Kool For the Holidays (ATO/Caroline Distribution) arrives Nov. 5, marking Kool & the Gang’s first album in seven years. The set also doubles as a prelude to the 2014 celebration of the legendary band’s 50th anniversary. This is also their first holiday record, featuring songs that were half a century in the making.
As the title implies, Kool For the Holidays isn’t your run of the mill holiday album. Comprised of six original songs and eight standards, the project embraces what Kool heads have always loved about Kool & the Gang: its harmonious fusions of R&B, pop, dance and funk, engaging vocals and artful arrangements. In addition to revisiting its early jazz roots, the band also adds some gospel flavor to the mix. Bottom line, Kool & the Gang refreshingly crafts its own unique definition of holiday spirit.
Its melody flipped slightly, “Winter Wonderland” pulsates to a dance beat and a tasteful rap. “Little Drummer Boy” segues seamlessly from jazzy to funky (“Give the drummer some”), while “Joy to World” carries a contemporary R&B groove. Just as special, however, are the album’s original songs—worthy enough to become classics on their own. Moving instrumental “Peace” showcases the band’s unparalleled live musicianship. The inspirational “My Prayer” underscores its deep social message with a soft-spoken rap and resonating violins. Smooth mid-tempo “Home for the Holidays,” written two years ago, is the album’s focal point.
“We always knew we wanted to do a holiday album,” says the band’s drummer and Kool For the Holidays creative force George Brown. Collaborating with him were other bandmates including fellow original members, Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert “Kool” Bell (bass) and Ronald Bell (sax). “We pulled out the “Home for the Holidays” track we had previously cut and began writing other songs around it,” continues Brown. “Live bass, violins, vocals/duets and wonderful jazz harmonies … That really put the icing on this album and made it so fun.”
Adds Kool, “We wanted a different flow on this project,” which features two South African talents, singer/songwriter Nazarene XX and violinist Ilsa Van Wyck. “Something that would reflect our background and appeal to both longtime and new Kool heads.”
Together since 1964, Kool & the Gang broke into the mainstream in 1973 with the No. 2 R&B/No. 4 pop hit “Jungle Boogie.” The band has since scored nine No. 1 R&B hits, including “Hollywood Swinging,” “Higher Plane,” “Ladies’ Night” and “Celebration.” The latter also hit No. 1 on the pop charts, where the band also became a fixture thanks to such crossover top 10 hits as “Too Hot,” “Get Down on It,” “Fresh” and “Cherish,” the latter two of which were also No. 1 R&B.
Having recently toured with Van Halen during their 2012 arena tour, and Dave Matthews Band and Kid Rock during their 2013 summer tours, Kool & the Gang is one of the last true bands and still an electrifying touring act throughout the world. With the band celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014, plans are underway for select special performances as well as a new studio album for release later next year.