‘Wrapped in Red’ Kelly Clarkson Listening to the first three songs on Kelly Clarkson’s new holiday release is a lot like getting a detailed Christmas card from a good friend who you haven’t thought of in a while. It’s one part “Oh, hey, so that’s what you’ve been up to” and one part “Oh, right, this is why I like you!” But if you keep listening it’s a little bit like hanging out with that old friend for a long weekend. You get traces of “Oh yeah, that’s what kinda always bugged me about you.” (Mainly it’s her choice of cover songs. Sure, Imogen Heap is great, but her “Just for Now” doesn’t really fit on this compilation.) But her voice is every bit as remarkable as it was when she won the first “American Idol.” The highlight may actually be an original song, “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song),” which she wrote for her husband.
“A Mary Christmas” Mary J. Blige Upon first glance, this album looks like such a no-brainer that you wonder why this didn’t happen way sooner. Mary’s soulful voice and that punny title are holiday gold, right? Not quite. Mary does sound great, but pianist and producer David Foster — best known for creating the Celine Dion sound and the Josh Groban sound — gives the whole collection too much of the Celine Dion sound and the Josh Groban sound. Maybe this compilation really should have happened sooner, and without David Foster.
“Duck the Halls” The Robertsons Ya know how we were praising the pun of the Mary J Blige album title and wondering, “why didn’t anybody make this happen earlier?” the initial reaction to any musical output from the family behind “Duck Dynasty” is one of “who let this happen?” But the weird thing is, it’s actually pretty good. Kicking off with “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas,” a song that Willie Robertson actually co-wrote, it’s a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Sure, they have plenty of hired hands from the country music genre helping out, but this is a fun album. Sadie and Uncle Si can’t really sing and there are lyrics like “We bought every string of lights Walmart had” and “Like Jesus and Santa Claus, we’ve got love behind these beards” (in the same song!), but it’s full of goofy cheer for anybody who always wanted to hear a follow-up single to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” And you may be surprised to realize that you were one of those people!
“Psych-Out Chrismas” Various artists The album cover features Santa with a spliff in his mouth, so it's no stretch to say this 17-song compilation is a real trip. It’s contemporary psychedelic indie acts like Psychic Ills and Quintron and Miss Pussycat alongside veterans like Iggy Pop, providing mostly sincere — if not a little hazy — takes on holiday classics. Sleepy Sun’s re-imagining of “What Child is This?” is so epic you’ll feel as high as the star (or angel) atop your tree and want to see the figurines of the nativity set rocking out to it.