Once a cappella country group Home Free finished their last album Dive Bar Saints in 2019, they immediately entered another familiar territory: Christmas.
Five years after Home Free’s last holiday album, Full of (Even More) Cheer, there was no time but the present in a very tumultuous 2020 to start spreading more cheer on Warmest Winter.
“We wanted to make an album that wasn’t just a recycled version of every other Christmas record you’ve already heard,” says Home Free’s Austin Brown. “We chose the songs in an effort to put an album out there that is truly unique and yet still gives you that feeling of excitement and nostalgia we all hope to discover again and again with each new holiday season.”
Home Free first dipped into more festive music in 2010 with their two-part Christmas Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, followed up by 2014’s Full of Cheer. On Warmest Winter, the group wanted to incorporate more original holiday songs into the mix of classics and other favorites.
Produced by Darren Rust, the 12-track album also features a collaboration with Alabama on their 1982 holiday single “Christmas in Dixie.” A major influence for Home Free—made up of Brown, Tim Foust, Rob Lundquist, Adam Rupp, and Adam Chance—singing with Alabama was a dream come true.
“Alabama is my all-time favorite country group,” says Brown. “I learned to sing harmony by listening to ‘Mountain Music’ and ‘I’m in a Hurry,’ so, needless to say, this is definitely a major highlight, if not the pinnacle of my career so far.”
Foust adds, “They’re country music royalty, and they’ve patented that three-part harmony. They were always such an inspiration to us, so to not only be able to cover them but then have them sing that song with us was a dream come true.”
Crossing the country beyond Dixie line, Home Free also take on “Christmas in L.A.” and “Tennessee Christmas,” featuring country artist Rachel Wammack, “Run, Run Rudolph” with Striking Matches, among other tracks. Among some offbeat covers, Warmest Winter is sprinkled wit several original songs, including the sentimental closer “What We Need is Love,” written by Foust, who says it captures the epitome of the holiday spirit without being so blatant, along with a lasting message of unity.
“At a time in our country when there’s a lot of polarization, we just wanted to have a message of unity,” says Foust. “If you take any two humans from any two places on the planet, they’ll always have more in common than they may have different from one another, but there are increasing forces that try to get us to focus on our differences. We’re just trying to get people to think more about the ways we’re alike, then respond appropriately to that.”
Adding to the original tracks to Warmest Winter, Brown penned the more light hearted “Cold Hard Cash” and the album’s title track, a heartfelt tale evoking deeper nostalgia of past holidays. Co-written with Emma Brooke, who also came up with the song’s title, “Warmest Winter” is also an homage to Brown’s grandmother “Nani.”
“I knew when I couldn’t get through the third verse without crying, we had found something special—at least for my family,” shares Brown. “And that feels good to say. I just hope that when people hear this song, it makes them think of the ones they love the most and really reminds them to cherish the time they have with those people.”
Admitting that “Warmest Winter” is his favorite track on the album, Foust says the song captures the nostalgia of Christmases past and the warmth of family. “I’m so proud of that song,” says Foust, “and just so happy that he shared that with us.”
Written and recorded directly after Dive Bar Saints, Home Free found themselves working on Christmas music in the middle of the summer as they pieced together Warmest Winter.
“We knew Home Free would be putting out a holiday album the following year, so we just sat down and focused on writing while thinking ahead to the holidays,” says Brown. “It definitely helped that Thanksgiving was on the horizon, so we didn’t have to try too hard to channel that holiday mindset.”
Ahead of Christmas 2020, Home Free are filming their first virtual variety show, “Warmest Winter Holiday Special.” Airing in early December, the short series will feature comedy, interviews and appearances by Alabama, Rachel Wammack, Striking Matches, Oak Ridge Boys and more surprise guests. The group will also play their first holiday show ever at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Dec. 21, which will be an in-person, socially distanced event.
With an excess of holiday songs after recording Warmest Winter, the band have enough music for their next Christmas release.
“This Christmas, we have an opportunity to come together as a global family,” says Brown. “With so much turmoil all around the world, it’s good to unplug from it all, and reconnect with that childlike wonder that always seems to resonate so clearly at Christmastime.”