The Big Week is here. Is your shopping done? Have you wrapped everything? If not, here’s a sampling of Nashville holiday music to get you in the mood.
It’s been a bonanza year for this kind of record in Music City. By my count, there are 109 new Yuletide releases by Nashville artists great and small. I can’t get to them all, but here are 13 selections.
Lee Brice has the Disc of the Day. The Shindellas, who collaborate with Jimmie Allen and Louis York on his debut Christmas single, win the DisCovery Award.
LADY A / “Christmas Through Your Eyes”
Writers: Charles Kelley/Dave Haywood/Hillary Scott; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Dann Huff; Label: BMLG Records
– As sweet as a sugarplum fairy. The gentle acoustic textures, lilting pace and soft soprano lead create a twinkling holiday mood.
NICK LOWE & LOS STRAITJACKETS / “Winter Wonderland”
Writers: Felix Bernard/Richard Smith; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Nick Lowe; Label: Yep Roc
– File this under “stocking rocking.” Lowe’s wry, droll delivery carries the arrangement with Nashville’s favorite masked band romping and twanging merrily in accompaniment. Highly recommended, as well as their equally zesty take on “Let It Snow.”
LEE BRICE / “Go Tell It On the Mountain”
Writers: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Lee Brice/Cody LaBelle; Label: Curb Records
– Turn it up. Brice is in rare form here, delivering an intense, fiery vocal performance that raises the rafters. Stacked harmonies and cascading instruments pile on the emotional ride. A fabulous sound.
THE OAK RIDGE BOYS / “Down Home Christmas”
Writers: Aaron Raitiere/Mando Saenz; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: Lightning Rod/Thirty Tigers
– As the feature attraction at the Opryland Resort, the Oaks are the “official” Nashville spokesmen for the season. This bopping ditty is a toe tapping treat, sung in full four-part harmony throughout. It’s the title tune to a green-vinyl LP.
MITCHELL TENPENNY / “Neon Christmas”
Writers: Mitchell Tenpenny/Lindsay Rimes/Matt Rogers; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Lindsay Rimes; Label: RiverHouse/Columbia
– Hey, baby, let’s head to the neighborhood dive bar, drink beer and dance to the jukebox to celebrate the season. A rollicking good time, and the title tune to Tenpenny’s new Yule-themed EP.
FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE / “Lit This Year”
Writers: Brian Kelley/Tyler Hubbard/Corey Crowder; Publishers: none listed; Producer: FGL & Corey Crowder; Label: Big Machine
– “That Christmas tree ain’t the only thing that’s lit this year.” This light-hearted stomper is as country as grits, what with the drawled vocals, banjo notes and deep-twang guitar work. A very hillbilly good time is had by all.
SHY CARTER / “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Writers: Mariah Carey/Walter Afanasieff; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Byron Gallimore; Label: Warner
– It starts out spare, then gradually adds rhythm elements. I takes a little while to stop missing Mariah Carey’s rocking arrangement, but if you let this roll, it will get under your skin as a slow-burn jam. Carter’s soulful voice stays in the spotlight all the while. Definitely the best R&B Nashville release of the season.
DAN + SHAY / “Take Me Home for Christmas”
Writers: Andy Albert/Dan Smyers/Jordan Reynolds/Jordan Schmidt/Mitchell Tenpenny/Shay Mooney; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Dan Smyers; Label: Warner
– Wafting, rolling pop country with a winning tune and a shuffling, jaunty rhythm track. Pleasant and listenable.
ROB THOMAS & ABBY ANDERSON / “I Believe in Santa Claus”
Writers: Dolly Parton; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Marshall Altman; Label: Emblem/Atlantic
– The Matchbox Twenty rock great and the country newcomer sound terrific harmonizing together on this Kenny & Dolly favorite. I missed the tempo and bounce of the original, although this slower-paced rendition does bring out the wistfulness of the lyric. Ear opening.
JIMMIE ALLEN, LOUIS YORK & THE SHINDELLAS / “What Does Christmas Mean”
Writers: Charles T Harmon/Claude Kelly; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Louis York; Label: Stoney Creek
– Allen’s first Christmas single is a collaboration with the songwriting/production duo Louis York plus the Nashville female R&B trio The Shindellas. It has a delightful retro, doo-wop soul/pop groove with plenty of shooby-dooby-doos and a snappy beat. This one is fun, fun, fun.
TIM McGRAW / “It Wasn’t His Child”
Writers: Skip Ewing; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Danny Hemingson/Steve Gibson/Byron Gallimore; Label: Big Machine Records
– This is one of the most expressive vocals of McGraw’s distinguished career. The durable Nashville ballad has always been unusual as a version of the Christmas story that’s told from the point of view of Joseph. The superstar more than does it justice.
T.G. SHEPPARD & KELLY LANG / “Christmas in Mexico”
Writers: T.G. Sheppard/Kelly Lang; Publishers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Label: WMG/Time Life
– Kelly’s lustrous alto takes the lead with T.G. providing expert vocal harmony support here. The lively track features steel drums, mariachi trumpets, gut-string guitar and audio joy. Highly recommended.
BRETT YOUNG / “Silver Bells”
Writers: Jay Livingston/Ray Evans; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Keaton Simons/Noah Needleman; Label: BMLG Records
– This familiar holiday staple gets a highly imaginative arrangement in this release. Brett’s distinctive phrasing is accompanied by hip-hop beats, jazzy guitar work, steel accents and softly sighed backup voices. Well worth your attention.
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