A Philly Special Christmas
The DC sports fan cynic in me might suggest that nothing good could come out of the city of Philadelphia where its athletic teams are concerned (Gritty being the exception that proves the rule). So when A Philly Special Christmas landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, I was, to put it politely, skeptical. But the project, spearheaded by current Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce and former linebacker Connor Barwin, gained a big assist in the form of The War in Drugs drummer Charlie Hall, who agreed to produce the seven-song album. The concept may have visions of The ‘85 Bears shuffling in your head, but the result? A surprisingly good, perennially listenable holiday album that should find jolly ears beyond the Philly area.
Eagles offensive tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata have been Kelce’s accomplices in locker room singalongs, and they join their teammate on most of the songs here (the album also serves as a fundraiser for Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, a Philadelphia non-profit that provides behavioral health services). Turns out, Mailata in particular knows his way around the microphone. After a doo wop-ish take on “White Christmas” and an Elvis-in-Hawaii reading of “Blue Christmas” (featuring mandola from Eric Bazilian of Hooters fame and nice pedal steel work from Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner), it’s time for Mailata to show off a bit. The 366-pound Australian is paired with Philly legend Lady Alma for a lovely duet on “Merry Christmas Baby.” Topped off by a winter-cool guitar solo from Brandon Beaver, this is just a damn enjoyable holiday song.
The album succeeds as a musical recording largely because of the Philly all-stars that Hall was able to recruit (including fellow TWoDers Robbie Bennett and Eliza Hardy Jones). But the soul of the record is in the mirth of the players and their new friends. The Silver Ages chorus throws a subtle version of “E-A-G-L-E-S” into the second verse of “Silent Night.” Longtime Eagles radio play-by-play guy Merrill Reese contributes an enthusiastic reading of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” And pretty much the entire roster shows up for a very Springsteen-esque version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” including this season’s potential MVP, quarterback Jalen Hurts, asking for a Super Bowl for Christmas. We won’t know if Santa (and the Eagles) are able to deliver that gift until mid-February, but A Philly Special Christmas is a big-hearted December win for Philadelphia.
A Philly Special Christmas was produced by Charlie Hall and executive produced by Connor Barwin. Additional musicians on the album include Hall (drums, guitar, percussion, vocal arrangements & choir), Zach Miller (keyboards, guitar, string arrangements & choir), Robbie Bennet (keyboards, guitar & choir), Eliza Hardy Jones (keyboards & vocals), Brandon Beaver (guitar & choir), Thomas Hughes (bass guitar), Randy Huth (guitar), Nick Krill (guitar), Marshall Allen (alto saxophone), Nasir Dickerson (tenor saxophone), Kalia Vandever (trombone), Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner (pedal steel), Lady Alma (vocals), Dave Wayne Daniels (choir), Josh Newman (choir), Heyward Howkins (choir), Todd Starlin (choir), Rob Hyman (organ & accordion) and Eric Bazilian (mandola).
Go here to listen to A Philly Special Christmas, streaming Dec. 23: http://www.phillyspecialchristmas.com/