‘Alone on Christmas Day’ by The High Plains Drifters

Gilt with a pristine studio varnish, the acoustic guitar that slides into focus on the back of a swinging beat in “Alone on Christmas Day,” the new single from pop syndicate The High Plains Drifters, is as soft as silk but riddled with a tense finish in the master mix that makes anyone listening to turn up the volume on the spot. It isn’t very long before the song’s vocals capture our attention unrolling lyrics that describe the holiday season with a wink and nod, along with an understated undercurrent of melancholy, and while we’re only a few seconds into the track, the fluidity of the band’s play makes it feel as though we’ve tuned-in to a pop symphony in mid-movement.

The cool confidence of the singing vividly conveys itself, and while the grind of the bass and the steady flow of guitar melodies make for quite the backdrop, I found that the verses demand the lion’s share of our attention more than anything else does in this song. “Alone on Christmas Day” is a contemporary pop single with a couple of key rock n’ roll trimmings that keep it from descending into full-blown radio rhythms, but if there’s one part of its smorgasbord of features that it wants to put on display above all others, it is unquestionably the vocal. It’s singing that doesn’t need a lot of extra help behind the soundboard and dominates the recording.

The harmonies seem to get bigger and bigger as we get lost in the hypnotic soundscape of the track, but I don’t believe that there’s a moment where the songwriting recycles something that we’ve heard in other monster-sized Christmas songs. It takes a lot of creativity to pull something like this off, especially when taking into account the scores of Christmas-themed tracks that will debut just between now and the actual holiday, but for this singer, it couldn’t sound as truly natural and unforced as it does here. I was already aware of the band’s skills after listening to their last release, the Songs of Love and Loss EP, but they reaffirm their artistic uniqueness beyond any question in this all-new slice of musical winter chagrin.

The accompanying video hits the mark as well. We’ve already been served notice that the High Plains Drifters ably deliver the musical goods, but the promo clip illustrates their wealth of visual creativity and abundant humor as well. Only performers who have lost in love and desire’s great game can make a video like this as it acknowledges the inherent absurdity of modern dating while never seeming too jaded about it all. It’s a deft clip that you’ll find yourself viewing more than once.

“Alone on Christmas Day” ends in a mist of fading notes that beg for us to play the track all over again, and if you’re as much of a holiday music enthusiast as I am, the temptation proves too hard to resist more often than it doesn’t. The High Plains Drifters has been making headlines across the board in 2023, but in his latest recording, the band sounds more relaxed and in their element than they ever have before. These four musicians have a long ride ahead of them, and as long as they can continue to cultivate their sound with as much sincerity and honest emotionality as we’ve heard from them in the last couple of cuts they’ve released, I would count on seeing them seeing a lot more success as 2023 transitions into 2024.

Gwen Waggoner