This Holiday Night

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We need more Margo Reys and fewer Taylor Swifts. The latter’s legion of fans may wince and grumble at such a sentiment, but many listeners will hear the lush energy of Rey’s latest single, a re-release of her 2014 Christmas song “This Holiday Night” and conclude real artistry lies in depth instead of the cheap pandering of formulaic pop songs about love gone wrong. Rey’s approach to a traditional form brims with such sophistication and musical intelligence that the possibility of cliché is stamped out in the first few notes. Rey, an exceptional musician with grounding in jazz and various international forms, adopts the role of a Yuletide balladeer without a hint of self-consciousness and an openness of the heart that will win over all but the cynical.

Another reason for this track’s stirring impact is its appealing mix of the personal and universal. The lyrical content touches on the common themes of Christmas music, but there’s a much more personal quality of longing underpinning these lyrics. Rey’s vocal further strengthens them with her gentle phrasing that embodies all of the hopes associated with the Xmas season. The band is focused around a cool, crystalline string arrangement and cascading piano that leaves glittery streaks across the song. The level of familiarity for many listeners will be strong with the song’s melody as well, but it’s a trick of the ear – instead of opting for the route of least resistance and hanging a new lyric on an existing melody in public domain, Rey and her cohorts nod just enough to many well know Christmas songs that our ears perk up, but litter the arrangement with surprising twists that carves themselves out their own place in this long tradition.

Music this good isn’t accidental. From her classical training as a young girl onward, Margo Rey has restlessly searched for the purest distillation of her own voice. Stints like those mentioned in the first paragraph as well as fronting pop rock trios haven’t fulfilled her alone. Instead, they’ve been rest stops where Rey has surveyed her surroundings, gathered what she can, and moves on looking for another mountain to climb. Even her time spent performing musical theater has helped enrich her into a performer and composer to be reckoned with – capable of substance and possessing a sharp ear for what people want to hear.

“This Holiday Night” will surely be a staple for many households and individuals in the fast approaching Christmas season, but it much more than a novelty song. This is a substantive work of musical art that strikes a chord for the aforementioned reasons, but perhaps more than any other, it’s simply a superbly written song. Margo Rey, as always, has surrounded herself with a bevy of like-minded collaborators who help her realize a wide-ranging vision that never forgets to entertain its audience. Much like her last release “Colours” and earlier work, “This Holiday Night” bears the stamp of an idiosyncratic talent welcome in a plastic age.

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Shannon Cowden