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BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More

Dec 1, 2023

BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More

To celebrate one of the most roots music-y times of year – the winter holiday season – we’ll be showcasing the best in new and classic holiday music from our BGS family with a weekly BGS Wraps round up. Welcome to its first edition!

Whether you adore or abhor holiday music – and we certainly understand both of those mindsets – we hope you’ll find plenty to love with our BGS Wraps playlist (below) and these bluegrass, country, folk, and Americana albums, songs, videos, and shows all celebrating the most wonderful time of the year. From Irene Kelley to Jon Pardi, Wynonna to Brandy Clark, Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country Christmas to Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam, BGS Wraps is a splendid roots music family reunion. Plus, don’t miss our weekly Classic Holiday Album Recommendations to close out each edition of this mini-series. Check it all out:

Brandy Clark, “My Favorite Christmas” / “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

Brandy Clark’s self-titled, Brandi Carlile-produced album released earlier this year has been a favorite good country record of the BGS team this year. For the holidays, Clark has followed up the success of her full-length 2023 release with an A side / B side single of an original, “My Favorite Christmas” and a classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Helene Cronin, Beautiful December

Singer-songwriter Helene Cronin has released an EP of six original holiday songs entitled Beautiful December. This track, “I Could Use a Silent Night,” is described by Cronin as “a song for all who are holiday weary, tired of the commercial chaos that comes around every year at Christmas.” We can certainly relate! Roots music is always a perfect reminder of what really matters this time of year: People, love, kindness, and togetherness.

Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country Christmas Jam (December 16, Nashville, TN)

BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More

If you’ve been enjoying Daniel Donato’s recent Cosmic Country Mixtape – a BGS exclusive – you won’t want to miss his Cosmic Country Christmas Jam at Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville on December 16. (Tickets and info here.) It’ll be pickers’ polar paradise with appearances by Sierra Hull, Duane Trucks, Grace Bowers, Willow Osborne, and many more. 

Steven Gellman, “Jewish Christmas”

An adorable and delightfully cheesy holiday song – as all of the best holiday songs are – that reminds us how cultural traditions blend and transform, not only in the American “melting pot,” but all around the world, too. Hear more from this award winning folk singer-songwriter with our October premiere of “Little Victories.”

Warren Haynes Presents: Christmas Jam (December 9, Asheville, NC)

BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More

If you’re in North Carolina’s High Country, here’s a rockin’ Americana Christmas Jam you won’t want to miss. The annual event, organized and hosted by Grammy Award winner Warren Haynes, will be held on December 9, benefits Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, and will feature appearances by Billy F. Gibbons, John Medeski, Gov’t Mule, Bill Evans, and many more. Plus, its bonus/offshoot event, Christmas Jam by Day, will showcase a handful of fast-rising roots artists including Colby T. Helms and Red Clay Revival. Tickets are still available and, if you don’t happen to live within striking distance of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can stream Christmas Jam live on Volume.com.

IBMA Holiday Benefit Concert (December 11, Nashville, TN)

BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More

A heavenly host of our bluegrass buddies will be convening at the World Famous Station Inn in Nashville on December 11 to raise funds for the IBMA Trust Fund and the IBMA Foundation. The lineup – anchored by house band Missy Raines & Allegheny – features a wide swathe of artists and community members from reigning IBMA Award winners to acclaimed songwriters to exciting up-and-comers. Holidays in Nashville are truly incomplete without a visit to a festively decorated Station Inn.

Irene Kelley and the Kelley Family, The Kelley Family Christmas

Staying with bluegrass for another moment, venerated bluegrass songwriter Irene Kelley has brought along her two talented daughters, Justyna and Sara Jean – both successful artists and songwriters in their own right – for a cozy and comforting album of holiday classics, Kelley Family Christmas. The project benefits Patio Records’ Healing Gardens initiative, with a goal of raising funds to build healing gardens at hospital treatment centers. It’s a lovely family-centered album that showcases how much great music runs in the veins of the Kelleys. 

Paul McDonald & the Mourning Doves, “Maybe This Christmas”

If the holidays make you blue, you’re not alone. There’s plenty to enjoy in this tune of Christmas misery from Paul McDonald & the Mourning Doves. “So maybe this Christmas folks will just leave me alone,” he sings, plaintively. “And quit asking how I’m doing without her and if I’m ever going to let that girl go.” There’s a delicious quality to holiday melancholy and that’s on full display here, in this languid and loping alt-country holiday song of lost love.

Mr Sun, Mr Sun Plays Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite

We’re big fans of the bluegrass, old-time, and new acoustic tradition of artful and virtuosic cover albums. Here, Mr Sun bring the form to its highest level, synthesizing and transforming Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite into compositions fitting of a four-piece, ostensibly bluegrass string band. We premiered a track from this collection, “Shovasky’s Transmogrifatron (Ballet Snow Scene),” earlier this week, so we can guarantee Grant Gordy, Joe K. Walsh, Aidan O’Donnell, and Darol Anger’s rendition of this classic record will make your jaw drop – and your toe tap!

Jamie O’Neal & Ty Herndon, “Merry Christmas Baby”

Pop country is often good country too, and this collaboration from Jamie O’Neal and Ty Herndon demonstrates how artful the format can be – that ear-grabbing chromaticism in the melody of the first line, for instance. “Merry Christmas Baby” is another holiday lament, but packaged in a radio-ready production style that belies the loneliness in the lyrics, co-written by O’Neal and Allen Mark Russell. If this track came on the local Top 40 country station, none of us would be complaining. Merry Christmas, BGS readers – wherever you are!

Jon Pardi, Merry Christmas From Jon Pardi

We can’t believe just how perfect this intro is played on pedal steel and, despite the fact that we don’t think Jon Pardi could hit Mariah’s whistle notes, his rendition of this quintessential holiday smash hit is ideal for Christmas boot scootin’. Pardi is a definitional example of timeless country traditions packaged for the mainstream. His entire holiday album, Merry Christmas From Jon Pardi, is a heavy dose of joy, fun, and delight executed with flawless old country musicality. Twin fiddles on “All I Want For Christmas?” Yes, a thousand times, yes.

Wynonna, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”

While we argue over which modern version of this track is the exemplary version – The Judds’ or Patty Loveless’, of course – the holiday season is the perfect time to hold our fond memories of Naomi while we celebrate how Wynonna and her husband/producer Cactus Moser pay tribute to 1987’s Christmas Time with The Judds with this new iteration of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” No matter who sings the song, its bluegrass bones and Stanley Brothers touches are obvious, and we adore how simple and unpretentious this recording by Wynonna and Cactus is.

Our Classic Holiday Album Recommendation of the Week:
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, It’s a Holiday Soul-Party

We miss Sharon Jones desperately. Each year, when the holidays roll around, we go back to our (now classic) Non-Crappy Christmas Songs playlist and, in general, try to remind ourselves just how much actually good Christmas and holiday music exists out there. As we do, this album from Jones & the Dap Kings is one of the first to come to mind. It’s iconic, it’s traditional, it’s far out, it’s comforting, it’s surprising, and it’s effortlessly inclusive in its scope and its sonics. We come back to this record year in and year out, so it’s a perfect first pick for our Classic Holiday Album Recommendations.

More BGS Wraps are coming your way next week!

Photo of Jon Pardi: John Shearer
Photo of Wynonna: Eric Ryan Anderson
Photo of Brandy Clark: Victoria Stevens

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BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More
BGS Wraps: Irene Kelley, Jon Pardi, Wynonna, and More