It's Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas! Country Stars Offer Gifts of Music with These New Albums and EPs

Brett Eldredge, Brett Young, the Pistol Annies and Cody Johnson are among the artists bringing the holiday cheer with brand-new songs and new versions of beloved classics

01 of 12
pistol annies and brett eldredge
Andrew Eccles; Ilde and Jim Cook for Cookhouse Media

Thanksgiving? Meh. Just like the song says, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute — and what better way to get it started than with holiday music?

This season, country artists have been obliging in force, turning out a blizzard of new albums and EPs. Brett Eldredge, Mitchell Tenpenny, Brett Young, the Pistol Annies, Josh Turner and so many more have created songs virtually guaranteed to kindle your Christmas spirit.

Here's a look at a selection of this year's new music.

02 of 12


Brett Eldredge - Mr. Christmas

The Big Band sound that turned Eldredge into Mr. Christmas on his best-selling album Glow is back — bigger and brassier than ever — and he ably re-earns the nickname that's now the title of his second holiday album. Once again, the country crooner is an astute curator of holiday standards that showcase his made-for-Christmas voice, and every selection seems intent on brightening spirits. At least when Eldredge sings it, there's no argument that "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" or any doubt that "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." And with a sprightly bassline holding down the beat, he can transform "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from a solemn 16th-century carol into a jazzy delight. Eldredge also romances listeners with two new co-written love songs, the title track and "Feels Like Christmas," and both fit seamlessly into the mix of familiar music. Closing down the 11-track album, the singer exhibits masterful restraint on a strings-forward "O Come All Ye Faithful," showing how a no-frills interpretation can bring out the majesty in music.

SUMMED UP: Joyful!

DON'T MISS: Eldredge miraculously breathes new life into "Jingle Bells," that song most of us were eager to leave behind in grade school, and he even resuscitates the 164-year-old lyrics' rarely heard fourth verse.

03 of 12

CODY JOHNSON, A Cody Johnson Christmas

A Cody Johnson Christmas

The Texas cowboy has been a busy man lately: In September, he released a documentary, Dear Rodeo. In October, he issued a double album, Human. Now a month later, he's followed up with his debut Christmas album — and it's clearly not an afterthought. The 10 tracks brim with good cheer and holiday spirit, all superbly delivered in Johnson's classic country style. To join eight holiday standards, songwriter-producer Trent Willmon wrote Johnson two fetching new holiday love songs: "Christmas All Year Long" features a happy tempo that invites a dance-floor turn, and "Hat Made of Mistletoe" is a musical romp that offers a madcap solution to how to steal a kiss. Other highlights include a festive "Feliz Navidad," a gentle reading of "Pretty Paper," and a family-style "Silent Night" that charmingly enlists the voices of Johnson's wife and two young daughters.

SUMMED UP: Heartwarming!

DON'T MISS: Johnson is known for his twang, but he reveals another side to his voice in "I'll Be Home for Christmas," showing he also can nail a more velvety crooning style.

04 of 12

CARRIE UNDERWOOD, My Gift (Special Edition)

Carrie Underwood - My Gift

Last year, Underwood's exquisite My Gift cemented the golden-throated singer as one of country's great voices of Christmas, and this year, she adds three tracks to the best-selling album: a stirring rendition of Michael W. Smith's "All Is Well" (which she first performed with Smith back in 2014 on the annual CMA Country Christmas); the pop effervescence of "Favorite Time of Year"; and a soul-jolting mashup of "Let There Be Peace" and "Something in the Water," recorded live for Underwood's 2020 HBO Max special.

SUMMED UP: Encore!

DON'T MISS: Underwood just surprised fans with one extra holiday helping that's not on the album, "Stretchy Pants," a fun and funky ode to overeating (though who knows how much figgy pudding the lithesome singer would have to ingest to stretch her own pants). A portion of the song's proceeds go to The Store, the Nashville initiative co-founded by Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley that offers a no-cost food source to those in need.

