Photos courtesy Mixtape Media, credit 9.14 Pictures
Charlie Hall, drummer for the War on Drugs, produces the second Eagles Christmas album from Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata.
The 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles are cruising to a third consecutive playoff appearance in 2023 led by dynamo head coach Nick Sirriani. However, Sirriani’s three All-Pro offensive linemen, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, look to a different leader during the holiday season. They’re directed by Grammy Award-winning drummer Charlie Hall of the War on Drugs, who’s producing their Christmas album, dubbed A Philly Special Christmas Special, for a second straight year.
Following the smash hit debut of the group’s first album, A Philly Special Christmas, in 2022, it was clear the record deserved a follow-up, but it wasn’t immediately apparent one was coming.
You could say the three lead forces behind the album have a pretty busy offseason apart from their musical careers. But why wouldn’t Kelce, Mailata, Johnson and Hall (known as the Philly Specials), release a second album, especially when the first did so much for Philadelphia charities?
“We were able to make a pretty substantial impact by doing something that we all loved and brought everyone together,” Hall says. “And so we were like, ‘Well, why wouldn’t we do that again?’”
After working with DonorsChoose and Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC) in 2022 to raise a towering $1.25 million, the Philly Specials are once again teamed up with CCTC as well as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2023.
Thus the plan for the new album was simple: raise money with a bigger, better Christmas album this year. Bringing back the chemistry that made the first album so great was an easy first step.
“I think there’s an intangible. You can only be a truly great team when you have chemistry, right? [If] you have people who truly like working together and supporting each other and bringing out the best of each other, that’s what makes a great team. [And] that’s completely the vibe that [the players] bring to the studio,” Hall observes.
Despite the physical size of the three leading voices—combined they weigh nearly 1,000 pounds—Kelce, Johnson and Mailata are excellent singers, able to utilize their inner emotions in a manner not often required of NFL stars.
“When you hear [Kelce] sing that Pogues song for example, he sang it like he wrote it,” Hall enthuses. “When [Mailata] sings ‘This Christmas’ or ‘All I Want for Christmas,’ he’s deep in it… He’s just naturally gifted.”
To his point, Mailata’s vocals have been compared to the tenor of Frankie Valli by various news outlets, while Johnson shines through on “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.)”
The cream of the new album shines through in its guest appearances, though. From Jason’s brother and Kansas City Chiefs tight-end (and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend) Travis Kelce to Patti LaBelle, Nick Foles, Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown and executive producer Connor Barwin, the star-studded cast of the new album outshines some Hollywood productions, and the visuals don’t miss either.
With the help of Philadelphia-based animation studio unPOP, the Philly Specials come to the small screen in a nostalgic blast from the past that evokes the essence of The Peanuts and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV specials.
Hall wants to make sure listeners don’t miss out on talents who might fly under the radar beneath the national superstar athletes. Well-trained ears will notice the superb drumming of Justin Faulkner while Anthony Tidd grooves on bass.
With the full album coming to streaming services as soon as Friday, December 1, excitement around both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philly Specials has never been higher, and Hall has never been more invested in both.
“Oh my god, it’s like watching a family member out there,” he says of following his hometown football team. “It’s like, ‘Woah, take it easy man!’ I’m so invested in it. We all are.”
Hall and his “music nerd” friends, as he calls them, now find themselves fully consumed by football when they might not have cared as much before.
The Philly Special Christmas Special can be a gateway to enjoy a whole new type of music for Eagles and football fans, while enjoyers of Christmas music will soon find themselves rooting for the personalities that bring new life to these classic tunes.
“I don’t think people necessarily appreciate how much those guys sacrifice to do what they do,” Hall notes.
Though he’s referencing their football careers, making a leap into the music industry requires a lot of courage, a different kind of mental fortitude than it takes to go up against a defensive lineman. Now Kelce, Mailata and Johnson have to overcome their own emotions instead of overcoming another player. Evidenced by the Eagles 2023 domination of the NFL thus far, they’ve come out on the other side of both challenges stronger than ever.