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Anthony Hamilton Brings Home Holiday Funk

Anthony Hamilton's first Christmas album is called Home for the Holidays. (Courtesy of the artist)

Once a pop artist has been working long enough, the Christmas album feels like an inevitability. Soul singer Anthony Hamilton wanted to try it out, but he was wary of falling into cliché and repeating the formulas that have shaped holiday records for years.

"The mundane songs that have been recorded over and over again, I really didn't want to do that," he says. "I didn't want it to be so sterile that you couldn't feel the personality. And I wanted it to be true to who I am as an artist."

To pull that off on his first Christmas album, Home for the Holidays, Hamilton thought about where he'd come from, and applied it to the music. Instead of a traditional arrangement for "The Little Drummer Boy," he told producer Kelvin Wooten, "Let's put a little Outkast to it." And for the title track, he called in a friend — country singer Gavin DeGraw — to add a different flavor to the music.

Alongside time-honored tunes and a half-dozen originals, the album also makes some new nominations for the holiday music canon. Among the standout tracks is a cover of the 1968 James Brown number "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto."

"Being someone from the ghetto, from the inner city, and from those streets, I felt like it was just a way of introducing a new sound to my people, and those who wouldn't normally embrace a Christmas album," Hamilton says. "Like, hey, it's all right. It's OK to get into the spirit."

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