Months of pre-holiday music can make even the most ardent country music fan weary of the traditional tunes. Yet it’s easy enough to rock around the Christmas tree or ring in the New Year by downloading some of the plentiful, just-released holiday songs by your favorite country artists. Check out our picks for the Top 10 don’t-want-to-miss albums—old, new and re-issued.
1.”A Merry Little Christmas” by Lady Antebellum. Six GRAMMY nominations, and a sleigh full of CMA, AMA and Teen Choice awards indicate the trio’s time has arrived. Not bad when you consider that Hillary Scott—who joins Charles Kelley and David Haywood in the group—tried out for American Idol and never made it past the first stage. Despite all the hoopla surrounding the band and it’s Need You Now album and single, the trio has released a new six-song CD with such classics as “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and a country cover of “Silver Bells.” Want an original? “On This Winter’s Night,” co-written by Tom Douglas, is made even more haunting with the addition of a children’s choir.
2. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” by Suzy Bogguss. You know Suzy from her platinum and gold songs and albums plus her CMA awards, but she has recently turned what many call the best country vocals in contemporary music to the holidays. Her new release includes classics such as “White Christmas” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and her own spunky versions of songs including “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.” All the songs were recorded with her band that just completed a holiday tour.
3. “Holly Happy Days” by the Indigo Girls. Combine Amy Ray’s rock sound, Emily Saliers folk tendencies, add a dose of bluegrass thanks to guests including renowned banjo player-guitarist Alison Brown and bassist Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison Krauss) and you have the makings of a classic. The duo recorded the album—which is a mix of nine classic holiday tunes and three originals—during two weeks in Nashville.
4. “The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection” by Taylor Swift. In this celebrity news-heavy world, Swift must hold the title of most famous 21-year-old on the planet. The most commercially successful country (or country-pop) artist in music history, according to Nielsen SoundScan—who seems to win awards daily—released a holiday collection last year. With all the news that swirls around Taylor, it’s understandable if you missed it. Check it out though, and when you hear Swift crooning such classics as “Santa Baby” and “Silent Night” you’ll understand why Taylor’s gorgeous voice has placed her at the top of the country music world.
5. “Merry Christmas” by Shelby Lynne. Even if you missed the first tour between Lynne and her singer-songwriter sister Allison Moorer, you can still ring in the holidays with Lynne’s first holiday album. Besides the usual standards, Lynne included two new originals. One listen to her charming versions of “O Holy Night” and “Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland,” and you won’t be surprised that Lynne learned the songs as a child when her mom drove her and her sister to school.
6. “Merry Christmas” by Jessica Simpson. Before you scoff, remember that Simpson hails from Texas and has the twangy vocals and country sensibility to prove it. Her new release is a lot of fun because she only tackles a few classic holiday tunes such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but concentrates more on lesser-known-but-still-loved songs including “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Mary Did You Know?” You won’t want to miss her duet with Willie Nelson on “Merry Christmas Baby.”
7. “Christmas is the Time (to Say I Love You)” by Katherine McPhee. We know you think of McPhee—the American Idol alumni—as more pop than country, but let’s just agree that she’s a terrific all-around performer who’s scored both pop, holiday and country success. This new release debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Top Holiday Albums charts. Plus her rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hit No. 16 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. And don’t forget her single “Love’s Never Leavin,’” a song McPhee co-wrote with country singer Chelsea Field. The Tammany Humane Society of Covington, La., will receive 100% of the proceeds. Check out the music and you’ll under McPheever.
8. “Christmas Comes Alive” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer has come a long way since his days of singing “The Stray Cat Strut” as the frontman of the rockabilly band The Stray Cats. But don’t think that means he’s dulled down his sound. In this new holiday collection, which includes “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “The Nutcracker Suite,” Setzer mixed rockabilly, big band and jazz sounds for a hot holiday sound.
9. “Christmas Music Live,” by Kenny Rogers. Looking at Kenny’s dozens and dozens awards from the CMT, AMA, CMA and GRAMMYs gives you only a piece of insight into the man who made songs such as “The Gambler” and “Lucille” beloved country anthems. Don’t forget that Rogers has made holiday songs and his annual “Christmas & Hits tour” a holiday tradition for many. Now he’s released his first live CD of holiday tunes Christmas Live, so you can join Kenny in singing “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” other holiday classics as you sit in front of the fireplace.
10. “Christmas with Glen Campbell” by Glen Campbell. Baby boomer alert! Remember when Campbell’s weekly variety show was must-see TV in your house? Now the 1995 holiday album by the Rhinestone Cowboy has been re-released so you can hear him belt out “Jingle Bell Rock,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” and other holiday faves that Campbell recorded in Branson.
By Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.