Like Christmas itself, making a holiday album can be an experience in make believe. The projects are usually recorded in the summer, when Nashville sun and heat make it hard to conjure up a white Christmas.
When Elvis cut some of his classic holiday recordings, he decorated RCA’s famous Studio B in Christmas lights and had the air conditioning turned way down low to create the perfect mood.
For Lonestar, making This Christmas Time was a bit easier. “We recorded it right after last Christmas, in January,” explains guitarist Michael Britt. “The holiday spirit kinda carried over, and one of the days we went in to track the album, it snowed.”
Lonestar’s first Christmas album, crafted by Lonely Grill producer Dann Huff, is a mixture of old and new. Among the 11 cuts are two original tunes, along with holiday favorites like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.” Also included is a revved-up version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” a straight ahead, bluesy take on “Please Come Home for Christmas,” and an interesting mix of sitar and bagpipe sounds on “Little Drummer Boy.”
“You have to do covers of songs people are familiar with,” Britt says of the song selection. “We didn’t change the melody of them, but we just kinda put our own spin on them to make them interesting and to make people want to listen to them over and over.”
In fact, re-working arrangements with Huff on some of the complex Christmas tunes proved a daunting task.
“Christmas songs have a lot of chords in them that we personally had never heard or seen,” jokes keyboardist Dean Sams. “I knew we were in trouble when Michael took his right shoe and sock off and had to use his right toe to finish out a chord.”
Among the contemporary tunes is a cover of “If Every Day Could Be Christmas,” written by Gary Baker, Frank Myers and Anthony Little. Frontman Richie McDonald co-wrote the Jesus-centered “Reason for the Season” with Larry Boone and Paul Nelson. Sams penned the album’s title cut with Nashville songwriter Marv Green, who also co-wrote the band’s monster hit “Amazed.” The pair cranked out the tune in about three hours.
“I already had the music pretty much done, but I didn’t know it was going to be a Christmas song at first,” Sams says. “I had a melody, and when we got together we just started talking about different things about Christmas. We wanted to write a more relationship-type song about how Christmas brings you closer together.”
Lonestar released holiday singles “All My Love for Christmas” in 1998 and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in 1997, but McDonald says the band has wanted to record a full-blown holiday album for years.
“I think an artist has to wait for the right time to put out a Christmas album,” McDonald says. “You have to have a big enough fan base that’s going to go out and purchase your music.”