “great American songbook” as well as Motown and rock ‘n’ roll staples. Despite having said in the past that he would never do a Christmas album, it was really only a matter of time before he did just that. Rod isn’t a rock star or a pop star anymore. He’s a crooner in the tradition of Crosby, Sinatra and Martin (just as Michael Buble is). You can’t be a crooner and not do a holiday album.
Rod has not been taking any chances in the past decade when covering the materials of others. The songs are played faithfully and in their traditional big-band fashion just with Rod’s raspy vocals laid over. A few exceptions would be songs like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” or “Winter Wonderland” where the tempo is a bit slower. It’s easy listening background music at a Christmas party. Not that I’m complaining.
These songs are classics for a reason and in my opinion they don’t need to be remixed or refashioned into flamenco, country and dance songs. Just give someone with a great voice the mic and let’em sing. That’s exactly what’s been done with Merry Christmas, Baby.
As standard, there’s a few cameos on this album. Michael Buble appears on “Winter Wonderland”, Cee-Lo Green lends a hand on “Merry Christmas, Baby” and Mary J. Blige duets with Rod on “We Three Kings”.
While I can’t say I’ve ever really followed Rod’s career, he’s always had a great distinctive voice so it’s wonderful to hear to him put his vocal stamp on these timeless classics. There’s a couple of songs I didn’t really care for though. “Red-Suited Superman” being one and I felt the inclusion of “When You Wish Upon a Star” was out of place. Why not just save that for the next volume of his Great American Songbook series? That’s not really a Christmas song at all.
In any event, this is a good easy-listening Christmas album that’s well worth picking up for Chrirstmas traditionalists.
Highlights: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “White Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “What Child Is This”
John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas
2012, Universal Music Enterprises
1. Baby It’s Cold Outside
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
3. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
4. This Christmas
5. Silent Night
6. The Christmas Waltz
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
8. Winter Wonderland
9. White Christmas
10. I Think You Might Like It
11. The Christmas Song
12. Deck the Halls
13. Auld Lang Syne/Christmas Time Is Here
Okay, this project sounded too campy to pass up. I mean, just look at that album cover! It’s a complete sugar overload of Christmas cookies and they embrace it. The pull is that you’re getting to hear John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John sing together 34 years after they first teamed in the movie Grease. And they’ve chosen to reunite over an album’s worth of classic Christmas songs. Somehow, it seems right.
I wasn’t sure what exactly was going to be going on with this album. Would the songs be played traditionally or would they shake things up? Well, it’s a bit of both. For example, for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” the male & female roles are reversed. Nice twist. “Silent Night” starts off with a flute and features some nice violin work as well.
There is only one song on the entire album that I am not a fan of and that’s only because I’ve never been a fan of this song: “This Christmas”. I just don’t like that song, no matter which artist is playing it. There is one original song here: “I Think You Might Like It”. It’s Christmas meets Grease. I think I might like it. It’s a true guilty pleasure.
There’s a few guest spots as well: Barbara Streisand (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”), James Taylor (“Deck The Halls”), Kenny G (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”), Cliff Richard (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) and Tony Bennett (“Winter Wonderland”).
I’m a fool for Christmas standards and as long as you don’t stray too far away from the traditional versions, I’m going to like what I’m hearing. Olivia’s voice is just as good as ever and John does a good job as well. They both really seem to be enjoying themselves on this project.
If you ever wanted to hear Danny & Sandy singing Christmas tunes, pick this album up. It’s a fun kitschy romp.
Highlights: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “The Christmas Waltz”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “I Think You Might Like It”, “The Christmas Song”
Rick Springfield – Songs for the End of the World
(2012, Universal Music Enterprises)
1. Wide Awake
2. Our Ship’s Sinking
3. I Hate Myself
4. You & Me
6. A Sign of Life
7. My Last Heartbeat
9. Love Screws Me Up
10. I Found You
12. One Way Street
Rick Springfield – Lead Vocals, Guitar
George Bernhardt – Guitar
Tim Pierce – Guitar
Dan Strain – Guitar
Matt Bissonette – Bass, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Rodger Carter -Drums
George Nastos – Guitar
Richard Page – Vocals
John Waite – Vocals
Producer: Rick Springfield & Matt Bissonette
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me has been Songs for the End of the World. Sure, I know a handful of Rick Springfield’s hit and while I’ve never had a problem with them, I never felt truly compelled to seek out any of his albums. Well, I was aware this album was coming out but still wasn’t too interested in checking it out. Then I came across some extremely high praise for this album online and decided that I needed to see what the big deal was. My conclusion? This is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.
Now, I’m not someone who has followed Rick Springfield throughout his career so perhaps his fanbase already knew what to expect from Rick but for anyone who remembers him for “Jessie’s Girl’ and being an ’80s heartthrob on a soap opera, there is nothing retro or ’80s about this album. Springfield has crafted a near perfect masterpiece of modern rock/pop with Songs for the End of the World. If this album had been released by an artist half (or a third) his age, we’d probably have some big radio hits to talk about here. Sadly, that’s not how the music business works these days but at 63 years old, Rick’s voice is fantastic, the lyrics are excellent, the production is amazingly well done and the songs themselves dig their way into your brain and decide to make themselves at home.
If Rick’s back catalog is even half as good as this album, I’ve really really been missing out. I’ve seen a number of critics online stating this is easily his best album since returning to recording music in 1999 and some sites are even going as far to say it’s one of his best albums PERIOD.
The first four tracks are outstanding: “Wide Awake” is a great opener, “Our Ship’s Sinking” and “I Hate Myself” are fantastic anthems that should go over HUGE with a live crowd and “You & Me” is the type of pop/rock ballad that should be all over radio.
“My Last Heartbeat”, “Depravity”, “I Found You” all have a very modern, dark heavier edge to them. “I Found You” especially. A band of twenty-somethings should wish they could write this good. “Love Screws Me Up” is yet another classic anthem that is sure to go down great in a live setting.
“One Way Street” and “A Sign of Life” are good songs but they are the only songs that song a bit less modern but not in a “oh, that sounds like an ’80s song” kind of way. Maybe “timeless” is the correct word? The only two tracks that fall flat with me are the ballads “Joshua” and “Gabriel”. I just can’t get into ’em.
If you’re a fan of melodic rock, you really have to pick this album up. I’m converted based off this album alone.
Highlights: “Wide Awake”, “Our Ship’s Sinking”, “I Hate Myself”, “You & Me”, “My Last Heartbeat”, “Love Screws Me Up”, “I Found You”, “Depravity”