Nobody does Christmas better than Country Universe’s Leeann Ward. Enjoy this classic countdown of her favorite Christmas albums, then check out her Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Christmas Edition! Merry Christmas to all of our readers who celebrate! – KJC
Last year, I counted down my twenty-five favorite Christmas songs. This year, it’s time to do the same with my favorite country Christmas albums. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comment section.
SHeDaisy, Brand New Year
This is not a typical, conservative country Christmas album. SHeDaisy spices things up by not only including originals, but rearranges the classics to make an unpredictable, unique Christmas album that stands out from the pack.
Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas
This is an incredibly cheesy Christmas album. As only Dolly can do, however, it’s at least delightfully cheesy.
Charlie Daniels & Friends, Joy To the World: A Bluegrass Christmas
This album flew under the radar this year, but it’s a wonderful bluegrass album with a few famous friends. Daniels even steps aside to allow his guests to sing while only accompanying them. Jewel steps up with an impressively country vocal on “Blue Christmas” and Kathy Mattea offers a rollicking version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
John Denver and the Muppets, Christmas Together
I grew up with this album. On the strength of nostalgia, I’d put it at the top of this list, but for the sake of being reasonable, I’ll settle for this ranking. Who doesn’t love the Muppets, anyway?
John Cowan, Comfort and Joy
John Cowan’s Comfort and Joy is a new release, but its acoustic production and Cowan’s clear voice is instantly appealing. He interprets some classics, but also includes some worthy originals and lesser-known songs. The sprightly “Christmas Everyday”, the thoughtful “Little Match Girl” and the gospel “Good News” provide welcome depth to this Christmas project.
Mindy Smith, My Holiday
Mindy Smith adeptly covers well-known standards on her Christmas album, but her original inclusions are what really stand out here, particularly “Follow the Shepherd Home” and “I Know the Reason.” With guest appearances from Alison Krauss, Thad Cockrell and Emmylou Harris (not to mention Smith’s own beautiful voice), My Holiday is one of the most outstanding mixes of originality and tradition on this list.
Loretta Lynn, Best of Christmas…Twentieth Century Masters
This is a collection of Loretta Lynn Christmas songs. It’s my favorite traditional country Christmas album.
Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable
If you enjoy Harris’ bluegrass album, Roses in the Snow, and her Live At the Ryman, you’ll likely enjoy this acoustic-based Christmas album as well. It has a live, relaxed feel to it. While it doesn’t necessarily sound big-budget, it is still a well-crafted Christmas album.
The Tractors, Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas
The Tractors are infamous for their cringe-worthy novelty song, “Baby Likes To Rock It”, but they made an excellent Christmas album nonetheless. Their blend of swing and shuffle makes for a crisp album that I love to hear every year. I enjoy the entire album with the exception of their Christmas twist on “Baby Likes to Rock It.”
Lee Ann Womack, The Season for Romance
Lee Ann Womack is successful in conveying a romantic vibe on this album that suggests just that. With her easy southern drawl, Womack knows her way around a gorgeous Christmas melody. Her fun side should not be ignored, however, as her version of “the Man with the Bag” is easily the superior track on the album.
Travis Tritt, A Travis Tritt Christmas: Loving Time of the Year
Tritt rocks on songs like “Winter Wonderland”, adds a bluesy twist to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, waxes nostalgic on “Christmas in My Hometown” and reverently sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Nevertheless, he keeps Christmas in perspective as he philosophizes on the title track and, possibly naively, proclaims it to be the “most loving time of the year.”: “I wish I could bottle up this feeling/Pass out a little everyday/’Cause all the scars of pain have started healing/And troubles of this world just fade away…”
Dwight Yoakam, Come on Christmas
Dwight’s signature quirky vocal style does not disappoint on this Christmas album. He does some standards and a few originals. His bluesy version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just may be the only version of that song that I like. Among the originals, the dysfunctional “Santa Can’t Stay” and the album’s sensual title track are the highlights of the project.
Gene Autry, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Classics
Like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry’s name is simply synonymous with Christmas music.
