Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Kacey Musgraves' third album, A Very Kacey Christmas.
Look, I know a Kid Cudi album came out this weekend. I know there are at least a handful of new, vital albums people should listen to this week. I know that I should not be devoting this space to a Christmas album that came out eight weeks ago, and the same week everyone on earth—even people who love Christmas music—decides they’ve had enough Christmas music and doesn’t leave their car radio tuned to the local station with all Christmas music, all the time.
But here’s the thing: I’m just trying to make it through this last workweek before holiday break unscathed. This has felt like the year from hell in a lot of ways, and I don’t think I need to get into it. You live here too. So the only album that can serve as a salve for me this week, as I prepare to see my family, my girlfriend’s family, and the high school classmates I see in my hometown over Christmas and talk shit about when I need motivation later in the year, is A Very Kacey Christmas, the superlative Kacey Musgraves Christmas album.
Ostensibly Musgraves’ third solo album—her other two are (flame emojis) so check those out if you haven’t yet—A Very Kacey Christmas renders songs from the Great Christmas Songbook—plus some originals—through Musgraves’ measured sound, rendering the songs here in turns stunningly beautiful and flowerily delicate. Her version of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” should replace the original on your holiday playlist, and her southwestern take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” should come with a neon Christmas cactus. The album closes with a masterful take on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” which closes with horns playing “Auld Lang Syne,” and a conviction that this is the best modern Christmas album ever.
It’s the originals where Musgraves makes her claim for the Christmas music pantheon, though. “Present Without a Bow,” her duet with Leon Bridges—who sounds better here than on his own stuff, incredibly—is an all-time great Christmas breakup song, and her doofy duet with Willie Nelson—“A Willie Nice Christmas”—is better than any song about being stoned on Christmas has any right to be. But the showstopper is “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” a sad, brokenhearted song about how Christmas can make you realize you and your family are getting older, and you won’t have the perfect Christmas forever, and how even Christmas can’t make everyone happy always.
I know it’s en vogue to say that “Christmas music is crass, and commercial, and trite,” and whatever epithets you can throw at it. But human existence in 2016 is all of those things too. At least Christmas music is up front about it, and at least tries to make people happy to spend time with their loved ones, and spend time reflecting on the year that came before. Who knows what 2017 will be like, but I’m going to spend this week in the warm embrace of this album.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.