An instant classic. That’s what India.Arie had on her hands with double-platinum debut album Acoustic Soul, featuring the breakout hit “Video.” Now the four-time Grammy Award winner is back with another classic-to-be: her first holiday album. Christmas With Friends (SoulBird/Motown) finds the singer/songwriter celebrating the yuletide with jazz icon Joe Sample, joined by special guests including Brandy, Kem, Michael McDonald and 2015 breakout star Tori Kelly. On paper, these may sound like unlikely pairings. But simply put, hearing is believing. The 10-song set brims with natural spontaneity sparked by heart, soul and passion. “The sound of Joe’s piano and his special chord voicings always struck the perfect balance of peace and inspiration for me,” says India.Arie, who dedicates Christmas With Friends to Sample. “I wanted to use my voice in new ways that would complement his aesthetic. To have been able to sing with Joe but also produce what I feel are my best vocals to date is something very special and meaningful.” India.Arie and Sample jump right into the holiday spirit on the opening track, a bright and breezy take on “Let It Snow.” Her lush, supple vocals coupled with his delicate, nuanced playing exude the magical aura of the holiday season. Their intuitive connection warmly reinterprets two more classics, “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Adding his own vocal flair to the latter is fellow Motowner Kem. Brandy joins India.Arie and Sample on “Silent Night.” Her unique backing harmonies add a fresh, innovative touch to the traditional favorite. “Brandy fans are going to faint when they hear what she did,” promises India.Arie. “I’m happy that she and I finally got to do something together.” Sparkling mid-tempo “Favorite Time of Year” was co-written by India.Arie’s mother and references members of their family in the lyrics. It features newcomer Tori Kelly, a self-professed India.Arie fan. “I didn’t realize thatuntil I tweeted about how great she was at the BET Awards,” says India.Arie. “My Twitter blew up.” A fervent Sample fan, India.Arie recalls she “geeked like he was a rock star” after finally meeting him at the 2012 Curacao Jazz Festival. That’s when she drummed up the nerve to ask about working together someday. His yes clicked into reality two years later. “It turns out that his family and mine had been telling each of us for years to do a Christmas album,” says India.Arie. “We jumped right in.” Recording sessions for Christmas With Friends began in February 2014, guided by producer Aaron Lindsey. But just as the music was being completed, Sample passed away in Houston on Sept. 12, 2014. The album was put on hold for a year. With four Sample songs from those sessions as its core, the album offers additional tracks featuring Dave Koz, Michael McDonald, Trombone Shorty, Gene Moore, Kirk Whalum and Take 6’s Khristian Dentley. “It’s my hope that people will be pleasantly surprised,” says India.Arie. “I just want them to feel the emotional depth that lives in these songs.” That’s been the singer’s hallmark ever since her 2001 debut, Acoustic Soul. The Atlanta-based artist’s five-album repertoire— including Voyage to India, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics and SongVersation—accounts for 10 million albums sold worldwide and 21 Grammy nominations. In the Christmas With Friends liner notes, India.Arie writes, “Joe said, ‘Recording should be a moment. The best records are where a group of musicians are sharing an experience together.’ And we had that.” Now others will too—for years to come.

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Jonathan McReynolds

It’s rare these days to find a young artist who puts everything on the table. Who puts his whole heart into his music and passionately sings of his love for Jesus Christ. McReynolds is that rare find, who at 25 years old is on his way to becoming one of the most fascinating gospel / Christian contemporary music (CCM) artists of his time. With his exceptional songwriting, incredible voice, and his compelling debut album “Life Music,” there is absolutely no stopping Jonathan’s tremendous talent and natural star quality.

Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Jonathan grew up in the church and began playing drums at his church as a young child. He moved onto playing the organ and singing in the youth choir, inspired by gospel greats such a Kim Burrell, Smokie Norful and Israel Houghton, and even R&B and rock and roll giants like Stevie Wonder, India Arie, John Mayer, and Paul McCartney. But actually, singing was not his forte at the time. “I didn’t like singing back then,” Jonathan admits. “I wasn’t the type of person who was a front man. I was OK with just playing the organ. I wasn’t ready for that criticism of being out in front, and in the spotlight.”

However it was too hard to suppress that great voice and undeniable talent. His mother encouraged him to sing and use the gift that God had given him. So it was in high school that he began to listen to his mom and to God. “In high school you’re looking for an identity, you’re looking for something to separate you from everyone else, and singing just became my thing. God really had a plan for me.”

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