It’s that time of year again.
As usual, Nashville musicians have an abundance of holiday offerings, so welcome to the first of the DISClaimer Christmas review columns. Today, we have super worthy efforts by Exile, the Pistol Annies, Dan + Shay and Amanda Shires.
The Disc of the Day belongs to Lori McKenna, for co-writing the strongest new holiday song in this stack and singing it with her customary yearning loveliness. For sheer inventiveness, Katie Pruitt wins the DISCovery Award.
TIGIRLILY / “Where Are You Christmas”
Writers: James Horner/Mariah Carey/Wilbur Jennings; Producer: Louis Newman; Label: Monument
–The sister duo updates Faith Hill’s wistful holiday ballad with tinkling piano and lilting fiddle to start with. A full string section gradually builds the arrangement into an oomphy anthem.
DAN + SHAY / “Officially Christmas”
Writers: Dan Smyers/Dave Barnes/Jordan Reynolds/Nicolle Galyon; Producer: Dan Smyers/Scott Hendricks; Label: Warner
–Over the past couple of years, these guys have become country music’s go-to Christmas heralds. Their holiday songs are top downloads. This year’s entry is a joyous-sounding fiesta, complete with horns, violins and sleighbells. As usual, they sing their faces off. There’s a promotional video, too.
KATIE PRUITT / “Merry Christmas Mary Jane”
Writers: Katie Pruitt; Producer: Katie Pruitt & Mike Robinson; Label: Rounder
–At last! A holiday stoner song! This Nashville singer-songwriter lays down a bluesy groove on this slow jam: “My Christmas spirit’s running low, so I might as well get high.” She knows those decorative holiday lights are going to look super good that way. Check out this talented gal’s cool guitar solo, too. Pruitt will be peddling her special holiday gummies at her Dec. 16 show at the Basement East.
EXILE / “Joyful Noise”
Writers: J.P. Pennington/Sonny LeMaire/Sharon Vaughn; Producer: Exile; Label: Clearwater
–In a word, gorgeous. These guys still have the goods in every department. The vocals are flawless, the songwriting is splendid, the playing is perfect and the mood is toasty warm on this sparkling ballad. Miss this one at your peril.
THE PRIMITIVE QUARTET / “Carolina Mountain Christmas”
Writers: Reagan Riddle; Producer: Greg Bentley; Label: Mountain Home
–This North Carolina gospel quartet wraps its harmonies around four classics and four newly written songs on its Christmas collection. Among the latter is this toe-tapping hearty wish for good holiday times to one and all.
PISTOL ANNIES / “Hell of a Holiday”
Writers: Angaleena Presley/Ashley Monroe/Miranda Lambert; Producer: Frank Liddell/Eric Masse; Label: RCA
–What a gift. The rumbling backbeat grabs ya from the get-go. Their feisty vocal charms soon take over in this uptempo audio delight. It’s the title tune from the trio’s Christmas CD/LP, embellished with sax, electric guitar and percussion. Essential accompaniment for dancing around the tree while you hang ornaments and drink eggnog.
AMANDA SHIRES & THE McCRARY SISTERS / “Gone for Christmas”
Writers: Amanda Shires; Producer: Lawrence Rothman; Label: Silver Knife/Thirty Tigers
–This Americana favorite slam dunks an R&B groover with this merry track from her debut holiday album. For her Christmas-present wish list, she cites a bunch of clever stuff (her own radio station, a massage on a beach), but mostly she wants him gone from her life. While the beat stomps relentlessly, the McCrarys echo her sentiments with soul-sister harmonies. Rockin.’
MITCHELL TENPENNY / “Don’t Hang the Mistletoe”
Writers: Jordan M. Schmidt/Kyle Clark/Mitchell Tenpenny; Producer: Mitchell Tenpenny/Jordan M. Schmidt; Label: Riser House/Columbia
–His furry, burnished voice is perfect for this. It’s a slow jam with distinct R&B flavors and romance on the brain. Tenpenny’s holiday album is titled Naughty List.
TAMMY ROGERS & THOMM JUTZ / “Dancing in the Snow”
Writers: Tammy Rogers/Thomm Jutz; Producer: none listed; Label: Mountain Fever
–Bluegrass rhythms and harmonies abound in this sprightly wintery romp. The team plans an entire album of their cowrites next month, to be titled Surely We’ll Be Singing.
LORI McKENNA / “Still Christmas in Nashville”
Writers: Lori McKenna/Jordyn Shelhart/Dustin Christensen; Producer: Lori McKenna/Luke Laird/Barry Dean; Label: CN Records
–Lori introduced her Christmas Is Right Here EP with a sterling showcase at the Hutton’s Analog venue on Tuesday. It is a heart-tugging outing with some of her original sad holiday tunes (my favorite kind), plus a version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and this stately waltz. It’s an ode to “the city that dreamers built.” You’ll smile when you hear her name checking “meat-and-threes” and “John Prine” in this terrific tune. Have I mentioned that I adore her?
DON AMERO / “Sometimes a Whisper”
Writers: Adam Crossley/Bill Diluigi/Dave Tough; Producer: none listed; Label: MDM
–This Canadian is an indigenous country artist who is much applauded north of the border. His seasonal CD is titled Amero Little Christmas and contains this softly sung inspirational ballad that could easily live well beyond Yuletide.
ROD & ROSE / “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
Writers: Rodney Atkins/Rose Falcon/Brandon Hood/Skip Ewing; Producer: Brandon Hood; Label: Curb
–Rodney Atkins and Rose Falcon offer this beautifully sung, heartfelt ballad that sums up The Reason for the Season. Rod sings lead while Rose shadows him in perfect vocal harmony. Hang on for when they are joined by the angels-we-have-heard-on-high echoey chorus. Definitely your religious musical choice.
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