This week’s list of must-hear songs features a holiday theme, as there was no shortage of new Christmas recordings released this year. Here’s 10 of the best.
Jillian Jacqueline, “Kid at Christmas”
Two acoustic guitars and a pair of harmonized voices trace circles around one another in this wintry ballad, which finds Jacqueline longing for a return to the childlike innocence that once characterized her Christmas holidays.
Aaron Watson, “Lonely Lonestar Christmas”
“Even this fire is giving me the cold shoulder,” sings Aaron Watson, who finds himself spending Christmas night alone in his native Texas. Come for the dancehall-worthy shuffle, shot through with dual fiddles and brushed percussion. Stay for the tongue-twisting vocal hook.
JD McPherson, “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy”
McPherson takes the “girl in every port” motif of Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man” for a seasonal spin, telling the story of four women — all sporting Christmas-themed names — who’ve captured his heart. The music itself is appropriately mid-century, too, with McPherson worshipping at the altar of Leiber and Stoller.
Chris Janson, “It Is Christmas”
As simple and straightforward as its title suggests, “It is Christmas” finds the “Drunk Girl” singer narrating his ideal holiday with a mix of spoken-word verses and short, uncomplicated choruses. The video was filmed at Janson’s home during a family holiday party.
The Mavericks, “Hey! Merry Christmas!”
Co-produced by frontman Raul Malo, this old-school rave-up channels the piano-pounding punch of Jerry Lee Lewis. The song doubles as the title track to the Mavericks’ recent Christmas album, which mixes a pair of covers — including a faithful verison of the Darlene Love/Phil Spector staple “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” — with tongue-in-cheek fare like the risqué “Santa Wants to Take You for a Ride.”
Rodney Crowell, “Christmas Everywhere”
Halfway through this slaphappy tribute to the most wonderful time of year, Crowell yields the floor to duet partner Lera Lynn, who croons her way through a dream sequence in which a child begs Santa for a time machine. The reason? She wants to head back to the 1980 and prevent John Lennon’s homicide.
Chely Wright, “Santa Will Find You”
Originally recorded in 2007 by co-writer Mindy Smith, this sparse ballad receives an update courtesy of its other composer. Wright delivers the song in a light croon, as though she’s singing her children to sleep on Christmas Eve.
Nathan Belt & the Buckles, “Jingle Bell Rock”
Recorded live at the Acme Feed & Seed in downtown Nashville, this cover of Bobby Helms’ mid-century Christmastime classic is reverent, raw and just rowdy enough. The performance comes from Nathan Belt & the Buckles: A Rockin’ Christmas Live at Acme, a concert album that shines a light not only on Belt’s mix of rockabilly and retro western swing, but his band’s strength as a live act, too.
Daily & Vincent featuring Dolly Parton, “Road to Bethlehem”
Country music has seen its share of road songs. This one takes a different approach, spinning the biblical tale of Joseph and Mary’s journey to the manger. Dolly Parton takes the second verse herself, but it’s the climactic chorus — featuring thick harmonies from the vocal trio — that steals the show.
Old 97’s, “Love the Holidays”
With its train-beaten twang and chicken-pickin’ punch, “Love the Holidays” isn’t your grandfather’s Christmas sing-along. Instead, it’s a cowpunky rocker for eggnog-soaked nights, best played after the kids have gone to sleep and Santa has gone to the liquor cabinet.