Sure, music's supposed to be universal, but there's probably one genre, in particular, that I really have no right to love: Christmas songs. As a Jew, my holiday schedule usually involves Chinese food, not church visits. But, for as long as I can remember, I've always treasured those sonic odes to Rudolf like they were speaking to my own human experience, even if they really weren’t at all. Maybe for that reason, it was always the saddest holiday songs that rung the most true: because that sense of not properly belonging always felt more palpable during December, when no one exactly marketed menorah pajamas and "Secret Chanukah Present-Giver" didn't quite have the same ring to it as Secret Santa. It's all makes for a blue, blue Christmas indeed, with stockings on my feet, not the fireplace.
This year has been overloaded with Christmas albums of all shapes and sizes, perfect for my interloper ears and even better for a momentary escape from the impending political doom, but Kacey Musgraves' A Very Kacey Christmas is the only one to capture that special breed of holiday sadness on "Christmas Makes Me Cry." Written with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, it's a delicate, mournful ode to the bitter and sweet that so often exist where joy is supposed to reign. "And they always say, 'Have a happy holiday,'" Musgraves sings in one of her softest, most perfectly fragile vocal deliveries. "And every year, I sincerely try. Oh, but Christmas, it always makes me cry." It doesn't have to be but once a year: This is about anyone who feels sorrow in their heart, when they're supposed to be smiling. I suppose that's what makes it not just a Christmas record, but a country one, too — nothing is just red and green … or black and white. Because behind every jingle bell is a Jewish girl with a carton of takeout, just looking for a soft and snowy place to land and song to understand.