John Prine, A John Prine Christmas
Prine’s rough, unpolished voice does not try to navigate beloved classics that conjure up feelings of warmth and frivolity. Instead, he does what works best for him, which means writing songs that reveal insightful observations of real life. As a result, A John Prine Christmas is darker than a typical Christmas album.
Alan Jackson, Let It Be Christmas
While Alan Jackson’s first Honky Tonk Christmas album is great, this one was recorded to appease his mother who requested a more traditional-sounding record. This one is especially good when hosting guests with mixed music tastes. Backed by a big band and orchestra, Jackson’s smooth voice navigates these traditional tunes with ease. Jackson’s original composition, the title track, is superb enough to stand with the revered classics.
Martina McBride, White Christmas
Martina McBride made a safe Christmas album with all familiar songs, but she still managed to deliver an album that’s engaging and among the best of its kind. And as one might expect from McBride, she knocks “O Holy Night” out of the park.
Toby Keith, A Classic Christmas
Toby Keith shows his generosity at Christmas time by making two Christmas albums (one of religious classics and the other of secular classics) and packaging them together for one low price. As a skillful interpreter, he treats these classics with both reference and fun as appropriate, with “Little Drummer Boy” receiving the coolest laid back production that I’ve ever heard on it.
Lorrie Morgan, Merry Christmas from London
With the London Orchestra, Morgan is in fine voice and keeps up with the power accompaniment quite well. This is a beautiful, straightforward album that includes many classics and a sweeping version of “My Favorite Things.”
Randy Travis, An Old Time Christmas
This Christmas album is exactly what one would expect from Randy Travis. If you like Randy Travis music and you like Christmas music, this one doesn’t disappoint. Highlights include his version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Meet Me Under The mistletoe” and “Old Time Christmas.”
Kathy Mattea, Joy for Christmas Day
Kathy’s warm, soothing voice is meant for Christmas songs. She sings some standards along with some awesome originals. The stand out tracks are the gorgeous “Straw Against The Chill” and the infectious “Unto Us A Child Is Born.”
Garth Brooks, Beyond the Season
Garth’s first and best Christmas album sounds a lot like Garth Brooks music of the early nineties. Even the classics get the Brooks treatment, including a soulful version of “Go Tell It On A Mountain.” The highlights include but aren’t limited to “The Friendly Beasts” (in which he enlists the help of some of his songwriting friends), “Unto You This Night” and Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy.”
George Strait, A Classic Christmas
Strait has as many Christmas albums as he has decades in the country music business. This album is far superior to the other two, however. While all of the songs are classics, he has recorded them with rootsy productions to match his warm vocals. Highlights include “Jingle Bells”, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Oh Christmas Tree.”
Clint Black, Christmas With You
This album consists of all original songs composed by Clint Black himself. Most of it contains Christmas through the eyes of children, including “Slow As Christmas”, “Milk and Cookies” and “The Coolest Pair.” It’s fresh, fun and joyous, just as Christmas should be.
Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow: A Mountain Christmas
As a follow up to Mountain Soul, Patty Loveless delivers a soulful bluegrass Christmas album that radiates Christmas warmth while injecting moments of festive frivolity as well. Appearances by Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rebecca Lynn Howard and Jon Randall are not necessary to strengthen this already masterful Christmas album, but they certainly help the celebration in a special way. (For more on this album, read a review by guest contributor Stephen Fales.)
Pam Tillis, Just in Time for Christmas
Most of the time, I want to hear warmth on a Christmas album. As is the case with many of my favorites, I like to be able to imagine listening to Christmas music by a cozy fire (though I don’t have a fireplace) and a nice mug of hot chocolate. With Tillis’ album, my imagination does not have to stretch very far, because it commands such images with its tasteful, jazzy production and Tillis’ naturally pleasant voice. This is clearly a country Christmas album, but it also manages to blend country elements with other traditional components that result in a perfect hybrid of torch and twang.
I feel like I should hand in my Pam Tillis megafan credentials. First, I somehow didn’t include her on my personal decade singles list, then I was completely surprised to see her at #1 on your Christmas album list.
