5 of the Best Country Christmas Songs of 2021

Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles / Ilde and Jim Cook for Cookhouse Media

The Christmas spirit is in full swing in Nashville, and with it comes a variety of holiday songs from some of the best artists in the city. The 2021 holiday season finds the likes of Pistol Annies, Brett Eldredge and singer-songwriter Lori McKenna offering festive Christmas-themed projects that capture the heart of the season. Additionally, Grammy-nominated Americana singer Allison Russell offers a moving rendition of a Christmas classic, and rising star Tenille Townes channels childhood memories on “Christmas Cards.” Some are playful, some are nostalgic, and others honor the reverence of the holiday. Here are five of the best country Christmas songs.

Lori McKenna – “Christmas Without Crying”

It’s difficult to pick the most compelling song off singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s exquisite EP, Christmas is Right Here, but “Christmas Without Crying” showcases the Grammy winning songwriter’s mastery of lyrical imagery like no other. Here, McKenna bypasses the fanfare of the Christmas season to capture the many layers of nostalgia the holiday brings. The poignant number finds her exploring the glory days gone by, painting an image of herself on Christmas morning with a smile on her face so big her eyes are closed. But she also touches on the memories, and people, of the past that cross one’s mind during the holiday season. By acknowledging the specifics of what makes the holidays bittersweet, McKenna tells a Christmas story that is bound to resonate in one’s spirit. 

Best lyrics: “You can roll past that old high school and smile/At the glory days long gone by/You’ll be thinking about Grandpa/When you’re stringing up those lights/And that will be why/You can’t make it through Christmas without crying” 

Pistol Annies – “Joy”

It’s certainly a Hell of a Holiday when the Pistol Annies team up for their first Christmas album! Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley do not disappoint with their mix of sharply written originals and respectable covers. In between all the biting words and sassy phrases, the Annies sneak in “Joy,” a humble, acoustic-guitar led acknowledgment of how the feeling of joy reveals itself in simple ways. Each member of the trio beautifully conveys this, Presley sharing how joy shines through a smile, while Lambert admits it’s in slowing down time to realize what truly matters. For Monroe, who recently finished her final chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of blood cancer, joy is love, the driving force behind all that motivates her to keep moving forward, like a friend offering a hand to hold. From a group that often relies on their quick wit and clever lyricism to tell a tale, this is a welcomed moment of pure joy.

Best lyrics: “Love, so many ways/That’s all it takes/To get up and goin’ again/Love, all the joy it brings/Takes the time it needs/To show up like a long lost friend/Love, joy, it takes time” 

Allison Russell – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

You’d be hard pressed to find a more stirring rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” than Allison Russell’s. With deep violins and electric guitar supporting her, Russell’s voice carries the weight of the classic Christmas song. Her robust vocals blend gentleness with honesty and emotion, allowing each word to simmer. Russell’s vocal runs could give Judy Garland a run for her money, as her mournful interpretation reminds us that Christmas is not holly jolly for all. As a bonus, check out the Montreal native’s recording of the song in French, which is just as enchanting as the English version. 

Best lyrics: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/From now on/Our troubles will be out of sight”

Brett Eldredge “Mr. Christmas”

Brett Eldredge is arguably the king of Christmas music in the country world. His 2016 holiday LP Glow set the precedent for modern country Christmas albums with his jazzy swagger and Sinatra-like voice. He follows Glow with the equally strong 2021 effort, Mr. Christmas. Complete with a big band sound, the album’s title track sees Eldredge appropriately taking on the persona, tirelessly shining his holiday spirit with nods to candy skies, glitter trees and festive parties. Revelers won’t be able to deny the holiday cheer after one listen of this jazzy tune. 

Best lyrics: “Call me Mr. Christmas/I’ll make your spirit bright/I’ll dry your eyes with candy skies… Yeah, every wish will come true/Yeah, I’ll be Mr. Christmas for you”

Tenille Townes – “Christmas Cards”

One of two originals on her four-track EP Songs For Christmas, Tenille Townes’ “Christmas Cards” puts a nostalgic stamp on the collection. The Canadian native taps into the experience of letting go, while also expressing gratitude for the memories made along the way. She connects the magical childhood feeling of making a Christmas card in crayon for a beloved friend to the present day, as an adult looking back on the changing seasons. Her pure voice reflects the song’s honesty, creating a sweet Christmas tune that has equal power to bring a smile to one’s face and tears to their eyes. 

Best lyrics: “Someone you loved along the way/Becomes someone you used to know/Thank you for the picture, thank you for the past/And I hope you smile as easy in between the camera flash/So here’s to another year/Here’s to our memory” 

‘Regifted’ was a Beacon of Light For Ty Herndon

When Ty Herndon recorded a collection of holiday classics nearly 20 years ago, he could have never imagined the time in which they’d resurface. 

