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Notebook: Giving you a taste of Christmas country

By Gregory Hicks, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 4, 2013

Exploring your inner Christmas country can be difficult, especially when the same Martina McBride record has been orbiting your head for one too many years. Searching for anything to please your extended Nashvillian family members? Looking to educate yourself on a stand-out classic that didn’t click with your generation? Every expedition needs its kickstarters, and yours should be no exception.

Lady Antebellum — On This Winter’s Night

Stir some light percussion, delicate piano and the warmth of a string orchestra to complete preparation for a Christmas-ready recipe. To any country listener who frequents Need You Now, it’s evident that these are already the iconic ingredients to Lady A’s sound. Impassioned ballad-work is the group’s claim to fame, and the holiday transition is barely a transition at all.

Rather than lullabying yourself to relaxation with “Hello World,” take the chance this winter to heat the cocoa and sedate yourself with Lady A’s unexpected ballad rendition of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The track is Hilary Scott-exclusive, vocally speaking, but Charles Kelley’s backup vocals initiate the Grammy-winning harmonies that charm fans through any season.

The 2012 record also features an original number — the record’s title track, “On This Winter’s Night.” Capitalizing on the melancholy piano themes of Own The Night (particularly “When You Were Mine”), the song narrates the peaceful satisfaction of “this winter’s night.” It’s often said that music is one of the few media that can simultaneously draw opposing emotions, and this Lady A original provokes any number of holiday feelings.

Originals and Mariah Carey covers aside, the record isn’t astoundingly thought-provoking (relative to other albums on the Holiday charts), but certainly well-executed. Charles, Hillary and Dave carry a musical elegance that flatters a Christmas studio album finer than other neighboring country artists.

Brad Paisley — Brad Paisley Christmas

Holidays are no reason for Brad Paisley to budge in his musical ground. On a scale from Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas to Kenny Chesney’s All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan, Paisley leans closer to Chesney. If not for lyrical familiarity, “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells” could easily go unrecognized. Warning: This record is for the southern humorist, not the northern suburbanite in search of magical Christmas intimacy.

For those scouting out a classic holiday har-har, veer on over to Paisley’s rendition of “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.” Not a Paisley original, but the cover choice breeds character — not that this country goofball is in need of any. The self-written laugh comes from a “Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday.” Prep for talk-singing and explore the mind-boggle of Paisley and the Kung Pao Buckaroos attempt to write and sing a holiday song that won’t offend the … sensitive holiday-neutral folks. Eventually the track just censors each use of Christmas vocabulary.

If these songs are barking up the wrong Christmas tree, gush over “Born on Christmas Day.” The first half of the track is an old recording of 13-year-old Paisley debuting the ballad at a public gathering. The track eventually mixes into a mastered version of the modern-day country superstar performing the Christmas narrative. Thirteen years old and publicly performing a holiday original — quite a songwriting feat.

John Denver — Rocky Mountain Christmas

One word: classic. John Denver practically started churning out Christmas music the day he was born.