‘A Tori Kelly Christmas’ embodies holiday spirit but lacks memorability 

Photo of A Tori Kelly Christmas Album
Capitol Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Every holiday season needs a complementary soundtrack to put people in the merry mood. In perfect harmony with the season, singer-songwriter Tori Kelly released her first holiday album, A Tori Kelly Christmas, Oct. 30. The album is jampacked with renditions of beloved holiday tunes, from “Silent Night” to “This Christmas,” and features two original songs. While Kelly’s covers offer an engaging, contemporary spin on holiday classics, her original songs leave more to be desired.

A Tori Kelly Christmas is Kelly’s second work released in quarantine, following her EP Solitude, in which she reflects on romantic relationships and self-image. While Solitude was solemn and soothing, this new album is more jazzed up and filled with holiday cheer. 

The holiday genre is not uncharted territory for Kelly. The singer-songwriter is featured on Pentatonix’s Christmas album, That’s Christmas to Me, giving strong vocals in “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy.” This song was especially notable because of its combination of a popular holiday tune and an iconic reggae-jazz hit. Following this fashion, Kelly’s holiday album features two songs that mashup classics.

 The track “Joy to the World/Joyful, Joyful” has background singers whose voices bear resemblance to that of a gospel choir. The gospel-inspired track is reminiscent of her previous record, Hiding Place, which landed Kelly a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album in 2019. She also received the Best Gospel Song/Performance Grammy Award that same year for the track “Never Alone,” written and sung by her and famous gospel musician, Kirk Franklin. 

A Tori Kelly Christmas is also graced by an eminent voice, with the track “Let it Snow” featuring 11-time Grammy winner Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, who also executively produced the album along with Scooter Braun. This “Let it Snow” rendition evokes warm feelings and bears similar brass instrumentation to the 1945 original sung by Vaughn Monroe. This brass appears throughout the album and creates a consistency in sound; at the same time, however, the album includes an assortment of bells, chimes, piano and guitar, creating enough differentiation to prevent the entire record from fusing together. 

Disappointingly, the original songs of the album are overshadowed by the classics, giving listeners nothing too memorable. “25th” is a love song: Kelly expresses a longing for fireside cuddles and holiday romance with lyrics such as “Don’t you know my only wish is to hold you on the 25th?” The second original, “Gift That Keeps On Giving,” is catchy and upbeat. Although the track feels like the identical twin of “25th,” Kelly puts a twist on it and says that this love lasts all year long. With these originals, Kelly takes no real risks; a love song is the safest card to play. From these two new songs, listeners can expect the usual holiday melodies and themes — nothing more, nothing less. 

“O Holy Night” is one of the more heartfelt and soothing songs of the album, which allows Kelly’s astounding vocals to better stand out. Though the song is tampered down compared to the others, the contrast it offers is not one of melancholy Christmas blues, but of a thoughtful and soulful ballad. Including this softer song in the album, along with tracks such as the dramatic and melodious “O Come, O Come Emmanuel/ O Come All Ye Faithful,” was key to keeping the festive album from becoming exasperatingly cheery. 

Few contemporary artists have been able to successfully create Christmas records that compete with the classics. Although A Tori Kelly Christmas does not reach the level of the star on the Christmas tree of Yuletide carols, the album is a welcomed ornament. Kelly displays remarkable talent with this album, and its dissimilarity to her previous work highlights her versatility. Kelly has mastered singing across multiple genres from pop to gospel, and with A Tori Kelly Christmas, she can consider the holiday genre successfully conquered. Whether listened to while wrapping up presents or spending time with loved ones, A Tori Kelly Christmas is a worthy new addition to any Christmas playlist this holiday season.

Contact Daniella Lake at [email protected].