The Holiday Album Problem

While there is nothing wrong with a seasonal release per se, holiday records often suffer from poor artistry. This mediocrity comes in the form of bland productions and half-hearted interpretations of winter tunes. To her credit, Carole King attempts to remedy these issues on A Holiday Carole, her first studio recording in a decade.

King and her producer, daughter Louise Goffin, have created a project that feels true to King's persona as a nostalgic pop icon. The album highlights her warm, raspy vocals with piano-driven productions. The best songs are the Goffin co-penned tracks. (This is the first album in King's catalog where she exclusively covers tracks written by other artists.) The latin-flavored "Christmas Paradise" has a charming production and highlights the singer's career-spanning interest in latin music. The urban-pop inflected "Christmas in the Air" boasts the best pop hook King has recorded in some time. Best of all is the closing track, "New Year's Day," a moody piano-ballad about gratitude and friendship in the vein of "You've Got a Friend" and "Now and Forever."

The album's treatment of classics is more mixed. While "My Favorite Things" plays well, "Carol of the Bells" is clumsy both in performance and production. "Sleigh Ride" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" also lack personality. Fortunately, the sexy, big-band sound of "Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday" comes off as playful and fun, as does the Hathaway/McKinnor standard, "This Christmas."

At its best, A Holiday Carole shows that Carole King is still an engaging vocalist who deserves attention. Not to mention, her most popular tracks have long cast her as both wistful and affectionate, which allows her to carry much of the seasonal material with grace. The feeling the album cannot shake is how wonderful it would be if King were to release a straight-up pop record again. Here's to hoping this album can tide fans over until then.

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