reba mcentire took over hosting duties for 2017’s “CMA Country Christmas” broadcast on November 27, and she and the lineup of talent stuck to country tradition and simple touches this year. Jennifer Nettles established several years of incredible song and dance numbers for the opening, even while fairly far along in her pregnancy. Nettles is on her own Christmas tour this season, along with collaborating with Kristian Bush on a new Sugarland project, so the timing was perfect for Reba McEntire to offer her immaculate Oklahoma vocal tones, and she did, in several very classy ways.

“CMA Country Christmas” has become a standard for the Christmas season, and performers are never shy about sharing their roots in tradition, or their stance on faith.

Performers from Miss Piggy to Idina Menzel and Andra Day blended vocal stylings across genres with Nettles, while this year’s stars stayed with Grand Ole Opry tradition, paying homage to its place as “the mother church” of country. Reba McEntire got the good news this morning that her gospel album, “Sing It Now: Songs of Hope and Faith” is nominated for a Grammy, and she had some help in bringing real “church” into the “CMA Country Christmas” gathering from a true gospel music great.

There's no dancing characters, lighted costumes, or piped in music for this Christmas special. The songs, the spirit, and the singers provide all the power needed. These performances [VIDEO] were the keepers of the night.

Splendid simplicity

After a kind of obligatory opening of the introduction of performers, the individual performers took the spotlight, and the stripped-down approach fit the mood perfectly.

Dan + Shay did a definitely touching “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The pair’s synchronized harmonies shined beyond their typical, bouncy, light fare, and the audience was clearly moved. A much younger harmonizing duo, CB30, protégés of Luke Bryan, also on the bill, took on “The Christmas Song” with vigor but far less impact.

Another emotionally riveting performance was the Alan Jackson and Chris Young turn with “New Kid in Town.” No man demonstrates the presence of a man, a voice, and a guitar quite as purely as Alan Jackson, who originally recorded the song with the late Keith Whitley on the album “Honky Tonk Christmas” in 1993. Young included the song on his 2016 Christmas collection, and both artists seemed swept up in memory and emotion, because Jackson had to do a portion over, relating “nobody sings like Keith did.” The song is seldom heard, and hearing it from two men of different generations, who both honor the original, is a treat indeed.

A polished band and orchestra backed artists onstage at points, such as Kelsea Ballerini on “White Christmas,” Brett Eldredge on “Winter Wonderland,” and Trisha Yearwood on “Santa Baby.” The production seemed to make the numbers more contrived, almost predictable, lacking any Christmas coziness.

Heaven calling

She may be a senior citizen to some, but Reba hasn’t lost a smidge of the vocal prowess or skill over more than four decades, and her choice to sing a medley of “O Come All Ye Faithful”/”O Little Town of Bethlehem”/”I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with just a solo pianist was a memorable moment that brought anyone listening inside her Chockie, OK church for that spiritual, lifting interlude.

As she talked about memories of her grandmother singing hymns, Reba introduced another lady known for singing memorable hymns, CeCe Winans, who made a heavenly entrance in full choir robe to sing “Joy to the World,” backed by the Born Again Church Choir. The Grand Ole Opry began as a church, and this “CMA Country Christmas” moment made everyone sing divine choruses.

Trisha Yearwood redeemed herself fully with her rendition of Dolly Parton’sHard Candy Christmas.” The classic was included in the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” movie soundtrack, and Yearwood does Dolly proud.

Reba McEntire told Little Big Town that she wanted to be the fifth member of their group, at least for their song together, “Mary, Did You Know?” The country queen didn’t take the spotlight or steal even one phrase in the Mark Lowry song for herself. She melded her voice perfectly with those of Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild, forming an exquisite trio of harmony, and the guys got their turn, too.

It wasn’t the closer for the night, but Reba made it an unforgettable highlight for this year’s special, and she probably has an open invitation with the band.