Auld Lang Syne – Looking back on 2020 – with Solitaire Miles and Howard Levy

I love hearing holiday songs,  even thinking about the holiday albums, yes, actual records,  will remind me of my childhood home. I will remember lying in bed and seeing the oversized Christmas lights hanging on the eaves of our house while the music was warbling in the background.  Music is very effective in creating nostalgia, calling up an earlier time period, with a warm glow that can include a longing for the past.

2020 has been one of those years that might leave a lot of us longing for the past – for happier days with loved ones who may no longer be with us now, or missing friends and relatives that we can’t travel to see for the holidays.  So the nostalgia of holiday music will provide many of us with comfort, and be a memory for the past and an understanding that the past may be  lost to us now.

And this New Year’s Eve, it is almost inevitable that you will hear, and possibly try to sing “Auld Lang Syne” – a song whose melody is synonymous with the New Year, and the theme of change.  The song asks whether old friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should never forget old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,

and never thought upon;

The flames of Love extinguished,

and fully past and gone:

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,

that loving Breast of thine;

That thou canst never once reflect

On old long syne?

Solitaire Miles and Howard Levy have been recording a lot lately, with a recent collaboration on “Auld Lang Syne”.  Both have been diverse in their musical proclivities, producing classical, jazz, roots, blues and pop music, so it is not surprising  that they should find each other through the arteries of the Chicago music scene.

Levy, a two- time Grammy Award Winner  for Best Pop Music Performance and Instrumental Composition with Bela Fleck and The Flecktones,  is a favorite with audiences worldwide.   He performed on Miles’ recent Western Swing album “Bye Bye Blues” and helped create the biggest hit off the album “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” ,  and now the two have a New Years offering.  

“2020 is a year like no other in American history.”  Miles said in an interview this week.  “America has faced a deadly pandemic, economic collapse, and political revolution.  A lot of people will be glad to see it go, but we can’t just forget all that has happened to us, and the friends and loved ones that we have lost to Covid.

Many holiday tables will be missing friends and family members this year,  but the New Year is a symbol of hope for many, that better things are on the horizon.  We are still grieving our losses, living with the pain and trauma of 2020,  so Howard and I wanted to pay respect to all of that with our arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ .  We kept it simple and heartfelt, and we can only hope that it brings listeners peace and comfort as they pass into the New Year.”

Their arrangement is uncomplicated and soulful, with  Levy playing piano and harmonica and Miles singing a sincere lyric with a voice has been compared to a combination of Billie Holiday & Patsy Cline.  But here she is mostly channeling an older, world- weary Holiday while Levy’s harmonica reaches down deep inside your soul to bring to light a myriad of feelings – pain, loss, and hope.

As we face the New Year bravely, this duet is a curative for all of the bewildering memories and feelings that 2020 brings, in it’s simplicity and directness.   It’s tone and nuance conveys the extensive range of emotions that we have all felt over the past year, but ends on a harmonious and solemn note, at once acknowledging our  suffering  but setting the stage for a better 2021. – JM Reid 

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