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2020 has been a strange year to say the least and with the holidays upon us, it is frequently a time for giving and celebration. However, many of us in the music community have been hit with hardship and heartache while others may view this time as an opportunity for re-invention, growth and change. As we all reflect on this year, a positive note is that we can find an incredible amount of quality music being made today, especially holiday music. So much in fact, that we can’t possibly review it all but each song embodies the true nature of the holidays. There is something special about a holiday song. Life can feel like a boulder weighing you down, grinding away at the pursuit of happiness, but music can be a reminder of a simpler time and bring you back to feelings of forgotten joy. The warmth of family, the sound of laughter, and that nostalgic feeling of what it was like to be a child in a world that was once new.
Highlights this year include some familiar faces and fresh talent putting a new twist on holiday music. Emily Zuzik wrote and recorded an original single with Ted Russell Kamp called “Christmas Star” that has a great 60’s pop vibe and Richard Lynch’s “I Saw Santa Fishing” is a fun country tune that just feels good. Josie Bello’s “Come Home” embodies that feeling of the sentimental holiday spirit and Dion joined forces with blues titan Joe Bonamassa to create the swinging holiday shuffle, “You Know it’s Christmas.” The Replicants produced a single, “Sing to Me of a Merry Christmas” that’s a thoughtful acoustic based song full of artfully polished harmonies while Ruston Kelly brings in a familiar holiday song with “O Holy Night” along with Patrick Droney’s fresh new version of “All I Want for Christmas.”
Prima Donna released a great Christmas rock song called “Gimme Christmas” and The Sweet Lizzy Project produced a four song Christmas EP, And So this is Christmas, that includes covers of John Lennon and Pretenders songs along with two original holiday tunes. Don Pedigo’s “Troubadour 364” is a well-produced single with fantastic instrumentation and a creative progression that has an instantly familiar feel while Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt, nephew of Linda Ronstadt, released the song “Chanukah” that is a nice change of pace with a focus on rebuilding in a divided world. The Arizona based band Calexico released their first full holiday album, Seasonal Shift, that focuses on the recognition of the year gone by and the changes it brought, for better or worse. A message that is especially pertinent to 2020. Power trio The Jonas Brothers released their holiday single, “I Need You Christmas” which features a beautifully arranged string section and lustrous production that has classic holiday nostalgia all over it.
Some of the major stand out songs include “Honky Tonk Holidaze” by Dallas Moore in that quintessential Outlaw Country vein. Moore’s co-writer on this tune is an Americana Highways favorite, Ted Russell Kamp, who is making his second appearance as a songwriter in this review. It’s a testament to this modern-day musician’s versatility and influence in today’s music scene. This song also features one of Nashville’s most spectacular guitarists, session ace and master of the Telecaster, Guthrie Trapp. It’s a superbly written and produced song which has an indescribable magic quality that makes you want to listen again and again. In addition, the dazzling and talented Jessica Lynn has a haunting new single called “It’s Just Not Christmas” about the melancholy of missing our loved ones during the holidays. Other stand outs include Tom Mason, who released a full album of Americana Christmas music called Under a Mistletoe Sky. The album has a rootsy aura that incorporates classic Memphis style rock and roll wrapped up in a holiday package with a bow on top.
To escape the chills of winter for a more tropical holiday feel, Ana Christina Cash of the legendary family namesake, released her version of the classic “Mele Kalikimaka.” The song was produced by John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny and June, and recorded at the much-revered Historic Cash Cabin Studio in Tennessee. Heading south into Georgia, Atlanta based rock band, The Pinx, produced a great holiday EP with wonderfully greasy and soulful songs, “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “I’ll be Your Santa.” Finally, Liz Longley released a fantastic holiday EP, A Little Magic which is set of songs that blends folk-infused pop style with her southern soul and a hint of holiday cheer that will make your winter just a little bit warmer. These six songs are the perfect complement to set the holiday moodby a warm crackling fireplace.
The holidays are not always easy but we can take comfort in the joy music can bring to our lives. Without struggle, there can be no growth and no appreciation for overcoming adversity. Without darkness, we can’t appreciate the light and without experiencing lossand pain, we can’t learn how special the warm embrace of a loved one truly is. Holiday music encompasses these heavy life lessons that we all must endure. From the most light hearted and fun honky tonk song to holiday heartache deep down in the Memphis blues, the holiday music this year is profound. It chronicles the earneststruggles and the triumphs of spirit through musical emotion that is innate to the human experience. As we approach the end of the year and turn out the lights on 2020, may you find joy and love in your life and home. We here at Americana Highways wish you the happiest of holidays, a blessed new year and thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for supporting music.