December 2011 Pick Six: Christmas Songs

Ken Morton, Jr. | December 23rd, 2011

1. Alan Jackson — “Let It Be Christmas”
As he showed with “Where Were You” in the aftermath of 9/11, Alan Jackson has a remarkable knack for capturing the national mood in song, illuminating and awakening our essential humanity with exactly the right words at exactly the right time. He proves equally adept at cutting through the silly decorations and frenetic gift-buying to the true heart of the holiday season in “Let It Be Christmas,” as pure and uncynical a yuletide classic as has been composed in my lifetime. –CM Wilcox


2. Willie Nelson – “Pretty Paper”

Way back when I was a kid and more interested in early 80s rock bands, I was “subjected” to all kinds of country music by parents while sitting on the pleather back seat of our family’s baby blue Lincoln Continental. Nowadays, those same songs bring me great comfort and memories of those special days. Nelson’s version of “Pretty Paper” is one of those songs that instantly bring me back. –Ken Morton, Jr.


3. Alan Jackson — “I Only Want You for Christmas”

While I don’t normally associate Christmas with shots of whiskey and swinging bar doors, I gladly honky-tonk up my holiday tunes. Alan Jackson’s Honky Tonk Christmas fits the bill with country weepers, a Merle Haggard cover and a previously taped track with Keith Whitley. My favorite tune on the album is “I Only Want You for Christmas,” because it ties together Jackson’s signature humor and charisma in one neat (red and green) package — and reminds me of nineties-era Christmas mornings when my biggest concern was which Barbie Dream House Santa had delivered my way. – Karlie Justus


4. Robert Earl Keen — “Merry Christmas from the Family”

Yeah, the Rockwell-esque Christmas Day scenes are all well and good, but they’re hardly realistic. It’s much more likely to find some uncle passed out on the recliner in front of the TV, relatives that you’re not sure how you’re related to and all the assorted griping and sniping that comes with holiday stress. Robert Earl Keen’s whacked-out masterpiece celebrates the warts-and-all spirit of Christmas. — Sam Gazdziak


5. Alan Jackson — “Silent Night”

With the hectic pace of the holidays, it’s difficult to find time to appreciate the ample blessings in our lives. Regardless of singer or genre, “Silent Night” always radiates with a graceful calm and reinforces the special bond between mother and child. In our mile-a-minute world, the song is a quiet plea for peace and comfort. — Blake Boldt


6. Bela Fleck — “Jingle Bells”

Aside from the fact that our ceramic, illuminated Christmas village always has a red-light district, we’re much for tradition in my family: for Christmas dinner as a kid I’d often end up chowing down puri and shaak made by my Indian grandmother rather than ham or turkey. This is probably why Fleck’s version of the otherwise execrable  “Jingle Bells” appeals to me. It’s recognizable as the Christmas classic, but the Tuvan throat-singing (from Alash) and jazz banjo make it weird and wonderful, just like those Christmases as a kid. — Juli Thanki

  1. SamB
    December 23, 2011 at 8:48 am

    There’s so many Christmas songs that I do really love, and one thing I love about being into country music is that so many artists record Christmas songs and Christmas albums.

    My favourite album is probably Gretchen Peters’ Northern Lights, which I actually wrote about today on my blog.

    I also really love O Holy Night, though I’m still to find *the* definitive version for me. Others I enjoy listening to at this time of year include Kathy Mattea’s versions of Mary Did You Know and O Come All Ye Faithful (the latter from Charlie Daniels’ album), Trisha Yearwood singing There’s a New Kid in Town and the whole of Patty Loveless’s Bluegrass and White Snow.

    And I’d never heard any of these songs above before, actually, but really enjoying the Alan Jackson ones, in particular, thanks :)

  2. Karlie
    December 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Alan’s just so dang good.

  3. C.M. Wilcox
    December 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    If I had known Alan was going to be so well-represented, I probably would have gone with “If We Make It Through December” or “Christmas Cookies” instead. But since his Christmas albums are two of my favorites, I can’t say I’m upset about AJ making up 50% of this list, either.

  4. Ken Morton, Jr.
    December 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Around these parts, there’s no need to be an Alan Jackson apologist.

  5. Rick
    December 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Its a shame there isn’t a music video for Amber Dotson’s excellent version of “Blue Christmas”. The low rent but similar Julie Roberts’ version briefly played on the “Hart of Dixie” TV show a few weeks back was quite lackluster in comparison. Oh well…

    Based on Juli’s selection, I’d like to wish her a Very Curry Christmas! (lol)

  6. luckyoldsun
    December 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    If you listen to some of the “I’m-country-and-I’ll kick-your-ass” singers and “I’m-more-Christmas-than-you” news channels and radio commentators, the Christmas season seems to be mostly about keeping score and hectoring this-or-that business or politician for being Christmas-deficient.

    Alan Jackson sort of stands out for NOT pandering to that contingent and for creating modern Christmas songs that sound sincere and positive.

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