In the Spirit: A Christmas Album is everything a Michael McDonald fan could want from a holiday album by one of the greatest blue-eyed soul vocalists of all time. It's firmly within the tradition of latter-day Doobies records and early McDonald solo efforts, resulting in a really pleasing sound, equal parts classic soft rock and classy pop-soul, but there are some differences that give it its own character. First of all, there is a reason why the album is released on MCA Nashville, and there are some hints of contemporary country on songs like "On This Night" and in the arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High." Even stronger is the sense of reverence and underpinning of religion and love of family (his wife and child both sing on the record) that give the album a welcome emotional grounding that informs even the songs that revive his classic sound. This surge of emotion combines with a high sense of craft and some really good seasonal and religious material that finds McDonald writing some of his strongest songs in a long time ("To Make a Miracle," the cheerfully insistent "House Full of Love," the swaggering "Every Time Christmas Comes Around," and "One Gift," co-written with and featuring James Ingram). Musically, this qualifies as a nice, welcome surprise for McDonald fans, since it's as good an album as he's done in years (granted, he was a little inactive in the '90s for various reasons, but the sentiment remains the same). And it's not just a good Michael McDonald record -- it's one of the best modern holiday albums in a long, long time.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine