Country and Christmas are probably two of the most hated kinds of music. And I’m not here to try to convince you that both aren’t guilty of repetitive, formulaic songs; that both aren’t narrow and occasionally stale. I’m only here to acknowledge that my faves are problematic and I love these genres. Don’t @ me.
Of course 2016 (RIP) seems like a fraught time to release a peppy Christmas album, but perhaps Kacey Musgraves, in all her divine rhinestone glory, intuited where we would be at this point and thought she’d try to give us something fun and light-hearted for the holiday season. Can’t deal with Uncle Craig’s conspiracy theories? Crank A Very Kacey Christmas and pour some more rum in your eggnog!
The thing is, I really wanted to love this record. I tend to be a humbug around the holidays and I thought that maybe Kacey could lift my spirits. Plus, each year I’m always on the lookout for something that might come close to topping Mariah Carey’s magnum opus, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Sidenote: if you can’t acknowledge that this is the greatest pop song ever created, then I triple-dog-dare you to stick your tongue to the flagpole at recess.
Christmas songs can be bops! They can be catchy and fun! Unfortunately, this album didn’t produce any hot new holiday hits—despite having some ace featured artists. Musgraves’ selection of covers veered more toward the kitschy side of the Christmas oeuvre, which is not exactly surprising, just kind of a letdown.
The album kicks off with a rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Musgraves takes an upbeat approach to this Meet Me in St. Louis classic. To me, this isn’t supposed to be a happy song. This song should break your holly jolly heart. I don’t like to consider myself a purist, but I have to acknowledge that Judy Garland DELIVERED this song. When she sings it, these layers of meaning start to unfold. On the surface, it seems like a straightforward Christmas song, but when Garland takes hold of it, it becomes about hoping against hope that things will turn out right. For me, it’s about singing straight through to the end knowing full well that pain and heartache and complications do not take a break during the holidays. It’s not that Musgraves sounds bad—she sings this song competently, but the richness isn’t there.
Next up comes “Let It Snow.” It’s a fun cover with a Country Western angle, and it features badass fiddling trio, The Quebe Sisters. Musgraves brings them in again on “Mele Kalikimaka.” Both are successful covers thanks to Musgraves’ easy vocals and The Quebe Sisters’ rock-solid harmonies. While we’re in the neighborhood of covers that worked, “Feliz Navidad” was every bit as jaunty and fun as it should be.
That being said, this album’s downfall is the overindulgence of the quirkier Christmas songs out there. The holidays are all about indulgence, but perhaps some restraint would have been wise in the production of this record. For example, instead of doing covers of “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,” and “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” Musgraves might have chosen just one. These songs are fun and weird and classic in the sense that we all know them, but I really do believe there are some Grade A hits in the world of holiday tunes, and these tracks are decidedly not them.
A Very Kacey Christmas isn’t just about playing the hits (or anti-hits), Musgraves also contributes a fair amount of new material to the genre. “Christmas Makes Me Cry” is a more melancholy tune, which is a nice reprieve from the hyper-upbeat majority of this record. Leon Bridges lends a vocal line on “Present Without A Bow.” This song is definitely more pop than either artist usually goes. It’s sufficiently catchy and both Musgraves and Bridges have the voices of angels.
“A Willie Nice Christmas” features Willie Nelson and a reggae-inspired beat and is about exactly what you think it’s going to be about. I was anticipating a song like this on this record because Musgraves sings about weed a lot. Like. A lot. And “High Time” is a glorious song! “A Willie Nice Christmas” is funny, but it’s also really heavy-handed. “May we all get higher than the angel at the top of the tree.” God bless.
The album wraps up with “Ribbons And Bows” (pun most definitely intended) and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” The former is a poppy original that I can definitely see myself hair-brush singing into my mirror in a few weeks. The latter is a lovely cover of the New Year’s classic.
All-in-all, this album didn’t Change The Game—the country//Christmas crossover game, that is. The tricky thing about tackling a holiday album is that everyone already knows all the words. We all have a favorite version of a song. And even if an artist creates The Greatest Christmas Song of All Time, it’s only relevant for one month out of the year. Sorry, Mariah. Despite the over-abundance of more annoying, ear-worm Christmas tunes, there are definitely some fun moments on this record. In any case, it might be amusing to blast “A Willie Nice Christmas” when Uncle Craig starts in on his thoughts about PC culture.