Sorry — it just didn’t feel right to deck the halls with sounds of country Christmas music until after Thanksgiving.
For these 10 acts, it’s been Christmastime for months now since new holiday music is typically recorded midway through the year and scheduled for fall releases. While each collection is full of Christmas magic, the best part about all the new holiday music out is that fans get to hear Garth Brooks, Brett Eldredge and Vince Gill each take a turn at singing “Gee, your lips look so delicious,” in new recordings of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s time to bust out the decorations and fa-la-la-la-la-along to all the new music. Here is a breakdown of each collection.
Christmas Together, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
The couple’s first duets album is 28 minutes of classic Christmas nostalgia. Selections include the jazz standard “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Santa Baby,” “Marshmallow Christmas” and Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” The 11-song collection closes with their original “What I’m Thankful For (The Thanksgiving Song)” featuring James Taylor. All three performers will be part of the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Thursday (Dec. 1) at the White House with Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper and Yolanda Adams.
Glow, Brett Eldredge
From the cascading strings to the jazzy horn arrangements, everything about the 11-song collection screams classic Sinatra. Eldredge co-wrote the title track with Ross Copperman, who co-wrote his first four No. 1s including, “Lose My Mind.” It’s easy to want to cozy up to his versions of “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“It’s one of my favorite songs to sing live,” Eldredge says of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “I find so much magic in Christmas music and when I sing it, I want everybody to find that magic and have that special feeling that it brings every year. It brings me to tears almost every time I get to sing it. It’s a very special song.”
Tennessee Christmas, Amy Grant
The 13-song collection is her first holiday album in nearly 20 years. Her crooning vocal performances are warm and inviting on “December,” “I’ve Got My My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the latter of which features her husband Gill. The album opens with the title track, a song she co-wrote with Gary Chapman in 1983 for her first holiday collection, A Christmas Album. Her Christmas tour with Michael W. Smith and Voice champion Jordan Smith starts Saturday (Nov. 26). Her annual two-night Christmas at the Ryman concerts with Gill start Dec. 7.
“I feel like the reason that I’ve had such a career with Christmas music is because it remains personal for me every year,” Grant said. “It’s a celebration of faith and the season has never lost its mystery to me. What makes it different for each of us every year is life is different. Chapters begin and end. And how love looks and how loneliness looks and how hope looks, it just never stops being interesting.”
White Christmas Blue, Loretta Lynn
Recorded while tracking her latest album Full Circle, Lynn’s 12-song holiday collection opens with the title track, a new original weeper she co-wrote with Shawn Camp. She revisits “Country Christmas” and “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus,” which were originally featured on a holiday album she released 50 years ago. Included are popular classics, traditional hymns and a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
My Kind of Christmas, Reba McEntire
McEntire stuck to recording the classics for this 11-song Cracker Barrel exclusive, which is the first acoustic album she’s ever made. Selections include “Silent Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).” It is her third holiday album.
“Catherine Marx, my piano player that goes with me on tour, and I went down to the studio about five years ago and decided to just put down some Christmas songs in case there was a Christmas party I was singing at, I would have the tracks,” she told Billboard. “I never did anything with them, and then when we did this partnership deal with Cracker Barrel, they said they would love a Christmas album. I said ‘Well, by golly, we do happen to have one.’”
A Very Kacey Christmas, Kacey Musgraves
It’s 12 songs of country Christmas magic from start to finish. Chris Scruggs’ lap steel picking and the Quebe Sisters’ singing on “Mele Kalikimaka” instantly transport the listener to a Hawaiian paradise. Willie Nelson guests on the 420-friendly “A Willie Nice Christmas,” while fellow Texan Leon Bridges appears on the soulful “Present Without a Bow.” With handclaps and rock ‘n’ roll saxophone, “Ribbons and Bows” is pure holiday fun.
“Willie got a kick out of ‘A Willie Nice Christmas,’” she said. “He came and sang and played on the track. I also love reggae a lot. I’ve always wanted to experiment with those kinds of sounds so I thought that it would be a fun stoner, reggae, Christmas jam to have Willie come and join me.”
To Celebrate Christmas, Jennifer Nettles
O Holy Pipes! Her voice is brightly shining throughout the 10-song collection. It’s especially powerful on her electric version of “O Holy Night.” Additional standouts include Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home,” her jazzy spin on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” featuring Andra Day and a driving cover of “Little Drummer Boy” featuring Idina Menzel.
“What I love really about doing a Christmas album is that it can represent yourself as an artist but because the melodies are already written, you are less rigidly confined stylistically as a vocalist,” Nettles said. “There’s a lot of tricks in my bag and I like getting to share those tricks with the fans when I have an opportunity to in other projects.”
Celebrate Christmas, the Oak Ridge Boys
Ending in a big finale of “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, this 12-song collection is heavy on hymns celebrating the night Jesus was born. But their new cover of “Blue Christmas” has to be one of the bluest versions released this year. Their annual Christmas Celebration tour continues Friday (Nov. 25) in Joplin, Missouri and wraps Dec. 22 in Burlington, Iowa.
“Christmas is my favorite time of year,” Duane Allen said in a release. “I love the positive things about the season — the joy, happiness, giving, sharing, time with family and gifts. The beautiful lights and decorations. Christmas music. Special food. And most of all the true meaning, which, of course, is celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The Greatest Gift of All, Rascal Flatts
The 10-song collection kicks off with a big gospel rendition of “Joy to the World.” The song reunites Jay DeMarcus with the choir program at his alma mater Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. The Lee University singers join in toward the end of the opener. Additional highlights include new doo-wop arrangements of “Deck the Halls” and “Let It Snow” that are reminiscent of vintage Phil Spector recordings.
“We had the time to take to do it the way we wanted to do it and really cut our favorites and we’re really proud of it,” Jay DeMarcus said. “It’s been a long time coming and we’re thrilled with it.”
It Must Be Christmas, Chris Young
On 1993’s Honky Tonk Christmas, Alan Jackson had one of Young’s favorite singers Keith Whitley guest on “There’s a New Kid in Town.” So it’s only fitting that Jackson guests on Young’s take of the song. Brad Paisley and Young sound great together on a soaring version of “The First Noel,” while Young sounds like a sixth member Boyz II Men on their “Silent Night” collaboration. His performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” warms the soul.
“Trying to find that balance on any album is important, but especially with a Christmas record,” he said. “This is definitely a country Christmas record that has a balance of tradition like ‘There’s a New Kid in Town’ with Alan. Then there’s some music that’s more classic, especially as far as production goes. There’s some music that’s more progressive. You want people to listen to a Christmas record from start to finish. That was really important when we went in to make this.”
Eldredge, Grant, Lynn, Musgraves, Nettles, Rascal Flatts, Yearwood and Young are among the performers appearing on ABC’s CMA Country Christmas special airing Monday (Nov. 28).