05 of 12

BRETT YOUNG, Brett Young & Friends Sing the Christmas Classics

Brett Young & Friends - Sing the Christmas Classics

For his first foray into Christmas music, Young has assembled an eclectic list of collaborators, including Darius Rucker, Maddie & Tae, pop singer Colbie Caillat and Christian artist Chris Tomlin. They've all brought along a casual, laid-back vibe, turning this eight-track album of holiday favorites into the perfect accompaniment to eggnog beside a cozy fire. Most of the song choices seem ready-made just for that moment: Young blends his voice with Maddie & Tae's vibrant harmonies to take the chill off "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" Young recruits Tomlin to help him create an ethereal "Silent Night," and Phil Wickham, another Christian artist, joins Young for an enchantingly languid "Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)." Young and Australian pop-rock singer Sam Fischer also pair up to further tenderize the already soft-hearted "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Picking up the tempo a bit, Young welcomes Rucker to bring the scat to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

SUMMED UP: Delightfully mellow!

DON'T MISS: Young's distinctive voice lends the perfect easygoing warmth to "Silver Bells," his one solo turn, and the guitar, pedal steel and sleigh bell accompaniment add a special sparkle to the beloved classic.

06 of 12


Mitchell Tenpenny - Naughty List

The Nashville native entered the holiday music scene last year with a seven-track EP, Neon Christmas, and he's further staking his claim with four additional tracks that turn the project into a full album. Tenpenny strikes a fine balance here between classics and originals: He shows off the richness of his voice with "Joy to the World" and "O Holy Night," and then just as deftly shifts into headbanger mode for rowdy versions of "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town." Among his co-writes is the sweet and sexy "Don't Hang the Mistletoe," which features this witty lyric about the tempting holiday greenery: "Are you sure you want to put it up? / 'Cause that thing is holidangerous."

SUMMED UP: Naughty — and nice!

DON'T MISS: Tenpenny shares a new adorably sentimental track, "I Hope It Snows," with country singer Meghan Patrick, who's also his girlfriend. (The two wrote the song with Jeff Cibulka.)

07 of 12

PISTOL ANNIES, Hell of a Holiday

Pistol Annies - Hell of a Holiday

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley offer a full spectrum of holiday moods on this fabulously creative album, while still laying full claim to the title of sassiest band around. Ten of the 13 tracks are co-writes by these three besties, and the fun they must have shared in their sessions shines through every note. On tracks like "Sleigh Ride," "Snow Globe" and "Make You Blue," the three women transform themselves into a Sixties girl group, even going full Ronettes with the "ringa-linga-linga-ding-dong-ding" refrain on "Sleigh Ride." All their hardscrabble country roots show on such gritty tracks as "Harlan County Coal," Merle Haggard's classic "If We Make It Through December" and "Happy Birthday." (The latter reaches new irreverent heights, even for the Annies: "Happy birthday, Jesus / hope that you can't see us / down here actin' a fool / like it ain't about you.") The trio also doesn't shy from deeper topics, offering a tender meditation on "Joy" and a sentimental defense of "Believing."

SUMMED UP: A holiday spectacular!

DON'T MISS: Sure, Santa is chubby and jolly, but is he ... sexy? "Come on Christmas Time" makes the case as the Annies sing of their lustful longings for ol' St. Nick: "I've gotta crush on Santa / I wonder if he knows / I want to catch him standing under the mistletoe."

08 of 12

LORI McKENNA, Christmas is Right Here

Lori McKenna - Christmas Is Right Here

The "Humble and Kind" songwriter-singer turns her huge, wise heart to the emotional nature of the season in this resplendent six-track EP. Five of the six tunes are McKenna-penned originals, but she chooses to kick things off with Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," a love-it-or-hate-it holiday song that she expertly navigates with an intimate acoustic approach. In "Hail Mary," McKenna, a mother of five, mines fresh insights from the story of Christ's mother: "I guess every mother knows / what it's like letting go." The deeply personal "Christmas Without Crying," written by a woman who lost her own mother at age 7, addresses the holiday's way of sharpening the pangs of loss. And in her humble and kind way, McKenna adds "Grateful" to her list of human necessities: "In this life that I've been given / I hope I get close to who I'm supposed to be / 'cause there isn't one ungrateful bone in my body."

SUMMED UP: Profound!

DON'T MISS: The Love Junkies, Nashville's famed songwriting trio of McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, have contributed the track, "North Pole," and fans will recognize that its verses take turns offering wistful reminisces of each of the women's childhood Christmases.

