Leona Lewis

Christmas, With Love

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Deliberately designed as an homage to perhaps the greatest pop Christmas album ever, the 1963 classic A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, Leona Lewis' 2013 seasonal album Christmas, with Love is by any measure a welcome surprise. Warmer and shorter than any of her previous albums, Christmas, with Love emphasizes Leona the singer, not the Leona the diva, and while this is certainly overblown -- anything patterned after Spector isn't striving for intimacy -- she gets a greater chance to sing here than she did on her third album, Glassheart, which is reason enough to enjoy the album, but better still is that the Spector salute largely works. Occasionally, the newly written songs are a little sleepy, but it's only when she ventures into a stately carol, as she does on "Your Hallelujah." This is the exception on an album that's buoyant and bright, filled with clattering good cheer, sleigh bells, choirs, and saxophones. Lewis covers three songs from A Christmas Gift (the ubiquitous "Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]," "Winter Wonderland," and "Silent Night"); pays tribute to Roy Wood's joyous Spector homage "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday"; and then co-writes two of her own, "One More Sleep" and "Mr. Right," new seasonal selections that could turn out to be perennials. Christmas, with Love is that rare thing: a tribute that is faithful to its inspiration while working on its own terms. It's one of the best modern Christmas albums in memory.

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