With Thanksgiving on Thursday, it marks the official launch of the 2016 Holiday Season! It’s time to pull out the Christmas trees, glittery ornaments, sparkly lights, festive wreaths, and everything else that comes with this magical time of the year! Did I mention it’s also time to dust off those country Christmas albums as well? As every country fan should, I know y’all already have a collection of your favorite artists’ Christmas albums, but 2016 has seen the release of a lot of new holiday albums and I’m here to let you know which ones you should add or avoid this season.
Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue
Loretta Lynn has been a staple in country music for over 50 years, but we’ve never been treated to a full-length Christmas album from the legendary vocalist. This album is definitely worth the wait! Lynn offers her steel guitar laden take on Christmas classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Silent Night.” She also includes her versions of “Blue Christmas” and an incredibly fun performance on “Jingle Bells.” The album ends with a stellar reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” that will have you wanting to listen while sitting in front of the fire with a hot cup of hot chocolate. This album is a traditional country fan’s dream Christmas album and should immediately be added to your collection!
Highlights: “White Christmas Blue,” “Away in a Manger,” “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” “White Christmas,” “Silent Night”
Chris Young, It Must Be Christmas
Chris Young delivers a modern traditional country sound on his very first Christmas album that includes appearances by Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, and Boyz II Men. The country crooner’s multi-faceted voice possesses all the qualities needed to deliver a fantastic holiday album. The warmth needed to pull off classic arrangements like the ones found on “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is easily delivered. Meanwhile, his energetic vocal styling found in his own songs can be seen on songs like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” “It Must Be Christmas” stunningly details what everyone loves about the holiday season: the decorations, the spirit, and being around family. The album’s highlight is definitely his cover of the Keith Whitley written song, “There’s a New Kid in Town.” The singer gets help from Alan Jackson on this duet that will bring a smile to any traditional country music fan’s face. It’s been a dream of Chris Young’s to release a Christmas album and he more than excels with It Must Be Christmas.
Highlights: “There’s a New Kid in Town” featuring Alan Jackson, “Under the Weather,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “The First Noel” featuring Brad Paisley
Rascal Flatts, The Greatest Gift of All
Verdict: More Miss than Hit
The veteran country group relies heavily on their mega-produced, country-pop background on their first ever Christmas album. Their up-tempo version of “Joy to the World” sets the overall tone for the album. The 9 tracks that follow all feature loaded productions that include everything from choirs, guitar riffs, piano solos, and the group’s famous harmonies. The trio takes liberties in changing the melodies to some of the most classic Christmas songs. “Deck the Halls” receives a massive makeover that turns the beloved carol into a disastrous tune one would find playing in a 1950s diner. Meanwhile, the beloved “Go Tell it on the Mountain” gets the arena-rock treatment that strips it of all its Christmas spirit. Highlights on the album come where the group pulls back on production and sticks to the original melodies of the songs like on “O Holy Night” and “Let it Snow.” Overall, this album is a mixed bag of misses and hits that I can’t quite choose which way to go.
Highlights: “Joy to the World,” “O Holy Night,” “Let It Snow”
Brett Eldredge, Glow
Verdict: HIT!! BIG TIME HIT!!!
Making the perfect Christmas album can be an extremely difficult task. Artists must decide which classic songs they want to include as well as what (or even if) original Christmas songs will fit the overall intended vision of the album. From the beginning, Brett Eldredge’s vision for Glow was to pay homage to the classic, soulful crooners that came before him – Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Ray Charles – and he delivers a masterpiece that can be enjoyed by everyone, even non-country music fans. The soulful crooner masterfully shows off his voice on classics like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “The Christmas Song,” “and “White Christmas” while the depth and warmth of his voice breathes new life into “I’ll be Home For Christmas” and “Silent Night.” On “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Brett gets help from pop sensation Meghan Trainor for the duet, which is easily a standout among the 11 tracks. The tracking of the songs is impeccable with each song fitting perfectly in the lineup, even the original song “Glow” holds its own in between legendary songs. If anyone was meant to release a Christmas album, it was Brett Eldredge and he delivers an instant classic.
Highlights: “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” featuring Meghan Trainor, “The Christmas Song,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night”
Jennifer Nettles, To Celebrate Christmas
Jennifer Nettles is known as one half of the successful duo, Sugarland, but she is slowly making a name for herself as a solo artist. After releasing two critically acclaimed albums, she offers her own Christmas album as her third solo release. To Celebrate Christmas is a modern country holiday masterpiece that once again proves Nettles is one of the best vocalists in the genre. The album opens with an energetic and rousing version of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” that brings you nothing but joy as you sing and clap along. The rest of the album’s tracks offer original versions of classics like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” which is a sultry and soulful duet with Andra Day and a more up-tempo version of “O Holy Night.” One of the album’s highlights includes “Little Drummer Boy” which Nettles turns into a stunning duet with Idina Menzel. Other standouts include the beautiful Dolly Parton original “Circle of Love” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which boasts one of the album’s most stellar vocal performances. Overall this is an incredible set of 10 Christmas songs from an incredibly underrated vocalist.
Highlights: “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” featuring Andra Day,” “O Holy Night,” “Little Drummer Boy” featuring Idina Menzel,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas
Verdict: MASSIVE HIT!!
Much like she has so far in her career, Kacey Musgraves simply dazzles with her first Christmas album. A Very Kacey Christmas perfectly shines light on her love of western swing, traditional country music, and creative songwriting. The singer manages to make the 8 classic Christmas tunes sound like she wrote them while the 4 original songs are so good that they sound like they’ve been Christmas classics for years. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” opens the album and sets the western swing mood for the following tracks. Each track that follows includes brilliant artistry in terms of production and melodies. Musgraves’ voice is perfectly suited to deliver all 12 of these tunes but shines brightest on the original songs like “A Willie Nice Christmas” and “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” the latter of which is the album’s highlight and is written by the trio of Musgraves, Shane McAnally, and Brandy Clark. The beauty in this album isn’t just in the songs, but rather in bringing to life Kacey’s overall vision. From the beginning, she wanted to deliver an album that offered a sense of nostalgia while sounding fresh and modern. She exceeds her own expectation and delivers an album that is poised to stand the test of time.
Highlights: “Let It Snow” featuring The Quebe Sisters, “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” “Present Without a Bow” featuring Leon Bridges, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Ribbons and Bows”