“Alone on Christmas Day” by The High Plains Drifters

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Strings fill our speakers with a wintry melody at the start of “Alone on Christmas Day,” the new single by The High Plains Drifters, and though their presence is undisputedly as captivating as a chilly holiday sunset, they offer just a small sampling of what’s to come in the next few minutes of play.

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The High Plains Drifters have been garnering a lot of attention from both underground and mainstream critics in 2023, and while “Alone on Christmas Day” is a song designed around a very specific genre and theme in popular music, I see it as an extension of their artistry beyond that of being a vehicle to spike an otherwise lulling seasonal sales. With a galloping rhythm that is straight out of the retro pop/rock playbook and sweet vocals that adorn every beat with a wondrous color, this is a track that was meant to get us moving to its grooves right out of the gate, and whether you’ve heard their work before now or not, it’s tough to deny just how powerful a performance HPD gives up in this latest release.

Most of the Christmas songs that I’ve heard this early holiday season have followed the same common themes we’ve all come to know and love in the last half-century of pop, but in “Alone on Christmas Day,” The High Plains Drifters takes a different lyrical route to our hearts. Larry Studnicky is more of a melodic storyteller than an old-fashioned crooner in this single, and even though his voice is always at the very top of the mix, binding all of the instrumentation into a singular, vocal-led harmony, he lets the players in his band fill out the edges to make the track feel as big and boisterous as possible, especially in the chorus.

There’s no particular point of catharsis in “Alone on Christmas Day” that outshines the others because the entire composition feels like a slow-releasing climax unaffected by the detriment of tension, sonic or otherwise. Studnicky is putting something virtuosic down in this session, but despite the complexity of the piece, he doesn’t come off as arrogant in his delivery at all – which is another area where he stands apart from his closest mainstream rivals.

It’s not the most conventional holiday number that I’ve ever reviewed, but The High Plains Drifters’ fun “Alone on Christmas Day” works all the better for this exact reason. The band’s frontman isn’t trying to be anyone but himself here, and while he’s not showing us anything about his artistic personality that we didn’t already know before this most recent release, I don’t think he was trying to break any new ground with the song. He’s got an amazing gift to share with his audience, and in “Alone on Christmas Day,” he’s pulling out all the stops to present that gift in a setting tailor-made for the excited holiday lover in all of us.

No Christmas pop templates were used in the making of this recording, and though it’s sad to admit, that’s something I just can’t say about the bulk of new holiday singles out this month.

 Trace Whittaker