From Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to Idina Menzel and Pentatonix, every artist finds a personal take on holiday music – but no one casts the spell quite like Cassandra Kubinski. Two weeks ago the effervescent singer-songwriter released her new EP, aptly titled Holiday Magic, to great acclaim and an impressive #46 slot on the Billboard charts.
Produced by Grammy nominee Chris Sclafani, the brilliant engineer behind hitmaker Benny Blanco and collaborator with pop stars galore including Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, Ed Sheeran and Rihanna, Kubinski’s album is a gorgeous ode to that season where we all stop to breathe and remember life’s essential little pleasures. Whether you plan on being home for Christmas or partying the night away, you’ll want her luscious voice ushering you through a winter wonderland of delights.
Unfailingly positive and welcoming, Kubinski brings a visionary quality to her work that’s rarely seen in the music and entertainment worlds. Soul-searing melodies accompany her intricate narratives, all underscored by her powerful work ethos. The lady’s resumé is no joke: She’s produced five studio albums, including last year’s Onward (which hit the Billboard Heatseekers Top 100); recorded the autism anthem “Not So Different” with Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik and 10,000 Maniacs lead singer Mary Ramsey; written nine songs for Lifetime series Dance Moms and countless others for programs on ABC, NBC, Bravo and more; starred in an Emmy-nominated Snickers commercial (yes, really); and has discovered a collegial mentor in Billy Joel. As one of her signature songs proclaims, she’s irresistible just being herself.
But Holiday Magic adds a special layer to Kubinski’s oeuvre – it’s a glimpse into her favorite parts of her childhood. She gave the EP that title “because that’s what the holidays felt like to me growing up. I remember really specific things like baking sugar cookies with Mom, opening the ‘share box’ from my grandparents with my sisters, and how beautiful the Christmas tree in church was every year.”
Old favorites on the album get vibrant reimaginings. Cassandra recreates a family tradition by having her sisters Ali and Jackie sing backup on “The Little Drummer Boy.”
“It’s a song we’ve been singing together a cappella for years but never properly recorded,” she explains. “And singing with Matt Cusson was a blast. We laughed a lot while adding our theatrical ‘two kids going out to play in the snow’ vibe to ‘Sleigh Ride,’ and his piano playing is just breathtaking.”
Cusson, an award-winning singer-songwriter who’s performed with the likes of Brian McKnight and Christina Aguilera among other music legends, lends perfect harmony to Kubinski’s rendition of the 1940s standard. Jaunty yet smooth, upbeat yet complex, their vocals expertly intertwine for a blue-eyed soul duet that manages seduction through innocence.
Kubinski’s gift for thoughtful reinterpretation is also evident in one of the EP’s most striking tracks, a mashup of the classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” Her sensuous narration soars through the two familiar ballads, crafting a tale listeners are encouraged to customize in their heads: A young woman is stranded while traveling and passes the time by dreaming of her family. Will she get there for the celebration? Is she really en route to see them, or just lonely while struggling from one gig to another? What hides beneath her poetic words – regret, optimism, even fear? Not unlike Will to Power’s “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird” medley, this combination shows off the fertile ambiguity that makes Kubinski an ingenious boundary crosser.
This sort of exploratory reminiscing was what brought producer Sclafani to the project. Though he’d never worked on a holiday album before, he chose Kubinski’s because, he says, “After hearing the same kinds of [Christmas] songs over and over throughout the years, you’re kinda like, ‘Maybe there could be some fresh new life to it,’ so getting that opportunity to work with a talented songwriter, understanding what they’re going for, and seeing their vision come to life, it’s a lot of fun.”
To hear more from Chris Sclafani, watch this exclusive video interview.
For her part, Cassandra says, “The recording process for Holiday Magic was the fastest and easiest of any project I’ve ever done. After deciding to really go for it and make a holiday EP in August, the entire team came together and worked so efficiently to get it done! Rich DeCicco tracked his drum parts first in L.A., and then Chris Sclafani recorded electric and upright bass, percussion, and vocals in his Manhattan studio. I cut pianos with co-producer Tony Daniels in his studio and we sang backup vocals from both studios… My intention for Holiday Magic is that it becomes the soundscape for people’s new holiday memories, and captures that combination of wistfulness, sentimentality, and just pure joy that seems to bubble up for people especially during the holidays.”
She’s certainly achieved that goal. Tremendous beauty awaits discovery in this EP, not least in Kubinski’s three original songs on the album. Embodying the hope that arises in our hearts at the end of the year, and all the questions that go with it, she offers us simultaneous prophecy and blessing, a real live angel of music. (For those that see her live at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall on November 27th, just try to disagree. I triple-dog-dare you.) Even when it “doesn’t feel like December,” Holiday Magic will be the gift that keeps on giving for seasons to come.
Cassandra Kubinski performs at Rockwood Music Hall on November 27, 2017 at 8 and 9PM. Go here for tickets. HOLIDAY MAGIC is now available on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Spotify. For more information, visit cassandrakubinski.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
To learn more about Chris Sclafani’s work, visit chrisrecording.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about Matt Cusson’s work and tour schedule, visit mattcusson.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Jaime Lubin is the Managing Editor of Honeysuckle Magazine. Her profiles on art and culture have appeared regularly in The Huffington Post and Observer, as well as Billboard and Irish America magazines among other publications. Also an actress, producer, and singer, Jaime most recently performed in LCK Productions’ and The Cnnekt’s “Femininity: Friend or Foe?” at The Duplex. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram (both @jaimelubin).