On his new holiday album Regifted, Herndon breathes new life into his 2003 album Not So Silent Night, a project that’s taken on multiple forms over the past 20 years. Initially completed in 2000, Herndon released Not So Silent Night re-packaged with updated songs through his website in 2003, followed by another version with additional songs, A Ty Herndon Christmas, released in 2007. The original album came at a time when Herndon endured a series of personal challenges. He had lost his record deal three years prior and was struggling to find another one, in addition to overcoming alcoholism. “I was having a really tough time in life. At that point, I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in a business that I felt had beat me up pretty badly, but it’s what I do. Just contemplating some poor choices in life at that point and just remembering that I was newly sober, it was a tough time,” he recalls to Audiofemme. “I just needed to make that record, so I took it back to the well of where I came from – my grandmother’s guitar.”

The recording process was as raw as Herndon’s emotions, the singer turning his living room into a recording studio where his friends helped him record the songs he used to hear echo off the walls of his grandmother’s Baptist church with her 17-soprano choir’s Christmas Cantata, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night” and “O Come O Come Emanuel,” the latter of which is a duet with fellow country singer and then-boyfriend, Waylon Payne. “But the thing that wasn’t tough is sitting down on the floor in front of a microphone and singing – so simple,” Herndon continues. “And that was a superstar in my life, the gift was the superstar, and I had to follow that.”

Nearly 20 years later, that gift resurfaces in the form of Regifted, maintaining the integrity of the original album while adding a stunning rendition of “Orphans of God” featuring longtime friend and Tony Award-winning Broadway star, Kristin Chenoweth. During a year consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a shelved documentary, a new album being placed on hold and more than 100 cancelled tour dates, Herndon found himself back in a dark place – so much so that he was temporarily unable to sing. “Everything felt like it was lost. All that darkness, I lost the ability to sing, there was nothing coming out,” Herndon explains. “I found myself in a spot of such darkness that I had very little faith, and faith is the light.” 

But when Herndon’s manager brought the anniversary of Not So Silent Night to his attention, he felt a shift. “I lit up a little bit,” Herndon says of his reaction. “The minute he said that, I’ll never forget this, what popped into my brain was ‘Orphans of God’ – it’s time.” Released in 2006 by Christian group Avalon, the Dove Award-nominated song is one that Herndon has long wanted to record, but was waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. He received another sign that it was meant to be when his producer informed him that the song was already tracked, as they had recorded a piece of “Orphans of God” for a song on musician Paul Cardall’s upcoming album.

The puzzle was complete when Chenoweth agreed to sing with him, along with supporting vocals from former Avalon members Michael Passons and Melissa Greene, who departed the group before “Orphans of God” was recorded. Their voices collectively soaring on the uplifting song brought Herndon to tears. “It was so special, I sat down and I started crying,” Herndon says, adding that he was intentional about making the word “God” universal. “That was to give a lot of people out there who are just are lost, they need a hug, the word ‘God’ in this is a hug. It can be anything you want it to be because there are no orphans of love.”

Though Herndon made subtle changes to Regifted, such as taking his manger’s advice and ending the album with the a Capella rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which opens Not So Silent Night, he says that “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a performance almost frozen in time. “‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ was performed exactly like we sang it on my grandmother’s back porch almost my whole life. That is the most authentic piece on the record for me,” he says.

As Herndon reflects on the album’s initial creation, he remembers it as a family affair of people who showed up for him in his darkest hour, viewing the project from a meaningful perspective. “Having some of the greatest singers who’ve gone on to do magnificent things that were singing on that record, who just showed up because I called them and said, ‘I need you guys. There’s no money involved. I need you and come sing with me,’” he recalls. “It’s been crazy that music made in joyful desperation so long ago would surface today and sound so fresh. It’s like something from another world said ‘let’s just hold this album for 20 years.’”

Though time has changed many aspects of life in between, the albums have seemingly evolved with the singer, pinpointing dark periods in life that led Herndon to the light of music and self-growth. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself this year is that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “There’s always been that underlying, ‘I’m going to crumble at any minute,’ and how much of me is really authentic and how much me is not. I know who I am now. I know who my people are now. I know who my friends are. So I have learned full circle what Tyrone Herndon is all about.”

He keeps the advice of his grandmother close at heart, too. “My grandmother used to tell me ‘if you go to sleep with the dark, you can certainly wake up with it. If you go to sleep with the light, you can wake up with it,’” he proclaims. “So I try to go to sleep with the light.”

Follow Ty Herndon on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING NASHVILLE: The Best Country Christmas Songs of 2020

With the 2020 holiday season comes a bounty of festive music straight out of Nashville. Stars across Music City have been getting into the holiday spirit with new Christmas albums, and while many offer sound renditions of the classics, they’ve also contributed their own perspectives with holiday originals. From a music legend to a bright newcomer, this collection of holiday tunes from some of Nashville’s finest provide comfort in their own unique ways during a time we need it most.

