Rather than take the more common contemporary approach to her first album of holiday-themed music on 2018's Songs for the Season, singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson instead successfully wraps herself in an old-school production that sounds like it was recorded in the 1950s -- when many of these standards were first on the radio. The choice is somewhat surprising given that her own sophisticated, earnest songs have little to do with exploring vintage aesthetics. In fact, Michaelson's modern approach helped define the sound of current adult contemporary pop in the 2000s, with many of her tracks showing up on TV shows like Grey's Anatomy. That said, there is precedent for this kind of sentimental shift among pop singers handling traditional material, including Carly Simon's Film Noir, Linda Ronstadt's What's New, and even Nellie McKay's Normal as Blueberry Pie. All of those albums found singers with their own distinctive sounds purposefully adopting a retro aesthetic to explicitly evoke a specific time, place, and feeling. With Michaelson's Songs for the Season, that time and place feel like the warmth of a happy childhood home during the holidays. Helping her achieve this cozy atmosphere are producers Saul Simon MacWilliams and Dan Romer, who drape her in big-band horns, cinematic strings, and cheery backing vocalists. Without losing her own emotive vocal charm, Michaelson has an easy way with swinging melodies like "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" Similarly, she handles midtempo ballads deftly, crooning with tenderness alongside Christina Perri on "White Christmas." She pairs equally well with singer Will Chase on "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and dives into the tinsel-toned R&B of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" with Grace VanderWaal. Particularly compelling, however, is Michaelson's sole original contribution, the poignant "Happy, Happy Christmas," in which she employs the same traditional orchestral production on a more contemporary-sounding song that's nowhere near as happy as the title implies. It brings to mind a pleasing mix of Annie Lennox and Kate Bush, and proves to be one of the few moments on Songs for the Season in which Michaelson truly captures the complexity of the holiday season and how these songs resonate through time.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar