Carrie Underwood released her first Christmas album this year, and critics are still combing through it for nuances to dissect. Underwood released My Gift on Sept. 25, and now that the holiday season is beginning in earnest, many fans are just finally unwrapping it. While the album was not what many expected from Underwood, that does not mean it is being poorly received.
Underwood has had a career full of trend-setting and record-breaking, and My Gift is no exception. The album was Underwood's eighth consecutive career-opening number-one album on the Billboard Top Country Album chart, and it also debuted at number-one on the Top Christian Albums and Top Holiday Albums charts. Overall, it debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. Of course, at least some of that success comes from Underwood's reputation and fan loyalty, but as the Christmas season begins in earnest, many listeners are digging into Underwood's album at last.
It also helps that Underwood's new holiday special just premiered on HBO Max this week. Underwood starred in and executive produced the special, where she performed all of the songs from My Gift.
In general, music critics have been struck by the deeply religious focus of the Christmas album and emphasized by the sparse and subtle instrumentation. Knowing that Underwood can play to massive stadiums with no problem, it is a surprise for many to hear her tone it down on this release.
Whether that surprise is a welcome one or not depends on the critic. Here is a look at what they are saying.
Tom Cramer of The Eastern Echo called Underwood's Christmas album "contemplative," and he believes it was made that way on purpose. With the coronavirus pandemic raging on, Cramer sees an intent behind Underwood's focus on the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Die-hard country fans may want to note that Cramer thinks My Gift has "a little bit of a country vibe, but not much."prevnext
Christmas-lovers were grateful to Underwood for releasing My Gift in September, even though it was early for the Christmas season. The Daily Nebraskan's Bailey Herrera argued that Underwood's fans needed the holiday spirit early this year.prevnext
To Vinyl Chapters' Emily Simpson, the joy in Underwood's album comes not from the somber Christmas songs themselves, but from the collaborations with other musicians. She first notes the duet "Hallelujah," performed with John Legend, before pointing out Underwood's duet with her own 5-year-old son, Isaiah Fisher. This, Simpson argues, is how Underwood's record embodies the togetherness of the holiday season.prevnext
Craig Hoffman of The Bluffton Icon wrote that Underwood "cashed in" with this Christmas album but did not seem to hold it against her too much. He noted that she is "enthusiastically Christian," which helps explain some of her song choices, but he still seemed to wish there were more original songs on the album.prevnext
The Salve Regina University student newspaper, Mosaic, published a review of My Gift by Lindsay Martin highlighting the "traditional" aspects of the album that "immediately transports you back to church on Christmas Eve." Whether that is what you want out of a Christmas album is for each listener to decide, but Martin argues that there is no denying Underwood's incredible vocal prowess on the album, regardless.prevnext
Reviewer Kristin M. Hall of The Associated Press argues that the original material is the strongest part of My Gift. She wrote that Underwood and Legend "push each other to new and impressive heights" on "Hallelujah," while the more traditional songs are simply less interesting. Hall even wrote that Underwood's duet with her 5-year-old son on "Little Drummer Boy" was "adorably cute, but it borders on saccharine."prevnext
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine pointed out that My Gift is "adorned with very few bells and whistles, and a sparse choice that helps highlight how Underwood chooses to sing primarily religious-themed material." Overall, this makes the album a "stately, somber affair," he feels.prev