That Christmas Feeling
Worship leader, vocalist and recording artist Reta Watkins was just six years old when she recorded her first single. Growing up the youngest of five children in a family of musical missionaries, Reta remembers life was an adventure.
“We lived by faith,” she muses. “We slept in a camper or in people’s homes. We received love offerings and sold records and tapes to support the ministry. Everyone in the family played an instrument. I gravitated toward percussion, but mostly, I was a singer. I wouldn’t take any of it back.”
Reta has honed her skills as a vocal stylist for more than 30 years. It doesn’t take more than a cursory listen to realize that her debut solo album, the holiday themed project, That Christmas Feeling, was well worth the wait.
“I’ve waited my whole life to do this record,” Reta declares. “My father passed away 10 years ago. I loved my dad so much, and one of my fondest memories was of us singing Christmas carols together. Dad was an outstanding tenor who grew up in the heyday of the big band/jazz era. We would sit together, listening to and singing along with the greats— Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby. In particular, he loved all things Christmas, and I loved what he loved, so I fell in love with the Christmas carols. I would listen to Christmas music all year long if I could.”
The gifted vocalist breaks new ground with That Christmas Feeling, set to release November 17, 2017, from Suite 28 Records and Naxos of America distribution. On the new CD, Reta revisits the rich repertoire of timeless holiday standards that have become the Christmas soundtrack for generations of Americans. The 10 lushly orchestrated tracks on the album were produced by Scott Williamson (Point of Grace, Lincoln Brewster) and showcase Reta’s compelling vocal stylings. Tracks include the best of the big band era, along with a few more recent additions to the Christmas music lexicon.
“While this album is very much a tribute to my father, I wanted to be very careful to pay tribute to the music, and the message that is inherent in the music,” Reta notes. “Christmas carols have a long and storied history. I needed to honor that, because of the essence of Christmas and how people are affected by this season. Regardless of whether they recognize it or not, this season revolves around the most pivotal event of history! People are more receptive this time of year. Even people who wouldn’t dream of tuning in to a Christian radio station will joyfully hum along with a Christmas carol being played in the mall. To be able to get this message of joy and hope out there, without preaching, is amazing! My heart is to reach ears with the message that they otherwise would not be open to hearing.”
The road to making That Christmas Feeling ran from Reta’s suburban Philadelphia home, straight to Nashville, where she enlisted the considerable talents of long-time friend and producer, Scott Williamson, who had been itching to produce a big band jazz record. Scott enlisted the aid of his father, celebrated Dove Award winning composer/arranger Dave Williamson. When Dave unfortunately fell ill and passed away before the album could be completed, Scott called on the talents of Jason Webb (Lauren Daigle, Amy Grant, Lee Brice, Richard Marx) to step in and complete the arrangements.
“Jason had to pick up the ball and run with it when my dad fell ill,” Scott explains. “Not only did Jason do five of his own incredible arrangements, but he also took the five that my father had started, and finished them in a way that blew everybody’s mind.”
“Everyone was on their A-game,” Reta adds. “When you have such amazing arrangements and phenomenal music that everyone loves, you can’t help but get the absolute best result!”
A highlight of the project is the album’s first radio single, a stunning, big band version of the beloved contemporary classic, “Mary, Did You Know?” While retaining the song’s reverential awe, Reta injects a smoldering vitality that carries the tune from the familiar into uncharted territory. “I guarantee you have never heard this song done this way before,” Reta smiles. “I love the new twist on this song, and I believe listeners are going to love it, too.”
Reta wraps her mellifluous vocals around traditional big band holiday favorites like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and the delightfully jazzy “Sleigh Ride.” Her emotion-laden take on the slightly melancholy, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” will have you raising a cup of wassail to absent friends and loved ones…and maybe wiping away a tear. Reta jazzes up the Paul McCartney fave, “Wonderful Christmastime,” pulls back for a swaying, flirty version of the Irving Berlin classic, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” then evokes the smooth, silky delivery of Nat King Cole on “The Christmas Song.”
Producer Williamson pulled a pair of contemporary favorites from the songwriting team of Paul Marino and Jeremy Johnson to complement the album’s classic carols–the worshipful and peace-evoking piano ballad, “Behold Emmanuel,” and the heartbreaking jazz number, “Christmas in Heaven.” Of course, no Christmas album is truly complete without the worldwide best-selling single of all time, “White Christmas.”
“‘White Christmas’ was my dad’s signature song,” Reta says. “Growing up in the northeast I experienced many white Christmases. That’s what I think of when I think of Christmas music—big band orchestration, classic holiday songs, fresh arrangements. With the joys and family traditions of the season, That Christmas Feeling is the soundtrack for that Christmas feeling that has always remained deep in my heart. I know Dad would be proud.”