Lady Antebellum suits up for 'On This Winter's Night'
Posted November 25, 2012
NASHVILLE – Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott cut her performing teeth on Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow. From her junior year of high school through her freshman year in college, she sang the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne standard as part of her mother's holiday revue, the Linda Davis Christmas show, at Opryland Hotel.
"I sang that every night for three straight years, pretty much, from the time I was 16 until we stopped the show," says Scott, 26.
So when the time came for her trio to record a Christmas album, she knew she wanted to include Let It Snow, and she wanted to use the familiar arrangement.
"I was like, 'OK, I'm going to mess it up if we don't keep to the way that I know,' " she says.
Lady Antebellum's On This Winter's Night has sold 107,000 copies in its first month out, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Along with new titles from Rod Stewart and fellow country acts Blake Shelton and Scotty McCreery, it's one of the most popular holiday albums of 2012.
The album contains a dozen cuts, 11 seasonal favorites and one original, the title track. The material includes songs commonly part of the country catalog, like A Holly Jolly Christmas, made popular by Burl Ives in the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, and Blue Christmas, a hit for Ernest Tubb and later, more famously, for Elvis Presley. But it also has highlights from the pop and R&B worlds, like remakes of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas Is You, Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) and Donny Hathaway's This Christmas.
"Our Christmas musical tastes kind of mirror our not-holiday musical tastes; it's all across the board," Scott says. "It's only natural, for our holiday record, that we go into the R&B world a little bit, we go into much more contemporary sounds."
Lady Antebellum recorded On This Winter's Night over the summers of 2011 and 2012, including a week this past June when the temperatures in Nashville neared 110 degrees. "It was pretty funny to go outside and cruise down the road, listening to A Holly Jolly Christmas with the windows down," says the group's Dave Haywood.
While Let It Snow takes Scott back to her earliest performances, Haywood, 30, associates Silent Night with the Christmas Eve services at the congregation of his youth. I'll Be Home for Christmas reminds Charles Kelley, 31, of trying to get back to Nashville from New York on Christmas Eve 2008 after a Today show performance so he could propose to Cassie McConnell, who's now his wife, the following day.
"I barely ended up getting on a flight that got me to Atlanta, but there was no flight from Atlanta to Nashville," he says. "I rented a car and drove four hours up to Nashville. I had the greatest time, just cranked the music. I was so excited, because I knew I was about to propose the next morning."
On This Winter's Night offers a variety of musical styles, from the simple acoustic-guitar-and-strings arrangement of The First Noel to the horns and sleigh bells on the trio's swing adaptation of A Holly Jolly Christmas.
"For us, what was fun was taking these songs and putting our own little twists on them," Kelley says. For example, on the album-ending Silver Bells, "it was kind of a completely different approach to that song. It's usually more of a happy song, and Dave just came up with this really cool electric-guitar riff. So it turned into much more of a vibe-y song."
All I Want for Christmas gets the most radical reworking. In Carey's original incarnation, it's a lavish, uptempo affair reminiscent of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" productions. But Lady Antebellum slowed it down to reveal the longing in the lyrics, partly because Scott had no intention of taking on Carey's rendition head-to-head.
"Well, it's perfect, in and of itself," she says of Carey's recording. "I'm much more of an alto singer than Mariah, so I know my limits where that's concerned, and I wanted to give it a different feel. When you really read the lyrics, it's more somber than you realize."
To write the album's title track, the group's three members teamed up with songwriter Tom Douglas, who also co-wrote the Lady Antebellum hits I Run to You and Hello World, as well as Miranda Lambert's The House That Built Me.
"Tom's such a poet; he has this amazing mind to come up with lines that put specific images in your head," says Scott, citing one of her favorites from the song: "Strangers look like neighbors with every smile that you meet."
The song grew out of a discussion of the multiple meanings of Christmas. "It means so many different things," Kelley says. "Obviously, there's the religious side of it. There's the family side of it, even the fun, commercial side and the excitement. One thing I'm proud of is that we combined all those things into that one song."
Kelley hopes the song will have a life beyond Lady A's version, but he knows how rarely Christmas perennials are written.
"All songwriters want a chance to maybe write a Christmas classic," Kelley says. "They're so hard to write. There's – what? – maybe one every three or four years that becomes something you hear down the road."
The trio will perform songs from On This Winter's Night on CMA Country Christmas, which premieres Dec. 20 (ABC, 9 p.m. ET/PT). They'll also have a holiday concert Dec. 3 at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center that could have implications for future Christmases.
"Even our bandleader's like, 'We're learning all this stuff, I kind of hate that we're doing just one show!'" Scott says. "I said, 'We'll just be prepared for next year and the years to come,' because it would be fun, at some point, to do a little tour."
Meanwhile, the group is well into recording its next album. "We're probably halfway through," Kelley says. "We always feel like we're halfway through. Then you're not halfway through."
While the new album will come out in 2013, there's no release date yet. "We're just trying to get in there and take our time," Kelley says. "This is actually the first time we've had that luxury. There's no specific date that we want a first single to come out."
Haywood says the group expects to record more outside material than on its first three studio albums, which have sold almost 8 million copies combined. "The stuff that has come in has been stuff that we never would have thought to write, which is always great. Those are the ones you want to cut."
Before that album's done, though, there will be plenty of time to enjoy favorite holiday traditions. For Kelley, that's homemade hot apple cider. For Haywood, it's making divinity candy. For Scott, it's the gift she and her sister each get to open on Christmas Eve.
"We always open one present, and it's always pajamas." Even now, she says, "We both open it up, and we both run as fast as we can into my parents' room and we change into our pajamas, and those are the ones we sleep in on Christmas Eve."
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