There’s something inherently difficult about reviewing holiday-themed music. One of the key considerations when reviewing music is its intended purpose, be that to create lively fun, evoke emotions, amuse, or enrage. The problem with holiday music is that its purpose is seemingly to be novel, and whilst it may succeed at that particular goal, that doesn’t necessarily make it enjoyable to listen to, which is another important metric. It typically (admittedly not always) lacks both depth, and visceral enjoyability, which tends to leave holiday music lacking a sense of purpose. It can be fun, but fleetingly, and often feels like a stopgap or cash-grab release for musicians. This makes it curious that Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, two giants in the country music scene who have been teasing a collaborative album for years, have chosen to finally unveil their much-vaunted collaboration in the form of a Christmas album.
Even more confounding is that Christmas Together sells itself as an album of duets, but it barely meets that criteria. It certainly contains duets, but the duo sing separately on many of the album’s tracks. Even then, the duets are some of the album’s least distinctive tracks. Marshmallow World feels like a knockoff Disney song, with unbearably twee instrumentation of “Christmassy” stylings, including such things as jingling bells, squashed horns, and vibrato strings. Baby, It’s Cold Outside fares better, simply by virtue of it being a standard, and thanks to Yearwood’s distinctive, emotional vocal performance.
The solo tracks are similarly inconsistent. Brooks puts in solid work on Merry Christmas Means I Love You, which evokes 70’s British pop music, but falters on the slight, boring Ugly Christmas Sweater. Yearwood makes the mistake of trying to make Christmas sexy on Santa Baby, which is a viscerally uncomfortable listen, but then she sings magnificently on the easy standout Hard Candy Christmas (a Dolly Parton cover). Christmas Together doesn’t feel so much like an album, and more like a collection of disjointed, occasionally fun, occasionally cringeworthy songs around a similar theme. Whilst it’s passably entertaining, one can’t help but with Brooks and Yearwood had come up with something more substantial for their collaborative debut.