Country Christmas Songs
Country music may forever have melancholy overtures but there is a sense of family, of belonging, a no place like home attitude that makes it ideal for a season like Christmas. In this regard country Christmas songs are not all that different from their brethren that appear at other times of the year which by extension means that they are quite often amongst the most popular songs each December.
The big daddy of country music is undoubtedly Johnny Cash and despite his macho image he was a man of family values who treasured Christmas’ spent back home on the ranch with his 6 daughters. Inevitably this means that a country Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a festive song or two from the man in the blank hat. Cash recorded 4 Christmas albums in total with his first, 1963’s ‘The Christmas Spirit’, being perhaps his best. He certainly put his heart into the record as he wrote 4 originals to sit alongside the 8 covers which were all of a religious slant. The young Cash searched for the true meaning of the season which was illustrated on the spoken word title track ‘The Christmas Spirit’. Down through the years Cash would stamp his imposing self on various standards, the standouts of which were ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day’ and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’.
Slightly more (hard) candy in nature was one of country’s most famous duo of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers who came together in 1984 for a festive TV special (‘A Christmas To Remember’) and a Christmas album spinoff called ‘Once Upon A Christmas’. Now the saccharine levels might have been set to an all-time high but you’d have to have a hard heart to turn away Dolly and Kenny as they jamboree through ‘I Believe In Santa Claus’. Wholesome fun is all but guaranteed for the whole family. And that’s also a distinct possibility when the singing cowboy and all round country great Gene Autry hoves into earshot. His most famous Christmas song may have been ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)’ but he also gave us one of the best country Christmas songs ever with his 1949 cover of ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’, which included some backing vocals by the song’s composer Johnny Marks.
Jim Reeves produced one of the greatest country Christmas albums of all time with his 1963 LP ‘Twelve Songs of Christmas’. This work spawned some of Gentleman Jim’s most famous songs including the rose tinted ‘An Old Christmas Card’ and what is widely viewed as the definitive version of ‘Silver Bells. And didn’t those festive cardigans just look like they were made for him! Moving to 1970’s and the Eagles shifted gears turning a blues Christmas song into a much praised country one. ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ is a true lament, an aching pine for a loved one that is only going to end one way which in truth encapsulates the spirit of the true country Christmas song.
While it is easy to settle for classic country Christmas material there is plenty of contemporary country artists producing wonderful festive material. In some cases they even combine the old with the new, just like when Carrie Underwood was joined on vocal duties by a hangdog Elvis for their ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’. This delight was one of many similar Christmas duets between the long since dead King and some of today’s top female stars on ‘Christmas Duets’. In 1992 Garth Brooks released his debut Christmas album called 'Beyond the Season' and although it included a mishmash of styles this was still country’s biggest stars of the day ramping up the holiday spirit. One of the delights on the album was Brooks rendition of Buck Owens ‘Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy’ which could easily have been the sequel to ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’. Popular country star Vince Gill also released a very well received Christmas album in 1998 called ‘Breath of Heaven: A Christmas Collection’.The album straddled several genres and included an overtly religious song co-written by his singer/songwriter wife Amy Grant called ‘Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)’.
Faith Hill’s ‘Joy To The World’ was her first Christmas album (it contained one original called ‘A Baby Changes Everything’ which became a smash hit) but she is still perhaps best known in Christmas circles for her faultless duet with classic vocalist Josh Groban on ‘The First Noel’. Trisha Yearwood’s 'The Sweetest Gift' and Martina McBride’s ‘White Christmas’ are another set of contemporary country Christmas albums that are well worth checking out. All in all it amounts to some pretty serious Christmas music so if you’re in the mood for something a little more light-hearted then Kenny Chesney’s 'All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan' is the country Christmas album you should seek out.
Christmas compilations are not for everyone but for the casual fan who wants to cut out the hard work and just listen to a knowledgeable handpicked selection they are hard to beat. And country Christmas music is no different with plenty of worthwhile compilations to take you back to the ranch and momma’s home cooking. ‘Hear Something Country Christmas’ is definitely one of our favourite country Christmas retrospectives. Released in 2007 it featured some of the country’s known stars such as Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson who all give it yuletide socks. Our other recommendation comes from the ever dependable ‘Now That's What I Call Music!’ series with ‘Now That's What I Call a Country Christmas’ choosing a scattering of old dependables plus a saddle bag of rarities like Glen Campbell’s ‘O Holy Night’ and Kenny Rogers ‘Kentucky Homemade Christmas’.