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10 Best Country Christmas Albums of 2014

From Sara Evans and Darius Rucker’s carols to the twinkling fare of an Americana compilation, here are the year’s top records for getting into the holiday spirit

Sara Evans

Sara Evans performs at CMA's "Country Christmas" in Nashville.

Terry Wyatt/FilmMagic

It's been an especially busy year for country Christmas albums, as everyone from Sara Evans, Darius Rucker and those Duke boys John Schneider and Tom Wopat have released holiday projects. Even Jamey Johnson emerged from self-imposed seclusion with his first new track in four years — an original Christmas song.

With so many options, we sifted the diamonds from the coal to find the albums worthy of playing while trimming the tree or stuffing your stocking. Here's our picks for the 10 country Christmas albums you must hear this year.

Darius Rucker and Sheryl Crow

Darius Rucker, ‘Home for the Holidays’

The Hootie and the Blowfish frontman has always known his way around a carol, and his original Rat Pack-evoking chestnut "Candy Cane Christmas" would do Ol' Blue Eyes proud. But it's the come-hither duet with Sheryl Crow on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," one of 12 tracks on this collection, that'll warm your tootsies. 

Nikki Lane

Various Artists, ‘An Americana Christmas’

With a mix of 16 new and previously released recordings, this edgier holiday collection is just right for the beard-growing, fedora-wearing hipster on your list. Or for the grumpy oldster who thinks that today's radio country is born of the Grinch. Either way — with standouts like Nikki Lane's sultry "FaLaLaLaLove Ya," Ronnie Fauss's jailhouse lament "Everybody Deserves a Merry Christmas" and the Band's sublime "Christmas Must Be Tonight" — it's a winner.

Tom Wopat, John Schneider

John Schneider and Tom Wopat, ‘Home for Christmas’

The Dukes of Hazard's good ol' boys reunited in 2014 for their first-ever full-length album, which includes December standards like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Silver Bells," as well as a bromantic take on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." While Bo and Luke's version of that classic — rechristened "Johnny, It's Cold Outside" — thankfully doesn't aim for sultry like Rucker and Crow's, it does feature updated lyrics about beer and that bearded saint, ol' Waylon.

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson, ‘The Christmas Song’

When the bearded baritone announced he was releasing a Christmas project, we couldn't have been more surprised if — to quote Clark Griswold — we woke up with our heads sewn to the carpet. But Johnson was true to his word, unveiling a concise, five-song EP distinguished by his reading of "The Christmas Song" and the original "South Alabam Christmas." Available on iTunes only, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Michael W. Smith, Carrie Underwood

Michael W. Smith & Friends, ‘The Spirit of Christmas’

The smooth vocalist assembled a cast of Nashville heavy-hitters for this holiday heart-warmer. Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Little Big Town, Vince Gill and Jennifer Nettles all lend their voices to hymns like "What Child Is This" and "Silent Night." There's even a spoken-word track featuring Bono — and you just can't argue with Bono.

Charles Esten

The ‘Nashville’ Cast, ‘Christmas With Nashville’

Produced by Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus, this latest musical companion piece to ABC's drama Nashville features cast members Hayden Panettiere, Clare Bowen, Sam Palladio and more putting their own Music City spin on the Yuletide. Charles Esten, who once played Buddy Holly in London's West End theatre, does his best Elvis on "Blue Christmas."

The Roys

The Roys, ‘Bluegrass Kinda Christmas’

What are the holidays without a little bluegrass? Tireless duo the Roys supply the pickin' with a gem of down-home caroling. But it's not just the usual suspects reinvented with mandolin and banjo — instead, the brother-and-sister act also pays homage to the Hag with a sparse take on Merle Haggard's yearning "If We Make It Through December."

The Henningsens

The Henningsens, ‘Our Family Christmas’

Family band the Henningsens dropped the sleeper holiday album of the year with this harmony-rich Christmas card. A medley of "Carol of the Bells" is mesmerizing, and "Auld Lang Syne" is nostalgia at its melancholy finest, but it's the randy duet between Clara Henningsen and Jerrod Niemann, "Christmas Kissin'," that will have you looking for the mistletoe.

LeAnn Rimes

LeAnn Rimes, “One Christmas: Chapter One”

Rimes turned heads during the recent Rockefeller Center tree lighting in New York with a sexy, shimmying performance of "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." While that polarizing novelty is included on this six-song project, it's the nod to Dolly Parton — "Hard Candy Christmas" — that makes it worth a listen.

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