Ben Rector always wanted to work on a holiday album. Then, the pandemic hit, and he found himself back home, welcoming two new twin boys to his family, and reminiscing on holidays past. Through all the festive reflections, he pieced together his own renditions of holiday classics on A Ben Rector Christmas.
“I’ve always loved Christmas music, from the chord changes, to the arrangements, to the style of singing that most classic Christmas recordings have on them,” says Rector. “I felt like it would be a musical treat to get to record my own versions of some of the songs I loved… It felt like a rare pause in the busyness of the world in general and the music world, so I jumped on the chance to make it happen.”
Staying faithful to a handful of holiday favorites, A Ben Rector Christmas features “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—originally written in 1963 by George Wyle and Edward Pola, and made popular by Andy Williams—“Frosty The Snowman” (Jack Rollins, Steve Nelson), and Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” and rounds out with “Christmastime is Here,” written by Lee Mendelson, Vince Guaraldi, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, and the Mel Torme and Robert Wells classic “The Christmas Song.” In addition to the Christmas tracks, Rector opens the album with the sole original track dedicated to one of the most often overlooked holidays when it comes to music on “The Thanksgiving Song.”
With the exception of some refreshed arrangements, Rector stayed faithful to the five Christmas classics. “It’s easy to forget how they’re just these fantastic songs,’” says Rector. “I think it’s easy to take that for granted. It was fun for me as a writer to study these songs. You realize that they’re so good that they just play themselves.”
Recorded in August, Rector hit the studio with musicians, all socially distanced, and even went back to research each song, its origins and collection of renditions throughout the years.
“When it came down to it, I did a deep dive into Christmas music and picked out the songs I thought sounded the most fun to sing and put together,” says Rector. “It was interesting as I was going through with a couple of songs, listening to different versions of it and trying to pick up on what I remembered as a kid.”
For “Frosty the Snowman,” Rector realized that the version he was always familiar with as a child was, in actuality, an amalgamation of several different renditions. “I realized that there wasn’t really one that I gravitated towards,” he says, “so it was fun to put together a version of those songs that felt familiar.”
As Rector releases his first holiday album, he’s also piecing together an eight album, a follow up to 2018’s Magic. “I’d love to release the next record closer to when we’re able to tour again and do the normal stuff you do with the record, so I think I have a little bit of time with this one,” says Rector. “That was part of the reasoning for the Christmas album as well, just realizing we’re going to push the normal record back a bit. I also didn’t want to just disappear for nine months.”
In these uncertain times, Rector hopes his collection of Christmas songs brings some comfort during the holidays.
“A big part of Christmas music to me is that nostalgia and familiarity, so I would love for it to evoke those feelings of ‘this is familiar and classic. I remember this,’” says Rector. “I didn’t want it to be some crazy new take on these songs. I wanted it to feel like a warm hug.”
Rector adds, “I’m not trying to say this can change the world, but it’s nice to put something out there that people can hopefully enjoy, even in these crazy times.”