This year’s Christmas parade of Nashville sounds seems never ending.
I finally bit the bullet this week and wrote down how many folks have submitted holiday tunes. The list went on for four single-spaced pages.
So I decided to narrow it down. With the year’s emphasis on reclaiming female voices, I chose to spotlight only women’s discs today. That left me with only (!) 30+ releases. This column has a baker’s dozen of them, leaving out fine efforts by Stephanie Owens, Taylor Swift, Jessica Lynn, Jessie James Decker, Caroline Jones, Tami Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, Karen Waldrup, Jamie Kyle, Paulina Jaye, Chevel Shepherd and more.
The Disc of the Day prize goes to Brandy Clark, and Scarlett Burke wins the DisCovery Award.
BRANDY CLARK / “Only Time Of Year”
Writers: Daniel Crean/Eren Cannata/Justin Tranter/Kennedi Lykken; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Daniel Crean/Eren Cannata; Label: Facet/Warner Records
– Festive and jaunty, with cute sighing backup vocals, whistling and bouncy finger snaps. Sung with a smile. This comes from the soundtrack of the Hulu Christmas movie Happiest Season. Grammy nominee Brandy’s own holiday special premieres on Circle TV on Dec. 22. It’s called Christmas From Here, There and Everywhere. She’s got some cool guests on it: Cam, Ashley McBryde, Reyna Roberts and Melissa Etheridge, for starters.
RUNAWAY JUNE / “Christmas on the Radio”
Writers: Martin Johnson/Sam Hollander; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Brandon Paddock/Martin Johnson/Ron Fair; Label: Wheelhouse Records
– The vocal harmonies are delicious and the tempo is boppin.’ The lyric is a dandy, too, name-checking Brenda Lee and Nat King Cole, as well as an assortment of Christmas song titles. Radio ready in the extreme.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD & JOHN LEGEND / “Hallelujah”
Writers: John Stephens/Toby Gad; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Greg Wells; Label: Capitol Nashville
– Underwood has one of this year’s standout new holiday platters, My Gift. This track features two world-class vocalists matching soulful phrasing, terrific harmonies and lustrous soaring. Her soprano leads, but the track truly takes off when Legend joins, alternating a warm, burnished harmony vocal and falsetto scatting. A fabulous listening experience.
ANA CRISTINA CASH / “Mele Kalikimaka”
Writers: R. Alex Anderson; Publishers: none listed; Producer: John Carter Cash; Label: Avondale
– Yes, Hawaii has holiday standards, too. This one was originally popularized by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters in 1950, and the title translates as, “Merry Christmas.” With gentle, acoustic-guitar accompaniment in the Cash Cabin studio, this has a jaunty, simple, tropical vibe that is utterly charming.
DOLLY PARTON / “Holly Jolly Christmas”
Writers: Johnny Marks; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Kent Wells; Label: Butterfly Records/12Tone Music
– If there was ever a time and a year when we need Miss Dolly, it is here and now. She rules the season with her A Holly Dolly Christmas collection. On it, she duets with Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, Michael Bublé, Billy Ray Cyrus, Willie Nelson (”Pretty Paper”) and brother Randy Parton, but goes it alone on this set opener. Only Dolly could make this old ditty sound fresh again. Here’s a bonus: the album is available on red vinyl.
MADDIE & TAE / “We Need Christmas”
Writers: AJ Pruis/Maddie Font/Matthew West/Taylor Kerr; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jimmy Robbins/Derek Wells; Label: Mercury Nashville
– Very pretty. In fact, this sweet sentiment one of the best newly composed holiday tunes of the year. On top of having their usual excellent vocals, it is a beautifully produced track. Applause for all concerned.
INGRID ANDRESS / “Christmas Always Finds Me”
Writers: Ingrid Andress/Sam Ellis/Derrick Southerland; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Ingrid Andress/Sam Ellis; Label: Atlantic/Warner Music Nashville
– The simple piano accompaniment gradually gives way to full orchestral accompaniment as Andress wistfully recalls the warmth of the season. Her soprano wafts and whispers equally effectively.
KELLY CLARKSON & BRETT ELDREDGE & ATLANTIC HOLIDAY / “Under the Mistletoe”
Writers: Aben Eubanks/Kelly Clarkson; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Aben Eubanks/Jesse Shatkin; Label: Atlantic Records
– How about some dance-pop music for Christmas? Clarkson’s scintillating power-soprano vocal leads, with Eldredge’s contribution mixed as a somewhat muted supporting role.
KASSI ASHTON / “Hard Candy Christmas”
Writers: Carol Hall; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Kassi Ashton/Luke Laird; Label: MCA Nashville/Interscope
– This heartbreaking, melancholy song seems just right for this pandemic and economically devastating year. Ashton sings it superbly, but the pace is rather funereal.
LIZ LONGLEY / “A Little Magic”
Writers: Liz Longley; Publishers: Lukelizz, ASCAP; Producer: Paul Moak; Label: LL
– This Americana favorite has a Christmas EP with this sugar-dusted outing as its title tune. It’s a delightful composition about believing in Santa. Her folk-pop vocal is wonderfully authentic and the piano-and-rhythm accompaniment is just perfect. The set also includes a sad, pandemic-themed holiday song, “One Missing.” Longley always deserves to be at the front of your playlist of Nashville singer-songwriters.
JEWEL / “Winter Wonderland”
Writers: Felix Bernard/Richard Bernhard Smith; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Arif Mardin & Joe Mardin; Label: Craft/Concord
– Jewel’s new Christmas collection is titled Joy: A Holiday Collection. Maybe it comes from her Alaska background, but there is something kinda wintery about her voice. She takes this 1934 classic at a deliberate pace, with slight yodel accents and steel-guitar embellishments. Pretty cool.
RAELYNN / “Jingle Bell Drunk”
Writers: Racheal Lynn Davis/Corey Crowder/Ernest Keith Smith/Rocky Block; Publishers: Queens Write Hits, Songs Of Hit Vibez, and Warner Tamerlane Publishing Corp (BMI) / Georgia Song Vibez, Big Crowd Publishing, and WC Music Corp (ASCAP) / Becoming Bob Music (BMI) administered by Me Gusta Music / Songs Of Universal, Inc., Big Loud Mountain Music LLC, and Ern Dog Music (BMI); Producer: Corey Crowder; Label: Round Here
– Goofy fun, with plenty of rhythm-happy beats and zany chorus shouts.
SCARLETT BURKE & HAILEY WHITTERS / “Howdy Christmas”
Writers: Jared Gutstadt/Jesse Siebenberg/Scarlett Burke/Hailey Whitters; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jared Gutstadt/Scarlett Burke; Label: Audio Up
– Country-music merriment, with a toe-tapping beat, drawling vocals, stuttering steel notes, echoey atmosphere and general hillbilly good vibes. Sing “Hee-haw.”
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