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Review

'CMA Country Christmas': A holiday party done wrong

A-list country stars and classic Christmas songs -- what could go wrong?

“Are y’all ready to Christmas party?” asked Jennifer Nettles at the beginning of “CMA Country Christmas,” and – believe you me -- I totally was.

Unfortunately, I’d come to the wrong place.

Presented by the powerful Country Music Assn., this annual holiday TV special should be a gift-wrapped delight, with more than a dozen major country stars (and a handful of carpetbaggers) doing songs designed to please.

Yet this year’s edition, taped last month at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and broadcast Monday night on ABC, brought no such joy to my world. Where it might’ve been cute, it was corny; where it might’ve been earnest, it was dreary.

And where the show might’ve found some down-home dignity with Alan Jackson – “one of the great men of country music,” as host Nettles accurately introduced him -- instead it saddled the guy with a miserable-looking kiddie choir to sing “Let It Be Christmas.”

Let it be over.

“CMA Country Christmas” likely warmed the chestnuts of at least one group of viewers, and that was the Disney executives who beheld guest appearances by Clare Bowen of “Nashville” (which airs on Disney-owned ABC), Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” (ABC Family) and Idina Menzel, the “Frozen” star Nettles described as “our lovely new friend.”

Menzel turned up no fewer than three times Monday, first for a glossy “White Christmas,” then to do “Let It Go” with Nettles and finally, surrounded by another bunch of kids, for “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Yes, Idina, I do: the sound of corporate synergy.

OK, not everything was terrible.

LeAnn Rimes flexed some real vocal power in “Carol of the Bells,” as did Carrie Underwood in “All Is Well,” where her firehose of a voice made her duet partner, Michael W. Smith, look like a rehearsal pianist. (Smith didn’t fare much better against Little Big Town’s lush four-part harmonies in “Silent Night.”)

And, against all odds, Brad Paisley and Steven Tyler’s “Run Run Rudolph” was actually kind of fun.

But mostly “CMA Country Christmas” was a slog, one that left my jingle bells decidedly unrung.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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