Dolly Parton (featuring Miley Cyrus) – “Christmas Is”

Dolly Parton has a monopoly on Christmas this year, and frankly, the world is better for it. When she’s not funding research for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, Parton is offering up her first holiday album in almost 30 years, A Holly Dolly Christmas. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, as the icon shares stellar covers of Christmas classics poised alongside a handful of Parton-penned originals that make the season bright, including the tender-hearted “Christmas Is” featuring her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus. During a tumultuous year, leave it to Dolly’s graceful nature to bring us back down to earth with a reminder of what’s truly important not only during this time of reflection, but all year round, with her message of kindness and the joy of giving over receiving. Her words are destined to bring a smile to your face – one of the many gifts from the national treasure that is Dolly Parton.

Best lyrics: “It’s all about kindness/Love and compassion/Better to give than receive/That is a true fact/But those who don’t know that/Well, they are the poorest indeed”

“Christmas is a time for caring/Being at your best/Christmas is a time for sharing/Knowing you’ve been blessed/Christmas is a time for giving/Love is made of this/That’s what Christmas is”

Ingrid Andress – “Christmas Always Finds Me”

2020 was a major year for Ingrid Andress. While her debut hit “More Hearts Than Mine” and corresponding album, Lady Like, scored the breakout star multiple Grammy nominations, Andress still managed to cut through the hype with the tear-inducing “Christmas Always Finds Me.” Backed by a piano and intimate string orchestra, Andress delivers a timely message for those feeling lonely this holiday season. The songwriter has a gift for visual storytelling, and these lyrics (co-written with Derrick Southerland and Sam Ellis) find her clinging to warm memories of the past that follow her wherever she roams the earth. Delivered with breathtaking vocals that speak right to the heart, Andress offers a message of comfort with this gentle holiday lullaby.

Best lyrics: “And even if I’m all alone/A million miles away from home/It shows up in warm memory/Another year older/Getting harder to believe/But somehow Christmas always find me”

Carrie Underwood ft. John Legend – “Hallelujah”

One can only expect greatness when two of the best singers in music team up for an original holiday song, and that’s precisely what Carrie Underwood and John Legend deliver on the gorgeous “Hallelujah,” which appears on Underwood’s first-ever holiday album, My Gift. The lyrics, co-penned by Legend, evoke beautiful imagery ranging from a choir of angels to embers burning bright, and one can feel the crisp winter-kissed air the Grammy winners sing of as their brilliant voices unite. The song is wrapped in a feeling of calm and serenity they bring to life on this cinematic number, all while offering a message of peace and hope that feels like a warm embrace. The video is clip from My Gift: A Christmas Special from Carrie Underwood which begins streaming December 3 on HBO Max.

Best lyrics: “Let there be peace on earth/Let the lonely join together, let them know their worth/Let the children know/There’s a brighter day ahead/Let’s hold on to hope/And on the coldest evening in this December/Let us pray the spirit of love will linger”

Dan + Shay – “Take Me Home For Christmas” and “Christmas Isn’t Christmas”

Quenching fans’ thirst for Christmas tunes, Dan + Shay offer a sugar and spice blend of holiday originals with “Take Me Home For Christmas” and “Christmas Isn’t Christmas.” The crossover duo, featuring Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney, offer a pair of festive songs that reflect the current time, juxtaposing the happy and the sad. “Take Me Home For Christmas” is a banjo-laden bop for new lovers spending their first holiday together, injecting the listener with a dose of Christmas cheer as the narrator beckons their partner to take them to their hometown where they established holiday traditions and memories. But Dan + Shay bring us back to reality with the pandemic-friendly “Christmas Isn’t Christmas,” the two serenading those longing for the person they love during a time when many are separated from family and friends on a holiday of camaraderie.

Best lyrics: “And those songs wouldn’t sound the same/Home wouldn’t feel like home/I’m thankful you’re here tonight/‘Cause all I know is/Christmas isn’t Christmas if it’s not with you”

Louis York ft. Jimmie Allen and The Shindellas – “What Does Christmas Mean”

Bust out those jazz hands – Louis York and The Shindellas shoobie-doobie their way into the holiday season with Jimmie Allen on “What Does Christmas Mean.” Originally released in 2017, the Grammy nominated duo of Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony called on hit making country star Allen for a re-imagination of the track that finds them painting their ideal Christmas scene with snow on the ground and loved ones all around. Allen’s buttery-smooth voice and The Shindellas’ sparkling harmonies add flair to the already bouncy track, the three acts instantly igniting Christmas spirit the moment the song starts. But the real star of the show is the way Harmony tickles those ivories, creating a jazzy Christmas melody that’ll hit you in all the holly jolly feels.

Best lyrics: ”There’ll be snow on the ground/There’ll be lights in the trees/There’ll be love all around/But if you’re not with me/Tell me what does Christmas mean without you?”