Which led me to go back and listen to it, and wow, is it good. I’d cherry-picked “Seasons” and “Beautiful Night” for my favorite songs playlist long ago, and somehow never went back to visit the rest of this awesome album. Thanks for the early Xmas present!
Nice countdown Leeann, I too am completely surprised at your choice at number one..never would have guessed either. ;) You make Pam’s album, along with so many on your list, sound like must listening. Charlie Daniels too.
So good to see my favorite, Patty’s Bluegrass & White Snow so high on your list. Nice encapsulation of BGWS, I’m in complete agreement: Patty’s Christmas classic is “masterful” indeed.
“Good News” by Kathy Mattea is far and away the best “country” Christmas cd… not to mention her personal best work.
I have to say, it’s not Christmas unless I listen to both Martina McBride & SHeDAISY. Both of their albums are awesome – My grandmother, who’s not a country fan, adores Martina’s cd.
Excellent list, Leeann. Filled with many of my favorites including Martina McBride and even the John Denver/Muppets project. My personal 25 would have to include John Berry’s O Holy Night and maybe The Judds and Trisha Yearwood. Merry Christmas! :)
My 25 Favorites would include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, SHeDAISY, Martina McBride, Ally McBeal’s christmas album, among some others.
Glad to see SHeDAISY represented!!
Faith Hill, Wynonna and Suzy Bogguss have also put out some decent Christmas albums but I’m not sure if they’d make my Top 25.
I love Brand New Year. I don’t download christmas albums, but I downloaded this song because I think it’s the most “regular” Christmas song I’ve ever heard. The rest of the album is great too.
Just curious, did Little Big Town ever release a Christmas album or just singles. I ask because their rendition of Go Tell it on the Mountain is one of the best Christmas songs I’ve ever heard.
Great list. No Brad Paisley Christmas though?
Suzy Bogguss is #1 for me with her “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” cd. I love her version of “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” which is based on a Longfellow poem written toward the end of the Civil War. She and her husband Doug Crider wrote 2 of the selections, “Two-Step’Round the Christmas Tree” and “Through Your Eyes” (not the Gloria Estefan song). There’s also a a duet with one of my favorite artists Delbert McClinton on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” plus other Christmas standards.
John Berry’s 2 cds
Dolly’s w Kenny Rogers
just bought the Pam T so it’s too soon to comment.
A lot of my personal favorite Christmas albums are on this list: Dolly, Randy Travis, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Emmylou, Martina and Lorrie Morgan are all in heavy rotation at my house this time of year. And I agree with you about the Loretta Lynn album, it’s great. I really despise the SheDAISY album with a passion, though. They have the most annoying version ever of “Jingle Bells.”
If I had it to do over again, I’d add Raul Malo’s and Brad Paisley’s Christmas albums to the list.
Excellent list! I am happy you included Mindy Smith’s. It’s one of my favorites. I’m not sure it’s on CD, but “Christmas with Tammy” (Wynette), is amazing, too. I can flip that record over and over and not get sick of it, it’s just so pretty. Also – not sure if you can lump her in with country artists just because she married one, but I’ll always give Amy Grant’s first Christmas album a spin around this time. My mom bought that tape at Hallmark when it first came out, and that’ll always sound like Christmas to me.
I’d suggest considering Sugarland’s Gold & Green set for inclusion, it’s pretty innovative and really good.
Piggy Pudding? No, FIGGY Pudding, it’s made with Figs, and bacon.
We won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some, (background vocals by Fozzy I think) won’t go! won’t! won,t go!
I like the Sugarland album, Zack, but some parts are a bit too arena rock for my taste to call it one of my favorites. Plus, I’m not a fan of Kristian as the lead; his voice is too thin and nasally (the thin part not working with the nasal) for me. A couple of the tracks, however, would probably make it onto an updated favorite Christmas song list.
I usually stick to the standards for Christmas music: Bing Crosby, Elvis, Burl Ives, Nat King Cole, and others. I’m not fond of artists trying to put their own spin on Christmas classics.
