A weekly round-up of must-hear music from Times staffers. This week's edition focuses on holiday music, from a should-be classic from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and a new release from young country star Kacey Musgraves.
Kacey Musgraves, "A Very Kacey Christmas." (Mercury Records)
The young country star is as comfortable on stage with Loretta Lynn as she is Katy Perry, and her first holiday release — her third proper full-length overall — shows how she so elegantly navigates the worlds of Nashville and pop.
The tone here is playful. Instruments sound light and bright, almost toy-like in places, but there's also a casual regalia that shows Musgraves has an appreciation for holiday classicism. Such a mixture suits the goofy and dapper feel of "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" as well as the orchestral take on "Christmas Don't Be Late," which features twangy strings that joyfully contrast with an accordian fit for a candlelit dinner.
But the true stars are the originals, including the bittersweet "Christmas Makes Me Cry" and the '60s-influenced Girl Group blast of cheer that is "Ribbons and Bows." — Todd Martens
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "It's a Holiday Soul Party" (Daptone Records). The late Sharon Jones, who died last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer, only issued one holiday album, and it's a multi-denominational doozy. Jones got her start singing in church before moving to the wedding band circuit, so she understands how to wrangle a crowd. Issued last year, "It's a Holiday Soul Party" is a seasonal banger.
With the vintage soul chops of her longtime backing band the Dap-Kings, Jones howls through "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects," describing a childhood spent wondering "how Santa put my toys under the tree." On "Just Another Christmas Song," she name-checks holiday standards, complaining that each is "just another Christmas song — but I'll sing along." Good thing. Best is the Dap-Kings' classic update, "Funky Little Drummer Boy." With Stax Records-style horns and a jerky breakbeat, Jones and band reinvent it as a rollicking dance number. — Randall Roberts
Maxwell, Miranda, Parsley, "Catskill Christmas." (Dangerbird)
Amid the bounty of Christmas albums each year, rare is the one to entirely emphasize new material. It takes a leap of faith — from the artist and the listener, as many of us were weaned on holiday tunes long before our own musical tastes began to take root. This is a season built on a tradition. Why try to upend it? But give "Catskill Christmas" a chance.
The brief work — 12 songs, 33 minutes — is alternately familiar and offbeat. The album, from Chris Maxwell, Holly Miranda and Ambrosia Parsley, captures each musician's sense of humor, grace and craftsmanship, all while vaguely trying to sound like the sort of rootsy Christmas albums that marked our childhoods.
There are strutting, misfit anthems like "Too Many Santas," as well as odes to less lamented parts of the holiday season (see the sad country lament of "Christmas Aisle" or the old-timey salute to the crumb-eating critters of "Christmas Mice"). It's a little silly — check the '50s harmonies and swinging dance-rock of "Naughty Elf" — but just because the trio is shining a light on less memorialized parts doesn't mean the album completely ignores tradition. Nostalgia, after all, takes center stage on the celebratory call-and-response of "Going to Get the Tree." — Todd Martens