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Lori McKenna brings the good cheer

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., December 19, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Lori McKenna has been on the big stage, but she was equally as comfortable on the small stage as she made her annual three-day pilgrimage to this bastion of folk music. And at the last of six shows over three nights, the Boston-area native was energized, lively and charming despite a snowstorm brewing outside.

McKenna may be petite in stature, but she was in full voice throughout the 80-minute show, where she mixed it up musically, including tempos. There is a sense of having lived it with McKenna, a suburban housewife. When she sang Unglamorous the title track of her last album, which she wrote in part with Liz Rose, who has enjoyed great success with Taylor Swift, she brought a knowing sense of believability.

McKenna played with her backing four-piece band - only the third night of shows they had done the entire year. But there was certainly a real comfort level there between McKenna and band. "I did a lot of writing this year," said McKenna, explaining the lack of gigs with her band.

But only having a few shows together in 2009 mattered very little. McKenna has played with ace mandolin player Mark Erelli for years along with guitarist Russell Chudnofsky. McKenna let them shine in their own right with Erelli taking a turn on lead vocals on the country song My Darling.

McKenna wasn't exactly country, nor was she exactly pop. She occupied a musical space somewhere in between throughout this night with more of an emphasis on the country/rootsy sound, perhaps in large part due to the instrumentation and sounds generated by her band.

McKenna, as usual, maintained a sense of warmth throughout. She joked easily with her band mates, including poking fun at herself for ending the new song God Didn't Build You That Way on her guitar instead of her band mates handling the chore. Chudnofsky and Erelli each lopped on the praise of McKenna saying this version was better than ever. McKenna also was comfortable in her own skin. She turned in a heartfelt reading of her Stolen Kisses, one of three songs recorded by friend Faith Hill for her album of the same time, without resorting to reminding her fans of her connection with the star, including having opened arena shows for her and husband Tim McGraw.

No need by McKenna to do so on a night of good cheer and very good music.