There’s no better time than the holidays for celebrating tradition, and country music thrives – artistically, if not always commercially – when it’s at its most traditional. Aside from pre-rock vocal pop, it might be the best vehicle for delivering an injection of holiday spirit. Here’s a list of some of our favorite country-flavored yuletide albums:
“20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection” – Loretta Lynn (MCA Nashville)
When it was released in 1966, it was called “Country Christmas.” And if there’s anything more deserving of that title, I’ve never heard it.
“Light of the Stable” – Emmylou Harris (Warner Bros.)
An amazing batch of players, including Ricky Skaggs and guitarist James Burton, joins Harris’ crystalline voice and backing vocals from Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt. An angelic album that shimmers with reverent beauty.
“The Sweetest Gift” – Trisha Yearwood (MCA Special Products)
The luscious, honeyed voice of the belle of Monticello is the ideal way to wrap Christmas standards such as “Let It Snow” and “Away in a Manger.”
“Christmas With Buck” and “Christmas Shopping” – Buck Owens (Sundazed)
Owens didn’t bother much with the standards, though you’ll get “Jingle Bells” on “Christmas With Buck.” And if you have to pick one of these remastered and reissued classics, go with that one because it has the timeless original “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”
“Bluegrass and White Snow” – Patty Loveless (Epic)
Following the career peak she reached with 2001’s “Mountain Soul, ” Loveless applied the same bluegrass styling to Christmas standards and a few new tunes. It might be the best bluegrass-flavored Christmas set ever, but if you like this, check out the compilations “Christmas on the Mountain, ” “A Very Special Acoustic Christmas, ” Time/Life’s “Christmas Time’s a-Comin’” or the two “Christmas Grass” compilations.
“The Christmas Spirit” – Johnny Cash (Sony Special Products)
There are several collections of Cash’s Christmas songs, but the early ’60s recordings are the best, and that’s what you get here.
“Christmas With Tammy Wynette” (Epic)
The way that Wynette and producer Billy Sherrill refashion this batch of holiday tunes is a remarkable feat. Recorded in 1970 when Wynette was at her peak, they sound just like the heartbreak queen of country’s hits of the period.
“Merry Christmas to You” – Reba McEntire (Universal Special Products)
McEntire’s later “Secret of Giving – A Christmas Collection” was far slicker and more pop-oriented. This one, from 1987, is a reminder of how deeply country she once sounded.
“Honky Tonk Christmas” – Alan Jackson (BMG Special Products)
Jackson is another artist with a country-fried set of Christmas tunes as well as a more pop-leaning batch. He fares better than most amid the heavily arranged backing on his 2002 “Let It Be Christmas” and contributes a wonderful original in the title track. But 1993’s “Honky Tonk Christmas” is as country as corn liquor.
“Once Upon a Christmas” – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers (RCA)
This duo’s rapport is undeniable, starting when they took “Islands in the Stream” to the top of the pop chart in 1983. That was likely the time they were recording this album, released in 1984.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us your about some of your favorite country Christmas songs or albums.