Album: Santa Will Find You (EP)
Label: Painted Music Group
Release date: October 26, 2018
“I’m the first one in mid-to-late October to be pulling out my holiday records,” Chely Wright says with a chuckle, before naming Christmas albums by Nat King Cole, the Carpenters, Trisha Yearwood and Alan Jackson as favorites. Now the acclaimed singer-songwriter, activist and author has made her own contribution to the holiday shelf with Santa Will Find You (October 26 / Painted Music Group), a new six-track EP of original songs, most of them shaped with friends and collaborators Richard Marx, Jeremy Lister and Mindy Smith.
Befitting an artist whose story is among the most compelling in country music history—from a hit-making Nashville starlet to a trailblazing LGBT advocate and thoughtful musical storyteller—Wright’s Christmas music reflects the fuller sense of humanity behind the holiday season. It’s a celebration of the pals we look forward to seeing each December, and an expression of yearning for the friends we’re missing. Finally, it’s a bittersweet homage to love—whether it’s been found, lost or is just sort of waiting to come around again.
Santa Will Find You finds Wright engaging with the holiday season in an honest and personal way before the first note is heard. When she began to think about possible cover art for the project, Wright saw that she needed to take a step back and process the mission at hand. “What is this music?” she asked herself. “What do I hope it does for people?”
Her answer—to help inspire future memories—called for a detour down memory lane. “I hope this music becomes part of a new emotional landscape for listeners,” she adds. “And that made me revisit why I wanted to make this record, and I was contemplative about my holiday memories.”
“I grew up in a small town in Kansas,” Wright begins, “and we either spent Christmas morning at our house or at my Aunt Char’s house or in Arizona at my grandparents’ house. We would wake up on Christmas morning and it was as magical as you would hope it is.”
The cover art is a childhood photo titled Captured on Christmas Morning of 1973, featuring Wright, age 3, her two siblings and two of her cousins. Tragically, one of the children in the photo, Wright’s cousin David, died in 1981 of complications from diabetes. He would have turned 50 this year. When she called David’s mother, her Aunt Char, to ask if it’d be OK to use the image, the response was instantaneous and effusive. “She said, ‘Oh, I love it, I love it. He was a star,’” Wright recalls brightly. “It’s a neat way to honor the history of our family.”
The leadoff cut, “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life),” was written alone, on a quiet, post-breakup Christmas Eve in 2005, and eventually “took on a life of its own in a really beautiful way,” Wright says, and has been covered by both Mindy Smith and the Indigo Girls.
With the title track, “Santa Will Find You,” Wright honors the family she’s built with wife Lauren Blitzer and their twin boys, George and Everett. “We were visiting our family in Pennsylvania for the holidays,” Chely remembers. “In the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, our boys were totally, 1,000-percent freaked out that Santa would not know where to bring their presents. It’s a real thing that kids are concerned about!”
“Happy New Year, Old Friend” is a torchy, after-hours rumination on that time of year that’s “both the end of something and the beginning of something, which is a really interesting handoff,” Wright says. Perhaps even more interesting is the versatility of the song’s intent, with a message equally applicable to platonic pals or a deeply romantic pair. Marx’s iconic voice sidles up to Wright’s on “Christmas Isn’t Christmas Time,” which, with its “Be My Baby” beat and uplifting orchestral backing, is state-of-the-art pop craftsmanship. Longtime fans will find comfort in “Can’t Believe It’s Christmas,” a Wright/Lister effort whose contemporary Nashville vibe evokes the singer’s hits of the late ’90s and early 2000s.