Our emphasis today is on original holiday songs from Nashville. No standards. No sing-alongs. No familiar tunes. But the listening will still bring the season to your door.
Head and shoulders above all else here is “Christmas In a Bottle” by The Nashvillains. It’s a stunning reminder that seasonal tunes can be just as powerful as songs from any other time of the year. The band wishes to raise awareness about mental-health issues that accompany the holidays. Needless to add, it is the Disc of the Day.
The runners up belong to Jamie O’Neal, Ryan Shupe & The RubberBand, Keith & Kristyn Getty with Ricky Skaggs and Timmy Brown. Check ‘em all out.
The DISCovery Award goes to Megan Barker.
DANIELLE CORMIER / “Merrier With You”
Writers: Danielle Cormier/Karlie Bartholomew; Producer: Karlie Bartholomew; Label: DC
–The vibe here is Christmas noodling with everyone involved seeming to wander around in the studio. Her breathy, folk/Americana soprano keeps the performance from wafting up and disappearing into the clouds.
RICH & ROWE / “Santa’s Got a Dirty Job”
Writers: John Rich/Mike Rowe; Producer: none listed; Label: Oswald Entertainment
–Country music’s John Rich teams up with TV’s Mike Rowe (host of the series Dirty Jobs) on this lively rocker. They aren’t billed, but The Oak Ridge Boys steal the show from both of them.
TIMMY BROWN / “Rudolph Drank All the Rumple”
Writers: Minze Timmy Brown/Joshua Gleave/Alex MacGillivray; Producer: Joshua Gleave; Label: TB
–This light-hearted ditty, complete with whistling, tells the tale of Christmas occurring one day late because the lead reindeer got trashed. Brown is a country-music New Englander with a warm, jaunty, earnest, enormously likable delivery.
JAMIE O’NEAL / “Christmas You”
Writers: Jamie O’Neal/Corey Lee Barker; Producer: Jamie O’Neal & Rodney Good; Label: BFD/The Orchard
–Noted for her country classic “There Is No Arizona,” O’Neal takes a side journey on a jazzy road for her original Yule tune. Tinkling keyboard, brushed snare and tight harmony vocals accompany her confident, swinging lead. Very cool.
RYAN SHUPE & THE RUBBER BAND / “In Bethlehem”
Writers: Ryan Shupe; Producer: Ryan Shupe; Label: RS
–This band has been going strong for 25 years and nine albums. Shupe is a fiddler, guitarist and mandolin player, but the emphasis here is on the fantastic. flawless, acappella quartet vocals the group lays down on this live track. It’s the title tune of a Christmas EP. A highly original audio delight. Essential listening.
JAMIE KYLE / “Night of Nights”
Writers: Jamie Kyle; Producer: Jamie Kyle; Label: Radio Rocket
–Nashville rocker Kyle has written songs for Heart, Rita Coolidge, Air Supply, Faith Hill (”Wild One”), Lee Greenwood, Ian Matthews and others, all the while maintaining her solo career. Her original Christmas tune is a sweet little ditty with a kiddie chorus. The song originally appeared on the soundtrack of an Amazon Prime movie called The Least of These: A Christmas Story.
KEITH & KRISTYN GETTY AND RICKY SKAGGS / “Brightest and Best”
Writers: Reginald Heber; Producer: Ben Shive, Keith & Kristyn Getty; Label: Getty Music
–Keith & Kristyn Getty are prolific Irish hymn writers noted for “In Christ Alone” and other favorites. Their take on the Christmas story is loaded with flowery, highly poetic language (“Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid,” etc.). Both of them sing well, but the track truly comes alive when Skaggs adds his distinctive harmony voice. The minor-key melody is haunting and highly recommended. The duo’s “Sing! An Irish Christmas Tour” happens at 7:30 this evening (Dec. 23) at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center downtown.
MARA LEVINE / “Straw Against the Chill”
Writers: Bob Franke; Producer: Mara Levine, Joe Jencks & Bob Harris; Label: Bell Buckle
–Very pure, pristine and folkie. Taken at a gentle, deliberate pace with low-key acoustic accompaniment, which allows Levine’s clear, bell-like lead to shimmer. The trio harmonies are lovely.
MEGAN BARKER / “Missin’ Mistletoe”
Writers: Bill Diluigi/Megan Barker; Producer: none listed; Label: MB
–Her sweet, light country soprano is accompanied by a small jazz combo of piano/brushed snare/electric guitar on this gently wistful outing. The mood is utterly dreamy.
INTERSTATE COWBOY / “Christmas Cafe”
Writers: Tim Champlin; Producer: none listed; Label: Raanch Ruckus
–Country bandleader Tim Champlin is a Colorado firefighter. His original holiday composition has been described as a “Hallmark Movie Love Song” because it tells the story of a long-haul driver who fell for a truck-stop waitress on Christmas Day. His singing voice is a somewhat shaky baritone, but he is on firm ground when he talks the lyrics in the verses.
THE NASHVILLAINS / “Christmas In a Bottle”
Writers: Brett Boyett/Troy Johnson/Scott Lindsey; Producer: Brett Boyett; Label: Fate Entertainment
–Collectively, this band’s members have written for The Chicks, Keith Urban, James Taylor, Lauren Alaina and Cassadee Pope, among others. Their downbeat seasonal ballad is for all the lonely souls at Christmastime. The earthy, slightly raspy baritone lead vocalist is joined by aching harmony vocals from his bandmates while mandolin, guitar, cello and piano notes drop sadly around them. An awesome performance of a deeply moving song. A vivid reminder that not everyone feels merry and bright at this time of the year.
SARAH MAE CHILTON / “Merry Happy Everything”
Writers: Jan Buckingham/Thom Gimbel; Producer: John Willis; Label: SMC
–Chilton makes her living singing at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway, where she also hosts weekly open-mic nights. Her toe-tapping holiday offering is a simple bouncy ditty with a childlike innocence. Cute and cuddly.