Hot Holiday Music

All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan –
Kenny Chesney

Only Kenny Chesney could pull off a country-styled tropical Christmas. Known for vacationing in the Caribbean during the holiday break, Chesney delivers a gift here that’ll groove you around the tree. The affable singer brings in two country-Christmas staples to remake their holiday classics with him: Willie Nelson on “Pretty Paper” and Randy Owen of Alabama on “Christmas In Dixie.”

This first holiday album from the 11-million-albums-sold superstar starts with the title track, and while it may sound a bit hokey, one spin in the truck and you’ll add this to your list of perennial holiday favorites. K.C. does a fine job on re-cutting the Oak Ridge Boys hit “Thank God For Kids,” and an even better job on the Skip Ewing-penned “Just A Kid.” Other notable songs include “Silver Bells,” “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.” Merry Christmas, y’all! B+

Identity Crisis –
Shelby Lynne

Shelby Lynne is a rebel. At the 2000 Grammy Awards, the Alabama native tried to keep her tiny leather pants from falling down as she won best new artist. Now she’s trying on another solo effort in this mélange of country, blues and more.

In the 1980s Lynne had a deal in Nashville and mild success on the country charts, including a duet with George Jones. Shelby’s career and look made drastic changes in the ’90s, including a cigar-smoking, short-haired manly look. Today, her beauty and style shines – along with her music. Lynne, sole writer and producer, uses textured, acoustic arrangements that are revelatory in their simplicity and trust. “Telephone” is a sensational number, while “Baby” is a great love song near the end of this identifiable album. C+

Martina –
Martina McBride

Martina McBride’s newest studio album in four years is outstanding, another reflection of the Kansas beauty’s rise to the top of Nashville’s current musical climate. The first single, “This One’s For The Girls,” inspires young and old alike with its upbeat, positive lyrics. Pull out the Kleenex because “In My Daughter’s Eyes” is a real tearjerker.

McBride is something of a marvel. Throughout her decade-long career McBride has managed to walk a tightrope between Nash-Vegas commercial concerns and the high art of well-crafted songwriting and serious singing that makes up modern country at its best. “When You Love Me” is a nice-sounding popish tune, while “Learning to Fall” is one dang good country croon. Her live performance of “Over the Rainbow” closes the album, and it’s a textbook lesson on delivering a show-stopping vocal performance – Martina style. A-

Haggard Like Never Before –
Merle Haggard

“That’s the News,” Hag’s latest blue-collar protest song, signals that the country legend hasn’t changed much at all. You still don’t want to get on the fighting side of Merle. On this number, Haggard attacks the country’s leaders for their handling of the recent war in Iraq. “Suddenly the cost of war is out of sight/ Lost a lot of heroes in the fight/ Politicians do all the talking/ Soldiers pay the dues/ Suddenly the war is over, that’s the news,” Haggard sings.

Showing great care in presenting the disc’s 11 tracks, Willie Nelson duets with Hag on Woody Guthrie’s “Reno Blues.” Haggard moves easily from honky-tonk to Western swing to ballads with the ease of a well-traveled man who may have strayed off the path now and again, but has never lost his bearings. Among the prime cuts – “Garbage Man,” a Cajun-flavored track, and “Return to San Francisco.” Haggard has claimed he will have another No. 1 single before he passes, and he just might achieve that with songs from Haggard Like Never Before. A-

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