Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, singers singing Christmas songs. Yes, here we are again, the second in our irregular yearly column covering the best and worst of the country/Americana Christmas albums. 2014 was a big one, 2015 not so much. We lost Greg Lake recently which makes 2016’s Christmas playlist tinged with a little sadness but here are some new releases begging to be played forever more.
Slightly leftfield is Christmas Party  from queen of kooky, Zooey Deschanel and Americana’s M.Ward, in their She & Him guise. Truth is it’s not much of a party, it’s a Christmas party where the music is dreary and the spirit absent. Kicking things off with the seminal classic party starter ‘All I Want For Christmas’ seems a great idea until it turns out it’s been transformed into a bit of a downer. It kind of carries on from there, but ‘A Marshmallow World’ is still pretty irresistible.
Also more restrained than you might like in this festive season is Chris Young and his collection of Christmas standards. It Must Be Christmas  is stuffed full of classic seasonal songs, all delivered in Young’s trademark baritone. It’s all a bit understated to be fair, with ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ standing out. Traditional poppers like ‘Have Yourself a Merry Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ have been done a million times and nothing new is added here. As a performer Young is full of personality, but here there’s none of that spark on show here.
Loretta Lynn’s White Christmas Blue  on the other hand stands fully in the light of the country veterans personality and voice. Again, there’s not a whole lot new here - though including some traditional tracks like ‘Away In A Manger’ and ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful’ mixes it up a little - but this is laced with a country twang that gives standard fare like ‘Frosty The Snowman’ a different spin. Part of the Cash Cabin Recordings project there are a couple of cracking originals included, ‘Country Christmas’ whips along at a pace and the trad.country of ‘White Christmas Blue’ is a terrific opener (“I should he saying ho ho ho / Instead of boo hoo hoo”). The quality of this and March’s Full Circle bode incredibly well for the rest of the Cash Cabin Recordings release slate.
Billed - by the press release - as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s first ever duets album, Christmas Together has a lot of weight on it’s snowy shoulders. First up though, it’s not really what you expect. There are duets here but most of the tracks are either Garth or Trisha, not Garth and Trisha. Still, it whips along, many songs are two minutes or under. The Brooks original, ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ is a perfect, fun, seasonal, comedy song, Yearwood smashes the vocals on the slinky ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’, and their version of ‘A Marshmallow World’ is a sparky duet. In contrast to Chris Young’s effort, Christmas Together sparkles because of the chemistry and personality that’s slathered across the eleven tracks. Yearwood sings the pants off everything, and Brooks sounds like he’s having the most fun he’s had in years.
Finally, and it really is a case of saving the best for last, is the wonderful seasonal gift from Kacey Musgraves: A Very Kacey Christmas . Even the usual suspects like ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ or ‘Let It Snow’ are tied up with a huge Kacey coloured bow, her wit and style runs through the core. Then there are the more unusual standards like the off-the-scale-cheery ‘Feliz Navidad’ and ‘Mele Kalikimaka’, and the perfectly Kacey ‘I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas’. What makes this a really special record though are Musgraves original tracks and the kooky off-beat nature of ‘A Willie Nice Christmas’ (with Willie Nelson supporting of course) alongside the thoughtful contemplation of ‘Christmas Makes Me Cry’ and ‘Present Without A Bow’ are great additions to any Christmas music playlist.
Merry Christmas cowboys and cowgirls.
All of the albums review here are available to buy from the usual places or stream online while your Christmas turkey (or nut roast) is cooking.