The Claire Lynch Band’s Holiday! Jingles All the Way

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The Claire Lynch Band‘s Holiday! twists (“Home for the Holidays”) and turns (“We Three Kings”) familiar classics with an effortless bluegrass backdrop. High watermarks like “Jingle Bells” make traditional songs even more timeless, while complementing newer material like the original “Heaven’s Light.” The Nashville resident released the record on her own label.

“I was already planning on it when I signed with Compass Records over a year ago, so they put a stipulation in our agreement that I could put it out as my own project,” Lynch says. “It’s worked out great. Given the new climate with the recording industry, I thought it’d be good to experiment.”

CMT Edge: Explain the song selection process on the new album.

Lynch: They’re just my favorite ones, I guess. I had a conversation with a label executive who has a long, illustrious track history with a lot of major artists, and he sat me down and said, “If you’re gonna do a holiday album, don’t do obscure songs. What people want is something they can put on that’ll bring up memories of their happy childhood. People associate these chestnuts with the happy moments in their life.” I realized that’s true. When I go bake cookies or do my holiday present-wrapping, I pull out my favorite CDs and put them on.

Explain what drew you to “Home for the Holidays.”

Oh, the “happy, happy, joy, joy” feeling I get! The words are great. I have a recording of Perry Como‘s in my own collection. It’s one of my favorites. It’s nothing deep. It just makes me smile. A holiday album is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a big fan of holiday songs. I thought that maybe the people who enjoy my singing might appreciate having a project with that element.

You call the record “holiday classics with that fresh Claire Lynch Band feel.” Explain that feel.

Well, I think that because we’re bluegrassers, instrumentation is paramount in our presentation. So it has a lot to do with the picking. You probably noticed that there’s more picking than just any country Christmas album, which builds itself around the song and the singer. We indulge in picking. Also we’ve played together for several years now, and I feel we have our own particular groove.

Describe what’s most challenging about interpreting classics.

Oh, I don’t think it’s a challenge. Just play the song! We have people who come to our concerts who want to hear these songs. I love swing, and we’ve always incorporated swing into my stage show. We wanted to be able to swing a few and do Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra-like songs.

Explain how you approached “Jingle Bells.”

We had a lot of reservations about doing it, but “Jingle Bells” just makes you feel good. We did modulations and souped up the arrangement a little. Here’s my 25-year-old daughter telling me that “Jingle Bells” is one of her favorite cuts on the album. “Really? ‘Jingle Bells’?” Our mandolin player Matt [Wingate] is pretty much a newgrass player, but he took a really traditional approach to his mandolin on that. It was playful and joyful. You know, John Starling says, “Once a hit, always a hit.”

Describe what makes a great holiday song.

I think if it conjures up some sort of happy, warm, fuzzy feeling, or it makes you want to dance in the kitchen or run out in the snow, you’ve done something good. Christmas is a feel-good season.

Do you have a favorite holiday album?

Yes. Actually I happen to like The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. I have it on LP and MP3. I like Josh Groban‘s Christmas album [2007’s Noel], which has some chestnuts on it, but it’s in a field of classical that I don’t usually listen to. It’s a beautiful project. I used to pull out Amy Grant‘s Christmas CD [1983’s A Christmas Album] every year, but I’m kind of over that. Not because it isn’t great, but the production is kind of dated, and I’m ready to go on. I always loved that album.

Explain how living in Nashville impacts you as an artist.

Nashville’s not been my home very long. I’m an Alabama girl, but I’ve been here about six years, maybe seven. It’s made my life a heck of a lot more convenient because I’m able to connect with my songwriting buddies and the business here. The airport’s here. It was difficult for those 30 years I drove up here two hours from Huntsville to write. I used to do it two or three times a week. Now my friends and business people are right here.

Nashville’s pretty great even outside the music industry, right?

Nashville’s an excellent town. It has everything! It’s changing. We were in midtown today trying to get to the Starbucks on 20th, and a whole block has been torn down and there’s construction going up. I’m like, “I’m not gonna recognize this place anymore. It’s changing so fast.” I’m proud of the growth, though. I’m really hoping that it’ll put us on the map even more than it already is. It still feels like a small town, but that’s changing.

Describe what’s best about the holidays there.

I have a house now that’s like the classic ’50s rancher with the pine paneling and the Tennessee stone fireplace and all that. It has a Christmas-y, cabin feel. I guess that’s it. I have a beautiful place where we can have a family gathering and party!

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