Ka-Ching With Twang – Country at Christmas Part Two: Mitchell Tenpenny, Brett Young, Josh Turner

In Part One, I praised new albums by Brett Eldredge and Kelly Clarkson, who add to their seasonal catalogues

A new name entering the Christmas market in 2021 is Mitchell Tenpenny, who is best known for his first hit Drunk Me and his recent hit Truth About Me, although Trigger at Saving Country Music won’t let us forget that one of his early singles was called Bitches.

His 11-song set Naughty List mixes classics with self-penned tunes trying to muscle their way into Christmas playlists. All the old favourites are here, albeit with a new twist. Let It Snow is mellow, while Joy to the World is turned into the sort of country-pop slow jam that makes Jesus come across as a girl in a tank top. There’s a faithful take on Jingle Bell Rock which is followed by an equally power-pop version of Santa Claus Is Comin To Town, which ends with a guttural thrash metal vocal from Mitchell. It’s almost pantomime season, as he sounds like John Mayer on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, while he’s doing his best Brett Eldredge impression on O Holy Night.

I Hope It Snows (‘on Christmas Eve’) is all about showing a beloved around one’s hometown and the ‘smalltown tradition’. The lead vocal comes from Mitchell’s girlfriend Meghan Patrick in a nice bit of brand consolidation. I don’t read country gossip websites but I presume the pair are getting a lot of press coverage. The song seems to visualise an Instagram post, so maybe fans will hope that it indeed does snow for Christmas, so the pictures can get more likes and reposts.

One can imagine that Meghan is the subject of both Neon Christmas – a funky and catchy tune with a neat key change – and Don’t Hang The Mistletoe, on which Mitchell pleads for his baby that ‘if you want to leave the house’, don’t give him an excuse to kiss her repeatedly.

There are two full-on Xmas sex jams. The rapid flow of Snow Angels contains an exhortation to ‘stay in bed, start a fire in here instead’, with no need for mistletoe. The title track is set at Mitchell’s belle’s parents’ house, and our protagonist is walking the line between kisses ‘sweeter than the cookies that we licked’, ‘buzzing off the eggnog’ and being on his best behaviour. There’s an audience for this.

On Big Machine, Brett Young is trying to earn his label some money by dragging in some friends who Sing the Christmas Classics. As with 2020 when Thomas Rhett did it, this year it’s Brett’s turn to do a Christmas TV show. For some reason, perhaps kudos, pop singer Sam Fischer appears on a strings-laden version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Christian music is represented in the form of elfin Christian singer Chris Tomlin, who pops up on an acoustic guitar-laden Silent Night, and Phil Wickham, who is roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

Elsewhere, it’s a who’s who of country folk. Who’s Brett rockin’ around the tree with? Why it’s Darius Rucker (who put out his own Christmas album a few years ago)! Who’s by the delightful fire harmonising on Let It Snow? It’s Maddie & Tae! And who weaves a guitar line through Brett’s requests for hula hoops on The Chipmunk Song? Producer and guitarist Dann Huff!! Newly single Colbie Caillat is helping Brett dream of a White Christmas in a cute but anodyne fashion, while Brett opens the set with a woozy version of Silver Bells.

The tracks are aggressive in their dullness, with a soft backbeat accompanying the whole thing that turns it into music you’d hear in a candle store, which may be the point. CMT Crossroads Christmas will air in December and drive people to the studio versions of the songs. I can already see them being introduced on the TV show by some adorable skits which feature Brett’s wife and child.

Brett should take note on how to add richness to a Christmas set from Josh Turner. Josh follows an album of gospel music with one for Christmas, much as Carrie Underwood did in the last 12 months (though she did it the other way round).

King Size Manger contains the Turner family version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, as well as secular tunes Santa Claus is Comin To Town and Mele Kalikimaka, which was recently done by Kacey Musgraves on her own festive release. The whistling solo is excellent.

Otherwise it’s God and Jesus for the win. The album opens with a rocking arrangement of the hymn Angels We Heave Heard on High (‘Gloria in excelsis deo’) and there’s a bluegrass feel to What He’s Given Me thanks to some fiddle and the voice of Pat McLaughlin. A toe-tapping version of Joy To The World (‘and heaven and nature swing!’) brings in Opry member Rhonda Vincent, and Go Tell It On The Mountain is Sunday morning gospel.

The title track, co-written by Josh himself, is a gorgeous take on the earliest moments of Jesus’s life, as he sets the Gospel to a lush musical setting. Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe, two A-list Nashville writers, open the ballad Soldier’s Gift with a verse from Twas The Night Before Christmas, and turn the figure of Santa into a soldier who keeps America safe. It’s heartstrings-tugging and should be heard by every sentient human being this Christmas.

The album finishes with an austere version of Silent Night, sung brilliantly with the ‘heavenly peace’ that features in the lyrics, praising the birth of Jesus. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

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