Lori McKenna is undoubtedly one of the most famed songwriters in Nashville. Her writing is brilliantly poetic and moving. Every so often, she uses her own voice to give life to the words she writes. After releasing a full-length record in 2020 titled The Balladeer, McKenna is back with her own, and first, Christmas EP, Christmas is Right Here that features one cover and five original tracks just in time for the holiday season.
The six-song project opens with the only non-original piece of music: a cover of the classic Christmas hit “Wonderful Christmastime.” The tune is known for its upbeat, happy nature that blasts at annual Christmas parties. McKenna turns this bright, happy tune, into an acoustic, bittersweet track that has folk and singer-songwriter sprinklings all over it. It sounds like something that would be played in a small, local coffee shop. McKenna’s voice is warm as she sings over the acoustic guitars and subtle sleigh bells.
Track two is appropriately titled “Christmas Without Crying.” During the holiday season, stress and sadness seem to be heightened and this song, written by McKenna, Luke Laird, and Barry Dean, captures that gloomy feeling superbly. The lyrics read as though she’s zooming in on holiday memories from years past as she recalls Santa from the mall, her mother in a polyester coat, and “smiling so hard that my eyes are shut.” In the chorus, she sings about the sorrow that comes with sudden nostalgia exclaiming, “You can sing all the Sunday hymns / Cause you’ve known the words all your life / You can roll past that old high school and smile / At the glory days long gone by / You’ll be thinking about Grandpa when you’re stringing up those lights / And that will be why / You can’t make through Christmas without crying.”
On “Still Christmas In Nashville,” McKenna details the Christmas aura in the music city. Once again, in her lyricism, McKenna writes as though she’s setting the most thought-out, descriptive scene. Right at the beginning, she talks about a man chasing his dreams and a woman working as a server covered in cheap, drug store makeup. The stunning chorus opens up with McKenna’s rustic voice saying, “God bless the city the dreamers built / It don’t hardly snow, but it sparkles still / Never grew up and it never will / For all you believers out there / It’s still Christmas in Nashville.” The parallel McKenna creates about the blind optimism at Christmas juxtaposed with the visionaries who roam music city is well-crafted and imaginative.
The EP closes with the happiest song on the project, “Grateful.” Once again, the closer radiates sentimentality; McKenna simply expresses her gratitude for the life she has lived thus far and the paths she’s chosen. The lyrics are sweet and comforting as she sings, “All the faith that I’ve been given / I’ll admit, some of it’s been lost on me / But there isn’t one ungrateful bone in my boy.” The writing in “Grateful” reads as a reminiscent journal entry. The last few lines of the EP read, “So, in this life that I’ve been given / Hope I get close to who I’m supposed to be / Cause there isn’t one ungrateful bone in my body / There isn’t one ungrateful bone in my body.”
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