After Brandy released b7, her first chart-topping independent release and studio album in nearly eight years, she was as visible as ever, advising on The Voice, collaborating with varied artists, performing the theme song for The View, and starring in Queens.
While recording tracks for the ABC hip-hop drama, the R&B legend displayed an eagerness to expand her musical style beyond R&B and release her next album sooner.
“I want to try different things with my music this next go-round, not just stick to R&B. I’m not just R&B, it’s more in my core,” the Grammy winner told Rated R&B in winter 2022. “It’s not going to be no eight-year wait next time. I’m too inspired and too on fire in my spirit. I can’t wait.”
To fulfill her promise, Brandy signed with Motown Records in June 2022 through her label, Brand Nu, Inc, to produce her eighth studio album.
No one could have predicted that Brandy’s eighth album, following b7, would be her first-ever holiday album. The previous album saw her grow more personal lyrically and experiment in sounds. But reports began to circulate about Brandy recording holiday music after her manager teased an album tentatively titled A Brandy Christmas in September.
Brandy announced in October that she was releasing Christmas With Brandy, which is now available. Compared to her previous releases, this album is relatively short, clocking in at just 38 minutes. However, it features updated Christmas classics and original compositions.
Christmas With Brandy contains several tracks produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, who has worked with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, and Keyshia Cole. Their fruitful partnership began with the set’s lead single, the steamy “Christmas Party For Two,” which explores a clandestine escapade between Brandy and Santa. It’s one of the few new additions to the ever-growing Christmas soundtrack that resembles adult contemporary R&B.
In the opening track, “Feels Different,” the brilliance of Feemster and Brandy is more evident. Her warm vocals are accompanied by guitars, keyboards, and chasing strings, reflecting a clear influence of soft rock. She points out that subsequent Christmases haven’t been the same. The sight of winter decorations and cards is unbearable as they remind her of a past lover who didn’t show up one Christmas morning.
Out of the six songs on the set that include the word Christmas in its title, Brandy’s bold interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s 1967 classic “Somebody At Christmas” wears the crown among all vocal versions outside of the original.
But Brandy’s loving rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” is also played straight, preserving its instantly cozy and cultural quality without contemporary embellishments. Her smoky tone grounds the tune, toasting even the coldest cocoa.
Besides the usual winter-themed classics, Christmas With Brandy includes other familiar elements, notably her daughter, Sy’Rai, an emerging singer. She appears on “Christmas Gift,” a jaunty and swinging tune that is too fine not to be heard over the din of cash registers and bell-ringers at your favorite department store this season.
Another welcome face is Camper, an ever-compatible writer and producer with whom she worked earlier on b7. He contributes to “Somebody’s Waiting,” a joyous chestnut that will make the listener melt and sob in the arms of an unexpected holiday visitor.
Fans can immerse themselves in a vocal wonderland on “Deck the Halls.” This fresh take is less recognizable than Brandy’s previous renditions of musical adornments, but it’s a gift we will be okay finding under the tree.
Amidst the locust years, when it seems impossible to smile, Brandy’s “Shine Out Your Light” will bring hope, gratitude, and happiness, even if only for a season. The only grumble here is this ornament doesn’t close out the set. It’s meant to serve as the finale not only for this album, but also for the end credits of a festive film on future holiday slates by Lifetime.
Recording holiday music can be a slippery slope, as it comes with high expectations from December traditionalists. In terms of caroling, Brandy’s musical history is limited, with the exception of her participation in the India.Arie-fronted version of “Silent Night.” None of that has intimidated Brandy, whose assured imagination and warm vocals take center stage to reveal a deeper musical personality.
Christmas With Brandy may not be the proper studio album fans hoped for, but it’s a delightful change of pace that provides comfort and joy during the holiday season now and for several years to come.
In addition to reimagining seasonal classics and adding new songs, Brandy will debut her festive acting in Netflix’s holiday movie, Best. Christmas. Ever! It’s premieres Nov. 16 on the streaming platform.
That’s not all. Brandy will be presenting a new carol on the Brach’s® Palace of Sweets float, which is one of the four new floats out of a total of 26, at the 97th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade will take place on Nov. 23 at 8:30 a.m. ET and will be broadcast on NBC and Peacock.
Listen to Brandy’s new album, Christmas With Brandy, below.