Keith Urban comes up with a holiday original, Kacey Musgraves recruits Lana Del Rey to sing a classic, Wade Bowen tries to do his best Mariah, and more Christmas-themed country and Americana songs to hear this week.
Brandy Clark, “Merry Christmas Darling”
Brandy Clark brings out the melancholic ache in this holiday staple. The thick harmonies during the song’s final stretch nod to the Carpenters, who first released “Merry Christmas Darling” in 1970, while the electric guitar — played with expert restraint by Charlie Worsham — cranks up the soul without clouding the sorrow.
Keith Urban, “I’ll Be Your Santa Tonight”
“I’ll make you a star at the top of the tree,” Keith Urban croons in his first holiday single. With its laidback swank and staccato stabs of piano, “I’ll Be Your Santa Tonight” scratches the same nostalgic itch as “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” which found Urban camping out at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart during 2016’s Christmas season.
Los Lobos, “Christmas and You”
Los Lobos mix a lonely, lovely melody with a video that spotlights their longtime stomping grounds: the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. The only original song from Los Lobos’ covers-heavy Llegó Navidad, “Christmas and You” finds room for Omnichord, upright bass, and David Hidalgo’s ageless voice.
The Lone Bellow, “Marshmallow World”
A staple of the Lone Bellow’s Christmastime shows since as early as 2013, this cover of the Bing Crosby classic is as sweet as the pillowy sugar bomb itself, stacked high with harmonies and driven forward by organic percussion.
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JT Hodges, “God Rest We Three Kings”
They say Christmas is a holiday best spent with family and friends, but don’t tell that to JT Hodges, who kicks up some festive dust during this solo acoustic performance. The song title isn’t a misprint; instead, it’s a mash-up of two holiday standards, with Hodges bringing something fresh to the overly familiar.
Katie Pruitt, “Merry Christmas, Mary Jane”
It’s Christmastime, and Katie Pruitt is sparking up more than the yule log. “If the fire’s blazing, why can’t I?” she sings in a voice whose power and elasticity are no joking matter. A love letter to the plant that gets her through the holidaze, “Merry Christmas, Mary Jane” is sweet, soulful, and just the right amount of stoned.
For King & Country, “Little Drummer Boy”
Recorded for this year’s CMA Country Christmas show, this super-sized version of “Little Drummer Boy” is equal parts symphonic rock and percussive, Broadway-level spectacle, like Trans-Siberian Orchestra collaborating with Imagine Dragons.
The McCrary Sisters featuring Alison Krauss, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel“
A showcase for some of Nashville’s most powerful voices, this collaborative croonfest moves with the slow solemnity of a church processional. It’s an appropriate treatment for the gospel-influenced rendition, which includes a crystalline solo by Alison Krauss and gorgeous ensemble singing from the McCrarys.
Kacey Musgraves with Lana Del Rey, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Lana Del Ray stops by the set of The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show for this airy, snow-white duet. Bing Crosby’s rendition remains unmatched, but Musgraves and Del Rey’s voices highlight the sad longing that sits at the center of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which was first composed in honor of WWII soldiers whose deployment prevented them from returning home for the holidays.
Wade Bowen, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Wade Bowen tackles the Number One song in America — Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a 25-year-old holiday heavy-hitter that finally topped the charts this month — with Texas-sized grit and gusto. He smartly avoids the sky-high glory note during the song’s final moments and, instead, sings everything in a bluesy belt that sounds remarkably similar to Phil Collins.