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Alicia Keys—“Santa Baby” Album Review

Story posted November 14, 2022 in Arts & Entertainment by Rachel Newnam.

Alicia Keys released her first holiday album to Apple Music this past Friday. The album, titled “Santa Baby,” contains seven holiday classics that have been reimagined by Keys, as well as four original songs including “December Back 2 June,” Keys’ most recent single.

This album perfectly blends R&B music with the holiday season and demonstrates that Keys, a veteran in the music industry, has no reservations about taking risks with the music she releases.

The “Santa Baby” album begins, fittingly, with the song “Santa Baby,” but does not immediately dive into the music. After a short drumroll, Keys starts the tune by addressing Santa and asking if she can read her Christmas list to him. With a soft piano playing in the background as she slowly sings along, Keys sounds as though she is a lounge singer performing for a small audience.

After this song, Keys puts her falsetto voice on display in a revisited version of “Christmas Time is Here,” then quickly transitions to an unrecognizable recording of “Favorite Things,” which was originally featured in the film “The Sound of Music.”

“Favorite Things,” though usually performed as an upbeat, energetic song about all the wonderful things in life, is performed on this album as a bluesy, downtempo song with more focus on the music than the lyrics.

Keys practically whispers as she lists her favorite things, but the piano consistently plays the same melody over and over again while a voice, assumedly Keys’, vocalizes the song’s original chorus.

Despite the entire album having a lounge-y, smooth jazz feel to it, “Favorite Things” clearly stands out because of how different it is from the original song. Additionally, this song feels much more subdued in comparison to the album’s largely soulful and upbeat discography.

Keys’ original songs on this album are spectacular and make this album worth listening to. One does not need much more than a few jingle bells ringing in the background of any song to make it sound like Christmas, but Keys manages to go beyond this while still embracing her traditional R&B/Soul sound.

“December Back 2 June” leans more into the Hip-Hop realm of R&B while maintaining the jazzy sound that distinguishes Keys from other popular R&B artists. In contrast, “You Don’t Have to be Alone for Christmas” is significantly slower and much more mellow, but more closely resembles a low-key pop song. This song showcases Keys’ vocal range as well as her spectacular voice control.

The final two original songs on this album appear back-to-back. “Old Memories on Christmas” begins as a slow song but picks up after the first chorus and becomes much more groovy. Lyrics such as “Old memories, they don't go away / They show up on Christmas Eve and leave you wishing for childhood days,” demonstrate the song’s theme that the feeling of Christmas changes with age and as one grows up it is easy to become nostalgic for the way holidays used to feel.

Putting a spin on traditional Christmas songs, “Not Even the King” was originally released with Keys’ 2012 album, “Girl on Fire,” and is a ballad that emphasizes the importance of relationships with those you love instead of worldly possessions.

Keys closes out the album with a powerful rendition of Ave Maria. In Keys’ version of the song, the background music is simple and mostly traditional with subtle traces of R&B and Soul.

Overall, Keys does an excellent job with all of the songs on this album aside from the peculiar reimagination of “Favorite Things.” The classic holiday songs that Keys covers are terrific, and her original Christmas songs illustrate the talent that Keys possesses as an artist, but they do unfortunately fall short when it comes to feeling like Christmas.

While it is likely not an album that will become a holiday classic, Keys did a good job with this album and her fans will certainly enjoy her twist on the traditional sounds of the season.

Rating: 7/10

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “December Back 2 June,” “Please Come Home For Christmas,” “Ave Maria”
Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “Favorite Things”

Rachel Newnam is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email ren5102@psu.edu

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