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With one original and several re-imagined classics, Jamestown Revival’s Fort Worth-recorded Songs that Sleigh is perfect for the holidays. Courtesy Spotify

With late-stage capitalism ever-motivating corporations to desperately make their year-end nut by going all-in on Christmastime consumerism, the kickoff of the holiday season seems to begin earlier and earlier every year. The slog has meme-ified Mariah Carey into a sort of Pennywise-type boogeyman — a terrifying, blood-red, fur-trimmed harbinger portending the coming months-long barrage of holiday music seemingly occupying every aural crevice it can crawl into. The descendants of Bing Crosby will get their annual royalty bumps as innocent radio listeners are perpetually hypnotized by his buttery baritone along with Brenda Lee’s rockin’ Christmas tree and “Mimi’s” interminable wish-list earworm. If you’re into festive vibez but have had enough of the same old Burl Ives and Andy Williams tunes, our crack local music journos have compiled a playlist of homegrown holiday tuneage to give your ears a break from the commercial radio and department store Muzak monotony.

We wouldn’t be doing our very hard, very challenging, not very rewarding jobs if we didn’t reacquaint listeners with a handful of our old local holiday favorites.

Inveterate psyche-rock darlings The Cush gave us “The Last Carol” a handful of years ago, and it still deserves the lead-off spot on our playlist. The winter hymn ignites the warm and fuzzies slowly until building into a crescendo of guitar noise and an angelic refrain of “Hallelujah.” We rejoice indeed.

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Another somber classic is from the now-depressingly defunct experimental indie outfit Tame … Tame and Quiet with their take on the timeless Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time Is Here.” Lush horns and guitarist/vocalist Aaron Bartz’s signature angular slip-slide guitar work make for an artful reimagining while remaining faithful to the original’s melancholy yet hopeful tone.

Of course, no proper local Christmas playlist would be worth its weight in tinsel if it didn’t include Flickerstick’s climactic “Execution by Christmas Lights.” The soaring epic clocks in at over six minutes in length yet somehow still feels like it’s about 23 minutes shorter than we want it to be.

In June, while the rest of us were doing early summer things like watching baseball and sweating, Southeast Texas “backporch folk duo” Jamestown Revival headed up here to record some Christmas tunes at Niles City Sound, tracking and mixing five classics and one original with studio honchos Josh Block and Robert Ellis. The resulting six-song EP, Songs that Sleigh, offers delightful, country-fied takes on some of the classics you hear at the grocery store from mid-October through New Year’s Eve, decorated with gorgeous harmonies and the sparkle of pedal steel by Will Van Horn (Robert Ellis, Khruangbin, Shinyribs). Jordan Richardson (Son of Stan, Quaker City Night Hawks) mastered the sessions at his home studio Electric Barryland.

Jamestown Revival, formed in Magnolia, Texas, in 2014, is the project of singer-songwriters Jon Clay and Zach Chance, whose debut album, Utah, is probably one of the best Americana works of its kind to come out of the Lone Star State that decade. In addition to Van Horn, they’re joined here by Ellis on keys and guitar and the duo’s rhythm team of multi-instrumentalist Nick Bearden (Tony Lucca, Nina Storey) and drummer Ed Benrock (Starflyer 59, Kreepdowns), who are both ace session players.

As a unit, their versions of these songs are both beautiful and inventive without turning the proverbial wheel into something unrecognizable. This quality is most immediately noticeable on EP-opener “Blue Christmas,” rendered here with an island cha-cha beat on a drum machine, over which Clay’s and Chance’s disembodied harmonies fall like snowflakes.

Wham!’s “Last Christmas” follows, and Block’s production turns the ’80s jilted lover hit into a salty, two-stepping, mid-tempo country jam, the sort of thing you’d hear while watching couples twirl across the hardwood floor of a dive bar as you try to keep the tears out of your beer.

But the really sad track is the original “Merry Christmas.” It’s an economical tale of a couple whose holiday love story progresses through the years with these lines “One more year now, and how many more? / Clocks keep turning, getting hard to ignore / Take me in now, you are mine and I’m yours.” It’s a real-ass holiday song, the sort of thing you’d put on a playlist next to Hayes Carll’s “Grateful for Christmas.”

After that, there’s a pretty, instrumental, country-shuffling rendition of “O, Christmas Tree” that subs steel guitar and Fender Rhodes for vocals and nice re-imaginings of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Silver Bells,” the latter of which adding an overdubbed Peanuts-y children’s choir courtesy of Clay’s little boy. If you’re hankering for some new sounds to add to your holiday music staples, Songs that Sleigh is a really nice gift.

For some new tunes to work in this year, Cory Cross offers “Ice on the Road.” With its garage-rock vibe, it’s a sonic departure for the country singer-songwriter, but the melancholy subject matter (loss in a time of celebration) fits right in with his oeuvre. Singer-songwriter Court Hoang is about to serve up a video of his a cappella version of The Drifters’ “White Christmas,” while country duo Kendi Jean and Jered Harlan recently put out “Winter with You.”

Steve Steward and Juan R. Govea contributed to this story.

C&W singer-songwriter Cory Cross throws a blanket over the holiday festivities with his melancholy tune about loss.
Courtesy the artist

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