TVD Premiere: Kelly Finnigan, “Santa’s Watching You”

Kelly Finnigan has always added classic soul to his sound and does so in his original new Christmas release next month, A Joyful Sound on Colemine Records. But he brings a whole new menace to the holiday with his second single from the set, which amplifies the familiar warning, “You better watch out, you better not cry” into the sizzling “Santa’s Watching You,” which we’re happy to premiere today at The Vinyl District.

“This song came to me like all good ideas, by accident,” Finnigan tells us. “I was deep in making this record and thinking a lot about Christmas music pretty consistently. I was sitting around, hanging out listening to some different records. A great gospel tune by The Sacred Four came on called ‘Somebody’s Watching You.’ In that instant, I realized that somebody else watches people too.” So the jolly North Pole denizen turns into somewhat of an NSA super spy in the hands of the soulful Bay Area singer, producer and songwriter.

If the funky feel of “Santa’s Watching You” has the easy camaraderie of an office Christmas party, it’s because he’s enlisted musicians from the esteemed Ohio label, headquartered upstairs from the Plaid Room Records in downtown Loveland, a shop definitely worth a stop to vinyl lovers in the Cincinnati area.

Backing Finnigan alongside label head Terry Cole is Plaid Room Records employee Henry Allen. It also features Jimmy James, guitarist for the Delvon Lamar Organ Trio, and no less than the Harlem Gospel Travelers on backing vocals. That meant some widespread geographic contributions to the album, Finnigan says, with “drums and bass in Ohio, guitar in Seattle, organ, percussion and vocals at my place with some additional background vocals by the Harlem Gospel Travelers in New York.”

A Joyful Sound is Finnigan’s third full album in under two years, and it includes a who’s who of the contemporary soul world including members of The Dap-Kings, Durand Jones & the Indications, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Jungle Fire, and Finnigan’s own outfit the Monophonics.

Born in Los Angeles, Finnigan grew up the son of Mike Finnigan, a keyboardist and singer who worked with Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, and Taj Mahal among others. The chip off the old block began his own keyboard playing at a young age, eventually joining the Bay Area psych and soul outfit Monophonics with whom he recorded two albums before his own solo debut The Tales People Tell on Colemine Records last year.

There are probably more new holiday records issued each year than Hallmark Christmas movies, but Finnigan wanted to stay inspired by classics like Atlantic’s Soul Christmas, Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You, and Rotary Connection’s Peace. Like those, he aims to be bright and funky enough to create something worthy to play year round.

“There’s a feeling of magic and nostalgia that lives in those classic Christmas songs and I believe I was able to capture some of that on this record,” Finnigan says. “Christmas has become a grand event in most places in the world but we all have to remember that the reason this holiday is special for most is because it brings people together and reminds us that our friends and family are what’s most important.”

With “Santa’s Watching You” and the whole of A Joyful Sound, Finnigan says, “I want people to feel joy and hope. I want the music to remind them what they are thankful for. The songs and mood of the music should spark a feeling that it is a special time of year but also that it can also be a very difficult time for others.” That’s especially true this year, when families and friends aren’t even sure they can gather safely because of the pandemic.

“I want this record to be a soundtrack for those celebrating but also a reminder that a lot of people are still struggling regardless if it’s Christmas or not,” he says. “Most importantly, I want them to hear the love and passion that went into the music.” As such he’s happy to share the joy with his fellow Colemine players. “I’m lucky to have some incredible musicians and artists on the record and I hope they can hear the joy that everyone put into their performance.”

Of “Santa’s Watching” in particular, Finnigan says, “I think we captured a fantastic feeling and spirit in the track. I feel really good knowing it’ll move folks the right way for many holidays to come.” And probably keep them on their toes as well.

The full A Joyful Sound album is due in stores December 11 on “holly berry red” vinyl, as well as CD and streaming sites through Colemine Records.

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