Some modern picks:
Christina Agulira, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Shedaisy, “Deck The Halls”
Carrie Underwood, “Hark The Hearald Angels Sing & “Do You Hear What I Hear”
Whitney- “Do You Hear What I Hear”
Elvis & Carrie Underwood- “I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Katherine McPhee, “Christmas Is Time” (album).
…elvis must be alive!
The only actual Christmas album I have in my collection is Linda Ronstadt’s 2000 album A Merry Little Christmas, which includes the expected holiday favorites (“The Christmas Song”; “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; “White Christmas”; “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) in a setting not unlike her mid-1980s albums with Nelson Riddle.
After her take on her old friend Joni Mitchell’s 1971 classic “River”, however, the album takes an unexpected turn into largely sacred, often unaccompanied choral territory with “O Magnum Mysterium”, “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming”, and “I Wonder As I Wander.” Understandably, for a lot of people, this sudden jump from Nelson Riddle-type arrangements into classical/choral on the same album is likely to be jarring and maybe off-putting. And truth be told, I think Linda waited some twenty years too long to do a Christmas album.
Still, this shows her willingness to make her own individual stamp on the Christmas music world, as she has done in every other form of music she has touched upon over the last 44 years.
Somehow, I’m not surprised, Erik.:)
Erik – If you like Linda Ronstadt, I’d definitely recommend Emmylou’s “Light of the Stable”. Linda, Dolly, and Neil Young provide beautiful background vocals on the title track. It’s really quite gorgeous, and doesn’t sound all that much like X-mas music (that one particular song), if you’re not a fan.
I too love the Suzy Bogguss Christmas album and am going to see her Christmas show next week. What also love that is not on your list is Reba’s “Merry Christmas To You”, which came out when she was at her most traditional as well as the “Christmas Time With The Judds” CD from the 80’s. Also it ain’t Christmas for me till I put on the Dolly Kenny classic”Once Upon A Christmas.”
@ Susan K:
Obviously Linda, Dolly, and Neil do provide something different for Emmy’s album. Linda’s own Christmas contribution, however, is far removed from her pal’s.
Now, there’s also the little matter of a pair of Christmas albums made, respectively, in 1957 and 1971 by that Presley guy (LOL). They kind of define Christmas pop music for the second half of the 20th century, just as nearly everything else the King did defined American pop culture.
My favorite is the Alan Jackson album that didn’t get included, specifically duets with Keith Whitley on “New Kid in Town” and Alison Krauss on “The Angels Cried.”
Love the John Prine love. “It was Christmas in prison and the food was real good, we had turkey and pistols carved out of wood.”
I’ve probably spent as much effort cultivating my Christmas library as my country library over the years. I’m not going to rank them, but as far as older releases go I’d add:
Pretty Paper, Willie Nelson – I’ve got this on vinyl. It’s killer.
Merry Christmas Strait to You, George Strait – I can appreciate why Leeann would favor his third Christmas album, but I dig his first; it reflects that western swing aesthetic that King George rocked in the 80s.
Father Christmas, Deana Carter – Just Deana’s lovely voice and an acoustic guitar. It’s as close to having her there on the couch as you can get without violating the law. It’s a very intimate and informal Christmas album, and maybe the best album in her discography.
Christmas in America, Kenny Rogers – Often overlooked because of that other, more iconic album he released with Dolly Parton, this was “my” Kenny Rogers Christmas album. My mom introduced me to it, and I’ve always enjoyed it. Today, I’d probably balk at a new album shoehorning patriotism into a Christmas album, but in the pre-9/11 world it just felt like part of a stage show meant to juxtapose the bounty of the season with the humility of gratitude. Plus, it features my favorite recording of “Silver Bells.”
More recently, I’d pick:
Brad Paisley Christmas, Brad Paisley – solid from start to finish. “Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday” hasn’t worn thin yet, his duet with his younger self on “Born on Christmas Day” is too cute by half, but Paisley does that kind of corny well so it works.
