If there’s one Christmas album that is determined to lift you out of your lockdown blues then it is the new release from country band Jess and the Bandits. My Country Christmas is a barnstorming record that has happiness and joy written all over it. Opening track ‘Sleigh Ride’ is emblematic of the album’s resemblance to a festive musical soundtrack, frontwoman Jess Clemmons adding her extraordinary vocals to a song full of the kind of razzmatazz you’d find in a West End show.
The feel-good vibes continue into ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow’ and ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’, with Jess and the Bandits not looking to emulate the popular style of other performers of these songs but, rather, seeking to create something new. They do so through the heavy use of pedal steel guitar, to give a distinct country flavour, and the inventive insertion of piano, to add some boogie-woogie fun. The result is an immersive experience which captures Jess’s own outlook on a season “where you can’t help but be happy”.
Not that ‘My Country Christmas’ is a rip-roaring affair from start to finish. There are moments, like with ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ and ‘O Holy Night’, in which the lights dim and the music is stripped back for a more intimate affair; in which the spotlight falls firmly on Jess and, particularly during the latter, we get to experience the tremendous power of her vocals. It is not just this power that impresses but the range too, as exemplified in the track ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ where a much softer, gentle, even quiet voice in contrast, is displayed. There remains that impassioned conviction, however, which stamps itself across this album, to give ‘My Country Christmas’ a melodramatic rather than saccharine sound.
Two of the final three songs on the album are covers of country music records. Thomas Rhett’s ‘Christmas in the Country’ is given a rock-infused boost, whilst ‘White Christmas in Houston’ also gets the electric guitar and amplified drum treatment to complement the more traditional sound of pedal steel. Add a touch of soul from Jess’s vocals and the overall effect is like putting a shiny gloss onto the wood-carved original. In between, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ is much more richly sung in contrast to Bing Crosby’s pensive tones. Given that Jess has “selected a collection of Christmas songs full of nostalgia and personal meaning”, it is too her credit that she doesn’t try to emulate Bing here, instead seeking to recreate this song in her own personal way. In doing so, she retains that sense of warmth that imbues ‘My Country Christmas’ with a jovial festive feel. It is an album that certainly brings a smile to the face.
You can stream My Country Christmas on Spotify here.
Originally written for Belles & Gals.
Featured Image (C) Jessica Clemmons