Personnel: Kacey Musgraves (vocals, whistle, background vocals); Leon Bridges, Willie Nelson (vocals); Rory Hoffman (guitar, whistle, accordion, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone); Misa Arriaga (acoustic guitar, gut-string guitar, bells, background vocals); Kyle Ryan (electric guitar, autoharp, ukulele, piano, vibraphone, percussion, sleigh bell, background vocals); Chris Scruggs (lap steel guitar, requinto); The Quebe Sisters (fiddle, background vocals); Nathaniel Smith (cello); Mr. Jimmy Rowland (piano, Hammond b-3 organ, Wurlitzer organ, Mellotron); Adam Keafer (upright bass, electric bass); Fred Eltringham (drums, percussion); Josh Hedley (sleigh bell); Kenny Sears, Larry Franklin, Gena Johnson, Dallas McVey, Cohen Dabbs, Veda Dabbs, Joe Spivey (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Ryan Gore.
Recording information: Maverick Recording; Pedernales Recording Studio, Austin, TX; Southern Ground Nashville, Studio A; Warden Clyffe South.
Photographer: Kelly Christine Sutton.
Kacey Musgraves is often praised for keeping certain country traditions alive but, even so, the retro vibe of A Very Kacey Christmas may come as a bit of a shock. Musgraves crafts her holiday album -- arriving just three records into her career, a relatively swift event -- as an homage to the swinging sounds of mid-century modern, cannily blending lounge with a hint of exotica. Musgraves doesn't spend much time with shopworn standards, opening the record with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Let It Snow!" before taking a series of left turns. Many of these twists are clever re-appropriations of novelty songs, tunes that are played straight but delivered with a wink -- a gambit that plays slightly better with the Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be Late" than Gayla Peevey's "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," which can't help but seem silly in any guise. Such frivolity is charming, though, particularly because Musgraves slyly waltzes right up to the edge of kitsch without ever crossing over into camp. It's a delicate balancing act that she performs with ease because there's a lightness to her delivery and also to her original tunes. Despite its title, "Christmas Makes Me Cry" is as sweet and delicate as falling snow; the Leon Bridges duet, "Present Without a Bow," is coolly relaxed soul; "Ribbons and Bows" is an ebullient slice of Motown bounce, and the deliberately goofy "A Willie Nice Christmas" -- which naturally features a cameo by Willie Nelson and his faithful Trigger, too -- are all clever stylistic exercises that balance the gentle Mariachi bounce of "Feliz Navidad," the island breeze of "Mele Kalikimaka," and cabaret croon of the closing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" Each of these sounds play off of one other to create a sharp, playful, and warm holiday record, the kind that evokes the past while feeling fresh and seeming destined for many years of annual spins. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine