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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The Eagles release a Christmas album. Not those Eagles.


From left, the Philadelphia Eagles teammates Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson in the recording studio for “A Philly Special Christmas Special.”

By Callie Holtermann


Jordan Mailata, a 6-foot-8, 365-pound left tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, was nervous for his next matchup. It was August, and he was heading into the recording studio to duet with the Godmother of Soul, Patti LaBelle.


“He sings his face off — I was shocked,” LaBelle said last week. “I said, ‘OK, let’s sing, honey.’”

They let it rip on a cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” The song is a part of “A Philly Special Christmas Special,” a holiday album released Friday by Mailata, a tenor with a buttery upper register, and two of his teammates on the Eagles’ offensive line, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.


It is the trio’s second holiday album to raise money for Philadelphia-area charities. Its vocalists include NFL stars — Travis Kelce, a Kansas City Chiefs tight end, and Jalen Hurts, the Eagles’ quarterback — and musicians with ties to Philadelphia like LaBelle, a longtime Eagles fan.


LaBelle said she was excited to participate in a project that brought together the city’s passionate, and sometimes raucous, music and football scenes. She seemed only slightly disappointed that Taylor Swift, who is dating Travis Kelce, did not appear on the album — but said she would happily duet with her in the future. “That’s the girl I want to meet,” LaBelle said Thursday.


The idea for an Eagles Christmas album came from Jason Kelce, the team’s veteran center. “I love Christmas, and I had an idea that doing a Christmas album would be great,” he said in a video about the making of last year’s album. “The problem is, I can’t sing.”


So he enlisted Johnson and Mailata, a onetime rugby player who also competed on Season Seven of Fox’s musical competition show “The Masked Singer.” Connor Barwin, a former linebacker for the Eagles, said that the team has a running joke about Mailata: “He’s just playing football until his music career takes off.”


Barwin served as an executive producer for the album, which was released through his label, Vera Y Records. “You have three incredibly talented musicians that also happen to be the best in the world at playing football,” he said. “When you bring it all together, the magic sort of happened.”


The album was recorded in more than 10 sessions at Elm Street Studios in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Its 11 tracks include covers of Christmas classics like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the kitschy “Dominick the Donkey,” as well as an original song by Jason Kelce, “Santa’s Night.” The Kelce brothers sing a Philadelphia-themed cover of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” that has already reached No. 1 on Billboard’s rock and holiday digital song sales charts.


“This thing was never a goof,” said Charlie Hall, who produced the album and is the drummer for the rock band the War on Drugs.


Hall worked with recording engineer Nick Krill and prominent Philadelphia musicians including folk-soul singer Amos Lee, indie artist Waxahatchee and saxophonist Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra.


To build the track list, Hall had long conversations with Eagles players about the Christmas songs that meant the most to them growing up. “Singing is such a raw, emotional thing,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that everyone was singing songs that they had some sort of connection to.” (Mailata, who grew up in Australia, was unfamiliar with most of them, he added.)


Proceeds from the album are being donated to the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. According to Vera Y Records, 50,000 vinyl copies had been sold by Thursday afternoon, already doubling the 25,000 vinyl copies sold of last year’s record.


The album’s title is a reference to the “Philly Special,” a trick play that helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2018. The Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Chiefs last year, but currently have the best record in the NFL.


LaBelle is confident the team will go all the way this season. “When they win, they’re all going to come to my house for dinner,” she said.

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