In the midst of Halloweening, critically acclaimed country singer Kacey Musgraves inexplicably decides that it is already time for Christmas, and releases a delightful collection of songs. The project contains new and interesting spins on some classics, four great originals and a heavy infusion of the adorable personality we’ve come to love her for. There are a select few artists that I will actively seek out Christmas music from, and Musgraves is one — her sugary sweet vocals can put a smile on my face singing anything any all. A lack of many other interesting projects released this week did not help either. But although I may be somewhat of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas music, I must admit that this project made me incredibly happy.
One thing that excited me about the project immediately were its collaborations. On the fantastic original “Present Without A Bow”, Musgraves teams up with fellow Texan and rising soul singer Leon Bridges, and it is the match made in heaven I never saw coming. She also reunites with country legend Willie Nelson (who is in his 80s and sounding great) after including him in a bonus track on her previous album Pageant Material, on the ridiculous and appropriately titled “A Willie Nice Christmas”. On two classic Christmas songs, she recruits Western swing fiddle group The Quebe Sisters, whose combined voices sound like something directly out of a 1950s TV Christmas special and add to the overall vintage feel of the entire project.
The four original songs included on the project are all able to stand on their own. She recruits many of the same songwriters that contributed to her studio albums such as Brandy Clark, now an esteemed singer in her own right, and Shane McAnally, and they continue to deliver. The collaboration with Bridges truly shines, combining the styles of the two perfectly as slide guitars and horn sections collide over a bouncy piano beat. The two are both incredible singers, and their harmonies on the catchy chorus come across very well. Another great track is “Christmas Makes Me Cry”, a song Musgraves states she included in order to capture the lonely side of Christmas when loved ones can’t be present that nobody talks about, and it really works. Throwing in a heartbreaking line like “It’s always sad seeing mom and dad/getting a little greyer” continues the tradition of emotionally jarring Musgraves songwriting.
The genre-spanning spins she put on some of the classic Christmas carols surprised me as well. Musgraves really wanted to experiment here, and has given interviews describing the recording process as the most liberated she’s felt with music. She covers Mele Kalikimaka and it sounds authentic, and applies the same Hawaiian flavour to “A Willie Nice Christmas”, even throwing in a reference to Waikiki to confirm the inspiration. “Christmas Don’t Be Late” (Yes, the Alvin and the Chipmunks song) sounds like you’re floating down the river in Vienna, complete with accordions and an oom-pah-pah beat. And what other country singer than the one whose music is banned from many country stations could pull off a mariachi cover of “Feliz Navidad”? She makes some simple songs like “Let It Snow” newly quite musically complex as well, adding beautiful harmonies and spiraling and almost improvisational-sounding instrumentation.
Musgraves herself is adorable and hilarious as always, making some absolutely endearing choices across the board. Putting some of the more childish Christmas songs like “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”, “Christmas Don’t Be Late” and “Rudolph” shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise given how much she goofed around on stage when I saw her in concert. When Musgraves sings “I still want a hula hoop”, she means it as much as a child on Christmas Eve would. She sees the inherent humour in rehashing these songs that we all know too well as well, explaining that “Feliz Navidad” means Merry Christmas in the middle of the song, and introducing “Rudolph” by saying in her most overly Southern voice “Well, here’s one for all the little kids”. She even brings on a chorus of children to shout “LIKE A LIGHTBULB”.
But although Musgraves’ sweet voice still works well on these sillier songs, when things take more of a mature turn is where her voice really shines. Musgraves is one of my favourite singers in the world for a reason, and her chills-inducing performance of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” to close the album is something breathtaking.
A Very Kacey Christmas is about as good as a collection of Christmas music can get, and any new music from Musgraves is very welcome in my book. Thanks to her, I’ll probably be listening to Christmas music all November and annoying most of my friends. One has already chastised me for posting one of these songs on Facebook the day after Halloween.
Favourite Tracks: Present Without A Bow, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve, Christmas Don’t Be Late, Feliz Navidad, Christmas Makes Me Cry