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McKenna brings along much needed extra cheer

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., December 17, 2023

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

As sure as it's December, Lori McKenna proved once more that she can always come home again with a multi-day, multi-concert weekend at this venerable music club in the heart of Harvard Square. At the final of four sold-shows in the intimate (130 seats) venue, McKenna was her usual warm self, filled with stories and lots of meaningful songs that hit home.

McKenna is all about relationships with family and friends. That was underscored from the opening song, "1988," about her longstanding love affair with her husband, Gene. McKenna wrote the song with her son, Brian.

McKenna emphasized "1988," the album she released earlier this year, playing half a dozen songs from the very fine release.

She later told a funny story of the only song she ever wrote about her now 89-year-old father, "People Get Old." It's a nostalgic look at fun times of the past along with dealing with aging and, in effect, becoming like your parents.

On "Happy Children," a song she wrote with another son, Chris, McKenna sang of wanting the best for her children:
"I hope you find your true north
I hope you make some dreams come true
I hope you learn early that the love you give all comes right back to you
I hope you get up every time you fall, and you get back in again
But if you only get one thing that's a given
I hope you have happy children
Happy children"

With McKenna, the stories are real. They are highly relatable. They are personal. There will be stories about her parents and kids (including a new one about her college-age song just asking her to Venmo her money so he could go golfing. Considering that it was December, she questioned that one, something she validated with the crowd). You're not going to hear meaningless songs about drinking.

The setting demanded a keen intimacy between McKenna and her fans (in fact, McKenna called out one of them, who was apparently at her 101st McKenna show!). The crowd helped out on such songs as McKenna's huge hit for Little Big Town, "Girl Crush" and others.

McKenna switched gears a bit towards the end by playing a few songs that were hits for others, including "Humble and Kind," a hit for Tim McGraw and a message song for how you want your children to treat others and "Crowded Table," which country super group The High Women recorded.

McKenna got into the holiday spirit with three songs from her 2021 "Christmastime EP," which she recorded with encouragement from her management team and mixed feelings by herself. McKenna gave her version of Paul McCartney's light fare of "Wonderful Christmastime" a frothy feel.

McKenna was joined by her three longstanding backing band mates – guitarist Marc Erelli, drummer John Sands and bassist Paul Kochanski. Erelli, who has his own career, filled the songs with just the right notes on electric guitar and numerous backing vocals. Sands sat behind a minimal drums set, often letting brushes set the pace along with Kochanski.

Before McKenna hit her first note, Passim Managing Director Matt Smith opined that this was the best time of year and that the shows were the fastest sellout for the club. He jokingly said that McKenna should come back next year for a week's worth of shows, two per night. With her good cheer, McKenna indicated that she would be back for a few nights instead. So, the wait begins for the rite of December that always brings a lot of much needed extra cheer to the season.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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