Ever since her triumphant win at the American Idol, Clarkson has been on autopilot driving her record making machine shooting off singles. Eleven years after her acceptance of her Idol diadem, with No.1s such as “Before Your Love,” “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “Stronger,” Clarkson has had more hits than misses. However, over the course of her successful run, she has often been littering hints of her desire to take the occasional detour off the tried and true contemporary pop route. On her 2007 introspective “My December,” for instance, Clarkson has devoted a full album to explore her darker rock roots. That same year she also charted a no. 2 country hit “Because of You” with her future mother-in-law Reba McEntire. Moreover, last year, Clarkson charted again with another country entry “Don’t Rush;” this time sharing the microphone with country crooner Vince Gill. So, instead of having giving us a definite confirmation as to the future direction she will be taking, Clarkson has given us the seasonal “Wrapped in Red.” The beauty of a Christmas album is that all the domesticating rules with regards to genres can be suspended. Christmas songs have a way of transcending genres; so what you will find here is an amalgam of blues, pop, country, soul, jazz all thrown together making “Wrapped in Red” one of Clarkson’s most enjoyable album to date.
“Wrapped in Red,” Clarkson’s sixth studio record, finds her handling the reins to producer Greg Kurstin. Other than producing for P!nk, Devo and the Shins, Kusrstin had produced tracks on Clarkson’s preceding albums “Stronger” and “Greatest Hits – Chapter One.” Kurstin certainly brings in his Midas touch to the project especially with the 5 original cuts. The title cut “Wrapped in Red” starts off the record with a retro 60s Beatles-like vibe that tells of the protagonist’s determined resolve to be bold in her declaration of love. Just as red is the color of deep seated emotions, Clarkson refracts an arrayed of emotions throughout the song; from a quiet vulnerability at the beginning to soaring to a passionate outburst of red hot passion by the chorus’ tail end. “Underneath the Stars,” the lead single to be released to radio this Christmas, brings doo wop back in vogue again. Sure Clarkson has tackled a diverse set of song-styles on Idol, but who would have thought she could have given the Supremes a run for their money?
And to celebrate her recent matrimony with Reba McEntire’s step son Brandon Blackstock, Clarkson has co-written the love infested “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song).” Taking a slice of big band, some jumpy sounds of neo-jazz and some Adele-like piano balladry, “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” is an indulgent love song that is as the titular suggests dreamy, cozy and so romantic. “4 Carats” has been described by Clarkson as a cross between Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.” However, the song’s deliberately old fashioned sounding varnish is somehow defaced by the incessant drumming. “Just for Now,” on the other hand, is a modern piano ballad that sits awkwardly on this festive offering. Other than a few phrasal nods to Christmas, it’s essentially a passable pop ballad. The song is only redeemed by the richness of Clarkson’s vocal diversity. Here she shows us that she can be just as effective in her breathy whimpers as well as her high hitting jaw dropping belts.
Of the traditional covers, Clarkson has brought in her country music cohorts. First, with her mom-in-love Reba McEntire and her musical idol Trisha Yearwood joining her on “Silent Night.” Reba’s southern drawl vocals are so distinctive that she almost stole the show. Second, Ronnie Dunn who has been known for as one half of the now dysfunctional Brooks and Dunn supplements Clarkson well on the otherwise cheesy “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” As red is the color of heightened emotions, “Wrapped in Red” will get us draped in an arrayed of emotions as we celebrate Christmas. After all, isn't Christmas God's love in its greatest declarative form when He did send us His son?