Anthony Hamilton Brings Home Holiday Funk How do you make a Christmas album without succumbing to formula? "Put a little Outkast to it," the soul singer says.

Anthony Hamilton Brings Home Holiday Funk

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Oh, no. Cliche alert - another corny Christmas song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS")

RATH: Well, all right, that feels better. For those of us who prefer our Christmas carols a little funkier, singer Anthony Hamilton has a sweet present - a new album called "Home For The Holidays."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS")

ANTHONY HAMILTON: (Singing) Sleigh bells, high in the atmosphere, deep in the spirit alive. Sugar bells, out on the shopping spree, making sure the children get right.

HAMILTON: The things I wanted to avoid making this record were things like the mundane songs that have been recorded over and over and over again. I really did want to do that. I didn't want it to be so sterile that you couldn't feel the personality. And I wanted to be true to who I am as an artist.

RATH: I love one of your picks of covers. It's a song that maybe isn't a standard, but it should be. The James Brown "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto."

HAMILTON: Oh, yeah, man. I love that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUS GO STRAIGHT TO THE GHETTO")

HAMILTON: (Singing) Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto. Hitch up the reindeer and go straight to the ghetto. Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto. Fill every stocking you find. The kids are going to love it so. Leave a toy for Jordan, and leave a doll for Mary.

RATH: Did you know that song when you were a kid?

HAMILTON: I heard that song. Yeah. The later years, coming up, I started hearing that song. I was like, this is kind of interesting. I wonder what made him do it.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: What made you want to do it?

HAMILTON: I just felt like, being someone from the ghetto, from, you know, the inner city, and - I felt like - I don't know. It was just a way of introducing a new sound to my people and those who wouldn't normally embrace a Christmas album. It was a small way of, you know - it's like, hey, it's all right. You can - you can embrace it. It's OK.

RATH: You know, I don't want to sound like a Grinch 'cause I actually - I like Christmas music. But I have to say that you produce the only version of "Little Drummer Boy" that I don't hate.

HAMILTON: (Laughter) Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE DRUMMER BOY")

HAMILTON: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah. Listen - oh, they told me - pa-ra-pa-pa-pum (ph).

RATH: Talk about your arrangement for that song.

HAMILTON: Well, I was with my, you know - my producer friend Kelvin Wooten, man, who's incredible. And we were just toying around with it. And we did the first - the first - the inner loop into it - it was more spiritual and haunting and churchy. And so, after that we felt like it should go - let's go somewhere different. Let's put a little Outkast to it. Make it fun. And that's exactly what he did. He started - boom-ka, boom-boom-ka (ph). I was like, you know what? This is incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE DRUMMER BOY")

HAMILTON: (Singing) When we come. Baby Jesus - pa-ra-pa-pa-pum.

RATH: I know you're someone who has a great appreciation for music history, for R & B history - you know, the greats.

HAMILTON: Yeah.

RATH: I'm wondering what it was like for you, what it meant for you to sing with Chaka Khan.

HAMILTON: Oh, it meant the world, man. You know, she's an icon, a legend. And for me to be able to work with her now that she's still doing great and still delivering - it's an honor.

RATH: Now, that's a song - you know, Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" - that's one that has been kind of played into the ground by a lot of people. It's been done over and over again.

HAMILTON: I wanted to do a jazzy standard - a Nat King Cole version of this song and make it feel like Anthony Hamilton goes to Vegas, Anthony Hamilton - you know what I mean? - Christmas in Vegas. When I was recording this song, I pictured myself in a tux and a black bow tie and Chaka coming in in her evening gown, and it being a beautiful, sexy Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHRISTMAS SONG")

HAMILTON: (Singing) Although it's been said so many times...

CHAKA KHAN: (Singing) Many times, many ways, Merry Christmas...

HAMILTON: (Singing) Merry Christmas...

KHAN: (Singing) Merry Christmas...

HAMILTON: (Singing) Merry Christmas...

KHAN: (Singing) Merry Christmas...

HAMILTON: (Singing) Oh...

KHAN: (Singing) Merry Christmas...

HAMILTON: (Singing) Merry, merry Christmas...

RATH: We're speaking with singer Anthony Hamilton about his new album, "Home For The Holidays." The song "Home For The Holidays" features what might be an unexpected guest vocalist, country music star Gavin DeGraw. You know, Ray Charles broke that barrier between R & B and country a long time ago, back in the early '60s, but it still seems these kind of pairings are kind of rare.

HAMILTON: Well, I'm a big fan of Gavin DeGraw, man. And actually, you know, we - we're buddies. And when putting this album together, I wanted to introduce to people, you know, that part of the world that they don't know I'm exposed to. And what better to do it with than a friend and somebody who you really, really respect as an artist? He had that little twang that would turn the song in the degrees to where - what it needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS")

GAVIN DEGRAW: (Singing) Look at our families, so beautiful.

HAMILTON: (Singing) Oh...

DEGRAW: (Singing) Yeah...

HAMILTON: (Singing) And I can't wait to get home...

DEGRAW: (Singing) ...And love with you.

HAMILTON AND DEGRAW: (Singing) I'll be home for the holidays. He was thinking I'd stay away, but - oh, no. Oh, no, no.

HAMILTON: Oh, Gavin, man. We partied, too, but it was hard.

RATH: (Laughter) What's it like partying with Gavin?

HAMILTON: Man, we both like - we both like whiskey - whiskey here and there. So...

RATH: (Laughter) All right.

HAMILTON: Yeah, we've had some good days, man, after and before the clap, we was partying the Grammys, man. We get down. We've grown up, though, but we still have a little fun.

RATH: Nice. You know, a lot of the songs - a lot of the originals on this album seem to have a central theme - home, especially returning home after a long time away. And you're a guy - I figure you spend a lot of time on the road. Is that getting harder for you as you get older?

HAMILTON: You know, the more success you get, the more demand is greater, and you find yourself touring a lot and even further away from home. So those moments to get home and those special moments become, you know, few and between. And I had to make sure that even though I wasn't home for Thanksgiving this year, I'm going to be home for Christmas because I feel like, you know, my family deserves for me to show them I appreciate them and, you know, just spend that quality time. And it's not all about my career. It's about family still.

RATH: And you've got a big family, right?

HAMILTON: Yeah, I do.

RATH: Six sons?

HAMILTON: Six boys - 26, 23, 17 and then blessed with twins that are four and a two-year-old - all boys. It's a loud Christmas.

RATH: What's that scene going to be like?

HAMILTON: It's going to be a lot of beginning mustaches and mustaches - a lot of little curly-cues all around. And just - you know, we make a lot of jokes, and it's all fun, man.

RATH: That's singer Anthony Hamilton. His new Christmas album is called "Home For The Holidays." Anthony Hamilton, love your music, great new album, and Merry Christmas. Thank you.

HAMILTON: Thank you, too, man. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.

RATH: Take me out for a whiskey with you and Gavin sometime. That sounds like a blast.

HAMILTON: Hey, man. I'd love to, man. You let me know where you at.

RATH: (Laughter) I'll get you some single malt.

HAMILTON: Oh, man, I'll turn you on to some WhistlePig or some Four Roses.

RATH: (Laughter) All right, awesome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS")

HAMILTON: (Singing) Baby, this Christmas, home is where the heart is. I'm coming home.

DEGRAW: (Singing) There's no other place I'd...

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