' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...A Very Kacey Christmas

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Some Drivel On...A Very Kacey Christmas

The Kacey Musgraves Christmas album “A Very Kacey Christmas” was released in 2016, meaning it’s only 7 years old and not a round number like ten years or twenty years which is what a blogger would typically exploit for a remembrance piece. But writing about the album in 2022 for the copper and wool anniversary, which is hardly the anniversary anyone remembers or anticipates, I think only works to underline how much I cherish it, that I want to write about it right now rather than wait for year ten. Because seven years, I have decided, is enough time to decree, a la Caesar Augustus, that “A Very Kacey Christmas” is my favorite Christmas record. 

Aside from a couple originals called “Ribbons and Bows,” that in its hand claps, horns, and multitracked vocals comes on like the lost classic from Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” and the bluesy “Present Without a Bow,” Musgraves mostly leans on a western swing sound inviting flashbacks to Bob Willis and West Texas dance halls of the 30s and 40s. That’s appropriate. Christmas often seems to take place at least partly in the past tense, like opening today’s door on an Advent calendar you have opened two-dozen times during holidays bygone. And though there is also an air of the country variety shows of the 60s and 70s, “A Very Kacey Christmas” never becomes like her overly accessorized 2019 Amazon Prime Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, opting for a breezy intimacy suggesting Musgraves eschewed baking Christmas cookies for friends to lay down some Christmas tracks to crackly vinyl and hand those out instead.


Though Musgraves is generally classified as a country artist, her sound flits between a traditionalist bent and a more modern, pop-oriented one, an indifference to genre that is evident in her impeccable “A Very Kacey Christmas” curation. The record opens with a pair of standards, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which isn’t Judy Garland’s melancholia but a sanguine sort of shuffle, where a merry Christmas is not some distant dream but right there within the reach of that star on top of the bow and something that Kacey really wants you to have, followed by a “Let it Snow” with dollops of steel guitar that taken in tandem with Musgraves’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka” reminds us of the instrument’s Hawaiian roots and reminds me how Christmas Day Aloha Bowls of my youth (and Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowls of my ostensible prime of life) have always caused an association in my mind between the holiday and the sounds of the Islands.

From there, Musgraves’s song choice grows more eclectic and inclusive, and inclusive not just because of “Feliz Navidad” and soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges guesting on “Present Without a Bow” but how “Present Without a Bow” and Kacey’s own “Christmas Always Makes Me Cry” provide space for people who are not into the season, whether just this one or overall. (Oh my god, that Bridges line about “the New Year will come and brings lot of change, baby” is the perfect distillation of mounting dread at the end of each year of having to mount up and go through all this again.) At the same time, Musgraves’s gently playful voice allows her to express the season’s childlike joy as much as its sadness, successfully translating The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late” without need for the tape speed chicanery, acing the tongue-twisting rhymes of Gayla Peevy’s “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and submitting a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that really does sound like an Elementary School Christmas Concert with Linda Ronstadt singing lead. 


If those songs are for the kids, she’s got one for the adults, too, and not just her pessimistically plaintive version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” No, I’m talking about the original “A Willie Nice Christmas.” It’s a pun, see, because Willie Nelson is her duet partner, and because it’s Willie Nelson perhaps you can already glean the role played in the song by Nelson’s favorite hallucinogen. I know, I know, a holiday stoner anthem? Musgraves, though, pulled a similar track by opening her 2015 album “Pageant Material” with “High Time,” utilizing a smattering of weed smoking double entendres to advance a universal argument to chill. That call becomes even more acute during the holiday hustle and bustle, when the days get shorter, and we tend to speed up rather than slow down. And even if Kacey cheekily transforms Peace on Earth into “piece on earth,” well, I still hear it as the first one, but less as a Biblical annunciation than the living embodiment of that same Corona Christmas television ad that never goes out of style. I suspect that “A Very Kacey Christmas” never will either. 

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