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JoJo, “December Baby”

Album review: JoJo’s “December Baby” is the ultimate modern Christmas album

The pop singer’s album is an impassioned and soulful triumph in a sea of holiday releases.

Put the skulls and witches’ brooms away; celebrities are here to usher us into the next great holiday season with a fresh batch of Christmas and holiday releases full of good (and bad) cheer.

Nevermind Carly Rae Jepsen’s new Christmas single or Tori Kelly’s festive album—actually, don’t nevermind them; they’re both great… but I digress. The ultimate modern Christmas album is here courtesy of the one and only JoJo, who can do no wrong, and apparently never stops to even consider doing something wrong. After re-recording and re-releasing her first two albums in 2018, then dropping her incredible new album “Good to Know” AND its remixed deluxe version in 2020, not to mention releasing a voting anthem penned by none other than Diane Warren, “The Change,” the world’s busiest songstress who never sleeps is back yet again with an impeccable collection of Christmas songs old and new.

Titled “December Baby”, the 13-track collection (if you count interludes) packages the best that the Christmas season has to offer: nostalgia, melancholy, hope, and religious sentimentality.

JoJo’s voice was built for gospel and R&B, and never has that natural skill been on full display like it is here. From the very beginning of the album, JoJo effortlessly yet skillfully belts, trills, and generally sangs her way through some classics without overdoing it as some of her contemporaries are wont to do (looking at you, Christina and Jessica).

The brand-new Christmas tracks on display, as usual, are hit or miss, but title track “December Baby” is a seamless fit on the album and a pleasantly R&B-tinged Xmas bop about love, loss and hope during the holidays. “Coming Home,” on the other hand, trades twinkling lights and classic melodies for FaceTime references and a pop sound that might have worked better on “Good to Know.” By the time we get to “Wrap Me Up,” the album begins to feel like a vibe-y, soulful trip down Holiday Lane by way of Motown, and that’s not a bad thing. The vibe remains consistent throughout; wishing for the best, hoping for love, and yearning to be reunited with loved ones during Christmas. It’s everything that Christmas is about, without falling prey to the toxic positivity that some artists try to push out during the holidays.

In fact, just when you think that “December Baby” is just another artist’s cash grab for some of that holiday dough, we get to JoJo’s version of “Silent Night,” and the doubt melts away. Here is someone who’s singing a deeply religious hymn and feeling every single note and word, and even if you’re not a religious person, it’s heartening to hear the fervor with which JoJo sings the track. She’s a singer, sure, but she’s also here to remind you that Jesus is the reason for the season, after all.

As the album closes, JoJo treats us to one final original track, a soulful duet with PJ Morton called “Wishlist” that nails home yet again the hope and earnest yearning that has come to embody the holiday spirit for decades. It’s the perfect way to end an album that’s full of spirit from beginning to end.

Some of the best subtle touches of Christmas spirit, though, come it the form of the album’s interludes, which bookend the album and are sprinkled thoughout, blending spoken word skits with raw, unedited vocals. They’re a nice touch, but they’re also incredibly real. Whereas many pop Christmas albums err too close to cheesy pop and overproduced glitter bombs, the end result with “December Baby” is a solidly and fully cohesive album, but one that feels earthy, grounded — and entirely too short.

A recovering pop music addict who’s finding his way in the wide, wonderful world of music.

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