09 of 12

AMANDA SHIRES, For Christmas

Amanda Shires - For Christmas

The Americana singer-songwriter is perhaps best known as one-fourth of supergroup the Highwomen, as well as fiddler in husband Jason Isbell's band, the 400 Unit. But for this album, Shires' instrument definitely takes second fiddle; instead, the star of the show is her ethereal and tremulous voice, which delivers 10 strikingly original tracks and one seasonal standard, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" If you're looking for outside-the-box Christmas music, this is it: Besides familiar themes, Shires pokes into other emotional nooks and crannies of the holiday, such as skipping it altogether ("Let's Get Away"), and her Dylan-esque lyrics and R&B-infused melodies are full of offbeat surprises. (Don't expect "Silent Night" to get the standard treatment here. Shires does a melancholy riff, in a minor key, on the hymn's famous lyrics.)

SUMMED UP: Unique!

DON'T MISS: With gospel fervor from the McCrary Sisters, Shires offers a spirited sendup of bad holiday romance on "Gone for Christmas": "I want you / I want you / gone for Christmas."

10 of 12

GARY ALLAN, Please Come Home for Christmas

Gary Allan - Please Come Home For Christmas

Though Allan's maverick image doesn't exactly fit the sentimentality of the season, he still dives into the holiday spirit with an appealing and diverse selection of songs for this five-track EP. It kicks off with the bluesy doowop sounds of "Please Come Home for Christmas" and ends on a playful note with childhood favorite "Up on the Housetop." In between, Allan offers a mischievous reading of "(It Must Have Been Ol') Santa Claus," retrieved from Harry Connick Jr.'s 1993 Christmas album, and his rough-hewn baritone brings a rich country interpretation to "O Holy Night."


DON'T MISS: Allan steams things up with one new — and downright risqué — original, "Let's Be Naughty (and Save Santa the Trip)": "Well, Santa's face would turn red / if he could only see / what we'll be unwrapping / underneath our Christmas tree." Oh my.

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JOSH TURNER, King Size Manger

Josh Turner - King Size Manger

The devout Christian professed his faith in his 2018 project, I Serve a Savior, so not unexpectedly, Turner's debut Christmas album leans into the reason for the season. Seven of the 11 tracks are hymns or have religious themes, and only one — an understated "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" — offers a nod to that other Christmas celeb. Throughout it all, Turner also holds tight to his country cred, lacing the music with guitars, fiddles, steel, and luscious flashes of his famous bass range. "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Joy to the World" (featuring fellow Grand Ole Opry member Rhonda Vincent) both get full twang treatment; Turner actually puts a thrilling shuffle beat on "Joy," winking at listeners with a sly lyric change: "And heaven and nature swing." New original music co-written by Turner includes "What He's Given Me," exquisitely recreating the homespun sound of old-time country, and "King Sized Manger," a solemn retelling of the Christmas story with one of the cleverest wordplays, in its title and hook, to ever crop up in country.

SUMMED UP: Inspiring!

DON'T MISS: "Soldier's Gift," Turner's single off the album, delivers an emotional punch with its heartfelt tribute to military sacrifice.

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RANDY TRAVIS, An Old Time Christmas (Deluxe Edition)

Randy Travis - An Old Time Christmas

This remastered re-issue of Travis' 1989 album will not only remind fans once again how much his voice was made for country, but also how much it was made for the holidays. Besides its original 10 tracks, the album features three never-released additions from the vault, "Little Toy Trains," "There's a New Kid in Town" and "White Christmas." Travis makes all 13 cuts his own with a sound that caresses every note, but he truly sparkles when the accompaniment turns up the fiddles, steel and harmonica on such standards as "Meet Me Under the Mistletoe" and "Pretty Paper" and on newer music like "How Do I Wrap My Heart Up for Christmas" and "Oh, What a Silent Night." A 2013 stroke may have silenced Travis' singular voice, but let's give thanks that the music lives on for generations to come.

SUMMED UP: Timeless!

DON'T MISS: Get out the hankies and have yourself the sort of good holiday cry that only Travis could induce with "White Christmas Makes Me Blue."

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