Country music star Kacey Musgraves returns with a twelve-track album of festive songs, some original and some covers, in a delightfully different seasonal package that offers her modern-tinged take on country music tropes and her own versions of classics.
The album opens with a short and sweet country-twang version of 'Have Yourself A Merry Christmas' and a bassy 'Let It Snow' alongside the Quebe Sisters on retro-sounding backing vocals. Both tracks are quite respectful to the originals whilst offering some nice little twists, with country on the first, and a 1940s-vibe on the second, with hints of a Hawaiian-esque sound that keeps coming back on tracks. Both numbers have a slight karaoke-feel to them but there's enough twists in the production to keep them interesting.
The tango-style 'Christmas Don't Be Late' continues the feel that Musgraves has tried to expand her sound away from just country, the chunky instrumentals and Kacey's distinctive vocals, alongside the big-band sound, all working together on a sound that's more French than Country and Western. At least it's an improvement on the original 1958 track famously "sung" by Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Track number four delivers the first original song that is more luau than country. 'A Willie Nice Christmas' is probably the album's best track, weaving in Willie Nelson on the second verse and scattered through the rest of the song. With references to drugs, being open to other people's beliefs, and the catchy hook of the title and the line 'May we all get higher than the angel on the top of the tree', this is a great little fun number, even though there's potential for seasonal snickering with the repeated singing of the word 'Willie' if taken out of context.
'Feliz Navidad' sees us switching back to the covers, this time with a bit of a Mexican feel to the opening, as the chorus goes all Mariachi on us. When Kacey finally appears it becomes a nice little track that lifts the spirits, thanks mainly to the distinctive production that mixes up Mexican with whistling, with all manner of instruments.
'Christmas Makes Me Cry' heads up the next two original tracks and is the most country of the numbers so far and is also much more downbeat and introspective with soaring strings and a gentle vibe. It's not a particularly distinctive number musically or lyrically but has plenty of heart especially in some of the later words. 'Present Without A Bow', featuring Leon Bridges, brings us into the second half of the album and is one of the catchiest, radio-friendly pieces on the record, it's well structured lyrics and mid-tempo jaunt fun, plus Bridges delivers a very soulful second verse.
The Hawaiian theme comes out more strongly on 'Mele Kalikmaka', again featuring the Quebe Sisters, this jaunty cover mixing something festive with something more toe-tapping. The quirky 'I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas' makes another appearance after LeAnn Rimes' take on the novelty song a few years ago. It's not that different from previous takes but its tongue-in-cheek vibe is hard to ignore and Musgraves delivers the quick lines and ridiculous rhyming with pizzazz.
The classic 'Rudolph the Red Reindeer' brings us into the final third and again is a rather respectful cover but is possibly the most novelty version on the record with its chipmunk-like backing vocals and clip-clop beat.
'Ribbons and Bows' is the final original song on the record and adds music to the same vibes of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' and is a joyous little pop number with a very catchy hook. The album then wraps up with a cover of the lesser known 'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?' which is actually quite a downbeat ending to the record after everything that's come before it, and feels like the least enjoyable number on the record, but it doesn't shame the piece. The live-style ending and snatch of 'Auld Lang Syne', though, is great.
'A Very Kacey Christmas' is a healthy mix of fun and quirky original songs, festive favourites and versions of lesser known songs, including some novelties made a little more acceptable. Those expecting a country album will be disappointed as it's much more Hawaii than Nashville but it's a fun and cheerful little LP that will get the party going. (7.5/10)