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”