Lori McKenna

REVIEW: Lori McKenna “Christmas is Right Here”

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Lori McKenna — Christmas is Right Here

Christmas music, like the holiday itself, shifts in meaning and tone as we age into middle adulthood. While the joy doesn’t necessarily dissolve, it’s joined by emotions that spring from relatives who have passed, a busted-up relationship, or just the trials and tribulations that come with being a damn grown-up. Songwriter Lori McKenna has produced an EP, Christmas is Right Here, that perfectly captures the mixed emotions that come with not knowing quite what to make of our most joyous time of year.

The EP is populated by original holiday tunes that McKenna wrote with a few of her songwriting friends, save the lead track, a cover of Paul McCartney’s previously bouncy “Wonderful Christmastime.” Instead of spacey synths and unfettered joy, McKenna’s take gives us acoustic guitar worthy of a cowboy bunkhouse and harmonies that indicate simple enjoyment of the day without rubbin’ y’alls faces in it. It puts the “simple” in “simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” 

The originals, though, are where the feelings hit on Christmas Is Right Here. McKenna is able to tease out the grown-up emotions of the holiday season without getting either maudlin or overly sentimental, aided by pretty, unfussy country arrangements. “Christmas Without Crying,” paced by piano and light strings, transposes the best of childhood memories  – grandparents, holiday hymns and wish book catalogs (if you’re of a certain age, you’ll get that last one) – into yearning for that same sense of wonder: “make-believe to make the real world make a little sense.” “North Pole” has McKenna name-checking all of the places that represent past Christmases while she’s stuck in Nashville trying to adult while still passing traditions on to the next generation – “We hang on to things that we won’t let change.”

Speaking of Music City, McKenna portrays a lonely December 24th just the way you might imagine it would be. “Still Christmas in Nashville” recognizes all of the folks who make that town work at the expense of their own family time – struggling musicians and generous servers with a smile “better than mac and cheese.” There’s also a reference to the patron saint of Americana Christmas, John Prine (especially this year, that one  stings more than a little bit). But McKenna’s here to remind us of the good found in late December. “Grateful” finds her enjoying the moment, and the holiday, despite all of the mistakes we’ve made and losses we’ve experienced as adults. Trying to make sense of the good fortune she’s found – “Maybe in some other life I passed some kind of test” – she stumbles across the truth of this season: yeah, it’s been rough lately, and it’ll probably be rough in the new year, too. But it’s OK to take a few days around the 25th of December and enjoy the things  – family, music, fond memories, or just some good mac and cheese – that bring you the most happiness.

Christmas Is Right Here was produced by Luke Laird, Barry Dean and Lori McKenna, recorded and mixed by Mike Stankiewicz and mastered by Nathan Dantzler. All original songs were written by McKenna, with co-writes going to Laird, Dean, Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose, Dustin Christensen and Jordyn Shellhart. Additional musicians on the album include Fred Eltringham (drums, percussion), Eli Beaird (bass), Kris Donegan (acoustic guitar), Justin Ostrander (electric guitar), David Dorn (keys), Charles Judge (keys, strings), Barry Dean (mellotron, background vocals), and Hillary Lindsey and Luke Laird (background vocals). 

Go here to order Christmas Is Right Here (out November 19): https://orcd.co/christmasisrighthere

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