It Won’t Be Christmas Without You, Brooks & Dunn – THE Christmas party album, a rollicking good time. The title track slows things down (and would be a complete downer, if Ronnie Dunn wasn’t such a compelling vocalist).
Also, I’ve pieced together a Christmas EP compiling all of Gary Allan’s Christmas recordings to date that I like to pull out each December. I’d really like to see an official Gary Allan Christmas album some day.
I’m not even familiar with the Carter album. Going to find it now.
all 3 John Berry Christmas albums
Suzy Bogguss – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Anne Murray – Chistmas Wishes and Christmas
Billy Gilman – Classic Christmas
Kenny & Dolly – Once Upon a Christmas
Martina McBride – White Christmas
Brett Eldredge – Glow
Chris Young – It Must Be Christmas
Most of my favorite Christmas albums are NOT by country artists. From your list of favorites I have the Lorrie Morgan & Tractors albums. and I would add CHRISTMAS CARD by the Statler Brothers (Lew Dewitt as high tenor), Buck Owens’ MERRY CHRISTMAS, and Ernest Tubb’s BLUE CHRISTMAS (the title track was a top five hit for ET in 1948)
An Old Time Christmas – Randy Travis – His voice and traditional style is simply perfect for Christmas music, imo. Love the title track, “How Do I Wrap My Heart Up For Christmas,” “White Christmas Makes Me Blue,” and well…the entire album!
Ricky Van Shelton – Ricky Van Shelton Sings Christmas – Same as Randy above. Love how this album is sort of a throwback to country Christmas albums from the 60’s with Ricky’s smooth style. Love his version of “White Christmas,” plus the fun “Country Christmas,” “Pretty Paper,” “Christmas Long Ago,” and everything else.
Alan Jackson – Honky Tonk Christmas – Has my two favorites I mentioned in the favorite Christmas songs list, plus other favorites of mine like “Merry Christmas To Me,” “If We Make It Through December,” and other fun stuff like “Santa’s Coming In A Pickup” with the Chipmunks.
The Sweetest Gift – Trisha Yearwood – Beautiful from start to finish. Love “It Wasn’t His Child,” “Take A Walk Through Bethlehem,” “Reindeer Boogie,” the title track, and her version of “The Christmas Song.”
George Strait – Merry Christmas Strait To You – Has my all time favorite version of “Winter Wonderland” as mentioned earlier, plus I love his version of “There’s A New Kid In Town,” the title track, and “When It’s Christmas Time In Texas.” Love all the other standards done in his signature western swing influenced country style, as well.
Michael Martin Murphey – Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs II – Such a fun listen from start to finish. Perfect for when I’m in the mood for Christmas music with a western flavor and cowboy theme.
Buck Owens – Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos – Somehow I find his signature Bakersfield style of country and Christmas music a perfect combination. Very enjoyable.
John Denver – Rocky Mountain Christmas – My dad had this album on LP and his let me borrow it back in 1991 for me to record it onto a cassette tape. This album always takes me back to that time in my childhood. Love “Aspenglow,” “Christmas For Cowboys,” and his versions of “The Christmas Song” “Silver Bells,” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
George Strait – Merry Christmas Wherever You Are – Just as enjoyable as his first Christmas album, imo.
Mandy Barnett – Winter Wonderland – Decided to pick this one up immediately after hearing it play while I was in Cracker Barrel one time. Mandy’s voice is perfect for singing Christmas music, and all the songs are done in classic country style, which I love. This is almost how I’d imagine what a Patsy Cline Christmas album would’ve sounded like.
Reba – Merry Christmas To You
Joe Diffie – Mr. Christmas
Marty Robbins – Christmas With Marty Robbins
Garth Brooks – Beyond The Season
Doug Stone – The First Christmas
Lorrie Morgan – Merry Christmas From London
The Tractors – Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas
Martina McBride – White Christmas
I just want to send a little love to a legend we lost ths year: Kenny Rogers’ 1981 Christmas is incredible and contains the greatest non traditional song ever…Homemande Christmas in Kentucky