Michelle Malone and the Hot Toddies bring Christmas cheer through song

Michelle Malone’s work has always shone with empathy, compassion and kindness. Her annual series of Christmas shows and upcoming album with The Hot Toddies (Doug Kees on guitar, Ben Holst on drums, Peter Searcy on cello and a rotating group on upright bass) are a musical reminder to celebrate in that spirit this season, to forget our troubles awhile, and to have ourselves a merry little Christmas.

The holiday season has always resonated with what Malone tries to communicate in her music as a whole.

“We all have the same wants and needs in common — to be accepted and loved and wanted,” Malone says. “The Christmas season is warm and fuzzy, and people seem to be a little kinder. Isn’t that what the holiday season is bringing to us? A chance to worry less and focus on family and friends?”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Performing Christmas music during the holiday season was a possibility that had been percolating in her mind, and everything finally came together when she formed a musical partnership with Kees in 2017. He embraced Malone’s idea for a Christmas band, and together they worked familiar melodies into unique compositions that feature a wide range of musical styles. They have been performing together ever since.

Malone has always been as comfortable on the range as she is in a smoky speakeasy, and the holiday interpretations reflect this versatility. “I love it, because I got to pick my favorite Christmas songs and do them the way I want to hear them,” she says.

Expect to hear some familiar songs amped up a notch on her upcoming album, “Christmas With Michelle Malone and The Hot Toddies.” In concerts, Malone adjusts the volume knob on “Run, Run, Rudolph” and a rockabilly version of Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” gives the R&B star a run for her money. In characteristic Malone style, the genre can switch abruptly, for example, from countrified gospel in “Go Tell it On the Mountain” to a slow and sweetly jazzy “Silent Night.” These energy counterpoints stave off the overstimulating and potentially cloying effects that holiday music can have sometimes when consumed in large doses.

There are also fresh juxtapositions of lyrics with melodies that revive sometimes-tired holiday classics. With the standup bass in the forefront and a sweet guitar accompaniment throughout, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” becomes more tender anticipation than longing for things unattainable.

Malone’s favorite is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The emotive complexity in her voice is fully on display in this one — clear and almost achingly sharp in how it hits the heart, yet supremely lovely at the same time, like opening the door to freshly fallen snow — or the home of a relative on Christmas Eve.

Live or on the album, the effect of the music, as a whole, is a gift to the audience that is more than just listening pleasure and upbeat fun. It really does leave you with a reminder of what the holidays are all about. “That seems to be my M.O.,” she says. “I do what I do because I love it, and I hope it spreads that love to others. The joy — that’s what I’m always going for.”

Michelle Malone and the Hot Toddies are Christmas nostalgia re-imagined and all wrapped up in a warm, jazzy blanket. Whether you celebrate the season with Christmas lights, a yuletide log or Hanukkah candles, the message is the same: Warmth can be found no matter how cold it gets outside.

The season’s concert schedule includes:

Saturday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Red Clay Theater, Duluth

Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Redrock Gourmet, Newnan

Friday, Dec. 9 at 8:00 p.m., Crimson Moon, Dahlonega

Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m., Line Creek Brewing, Fayetteville

Saturday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Pure Life, LaGrange

Sunday, Dec. 18 at 7:00 p.m., Napoleon’s, Decatur

Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7:00 p.m., Aurora Theater, Lawrenceville

Friday, Dec. 23 at 7:30 p.m., 37 Main, Avondale Estates

The Michelle Malone Band will round out the holidays at Eddie’s Attic on New Year’s Eve. You can find the Hot Toddies first album, “Toddie Time,” for purchase on Malone’s website.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.