It's a first: Jeff Kloetzel walks into the Mail Tribune and offers me his new Christmas album, "Merry & Bright."
"I was boxing up the Christmas stuff, the Christmas CDs, around my house in January, and I was thinking I've always wanted to do a Christmas CD, so I decided to make a stab at it," he says. "I can't think of another local band or musician that's done one."
This feel-good CD is an upbeat, fun romp through folksy, retro-pop and country classics and carols. Look for new interpretations of "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night," "White Christmas" and other well-known songs, along with three originals.
Kloetzel's rich baritone vocals, acoustic and electric guitars and bass guitar lead the way.
"I love those old '50s and '60s songs," he says.
"I channel a little bit of that campy energy with the sleigh, the country feel, the jingle bells, the horse, the whip, all that silliness," he laughs.
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Mark T. Johnson of Bluejay Productions in Jacksonville, the album is available on Kloetzel's Kamananui Records label and can be purchased at Willowcreek Gifts in Jacksonville, select wineries, CD Baby and at his live shows.
The singer, songwriter and guitarist performs regularly at South Stage Cellars, RoxyAnn Winery, Belle Fiore Winery, StoneRiver Vineyards and others.
This is Kloetzel's third on his Kamananui label.
"'Kamana' means the spirit or energy, and 'nui' is Hawaiian for big, so it means 'big spirit' or 'big mana.' 'Big spirit' records is the literal translation," he says. "I consider music a spiritual thing. It's more something that you can feel than something that you can quantify."
Kloetzel lived for 22 years in Honolulu on Oahu, where he and a friend performed an annual Christmas show.
On the album's "Silent Night," Kloetzel sings the final verse in Hawaiian, and others in Spanish and English, giving the song a heartwarming, multicultural appeal.
"People all over the world know that song, and it means something different to them all. It's interesting that the literal translations of those lyrics are subtly different. They're not just direct, literal translations from the English verse," he says.
A bit of ukulele opens one of Kloetzel's originals, "Christmas Is."
"It gives the opening a woody, mid-range tonality," he says. "All my albums have at least some ukulele on them. It's a warmer sound than steel-string guitar. I like to toy with mandolin, too. I love the sound of it."
A selection of Rogue Valley musicians appear on the album. Look for Johnson on keys, bass and percussion; Bob Evoniuk on Dobro and Weissenborn guitars; Reed Bentley on drums and percussion; Lincoln Zeve on harmonica; Paul Turnipseed on electric guitar; Martin W. Ball on Native American flute; Nick Garrett-Powell on mandolin; Stefano Carrera on drums; and Zia Blue on background vocals.
Look for his sister, Jennifer Kloetzel, playing cello arrangements on "What Child Is This?" and performing back-up vocals on "I'll Be Home For Christmas."
"She's the real musician in the family," Kloetzel says. "My mom taught voice and piano, so everyone in my family had years of lessons. But I'm self-taught on guitar and vocals, whereas my sister has multiple degrees from Juilliard and studied in London. She's performed in the Chamber Music Festival in Ashland and with the Rogue Valley Symphony.
"Collaboration is a lot of fun," Kloetzel says. "You can imagine it might get a little old sitting in a studio in July working on a Christmas album when it's beautiful outside, but I don't think we beat it to death."