Grounded and in contact: Roan Yellowthorn’s melancholy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Jackie McLean knows how to make a cover—and a Christmas song—her own. Her most recent holiday single, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” arrived in stores on November 15, with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” released earlier this month.

“River” might seem like a strange choice for a holiday single. While Christmas is mentioned, it’s not explicitly a Christmas song—but that’s just what McLean likes about it. “When I’m choosing something to sing,” she says, “I try to pick something that resonates with me and my emotional landscape the most. And for me, I think most of the time I do see kind of the more melancholy side of things.”

That includes Christmas. The holiday season can highlight feelings of loneliness and isolation just as easily as it can bring people together. Putting those conflicted feelings to music can be cathartic for McLean, the voice of indie-rock outfit Roan Yellowthorn. “If I’m able to sing a sad song that taps into the bluer side, it makes me feel more aligned, in a weird way.”

Her approach to the seminal “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” emphasizes the same sense of sadness. “It definitely is a traditional Christmas song,” she says, but “devastatingly sad… I imagine it being sung by somebody who wants to return to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, so we tried to sort of do it in that spirit.” The single is a piano-vocal collaboration with keyboardist Ty Bailey, who’s usually on tour with Katy Perry. “I loved working with him,” McLean says. “I just told him I had this idea of making the song into a weird, Twin Peaks kind of trippy, sad, weird moment and he just knew exactly how to give it that sound.”

McLean’s melancholic renditions of “River” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are part of a larger collection of singles released by her label, Blue Elan, to benefit The Alliance for Children’s Rights. And there’s more in the pipeline; McLean has recorded a cover of Chris Cornell’s “Can’t Change Me,” from his 2005 solo album Euphoria Mourning, as part of a tribute album produced by the Cornell family.

She describes her version as “moody and kind of ethereal and really vibey, with a lot of harmonies and weird things like that.” Roan Yellowthorn will also be releasing a series of cover singles starting in January 2020 and recording a new studio album with John Agnello to be released in the summer. “I love singing and I love interpreting songs,” McLean says of her packed schedule. “It’s such a blessing in my life to have the opportunity to do that.”

McLean’s musical roots run deep, and not just because she’s Don McLean’s daughter. Even when she’s talking about digital music, her vocabulary is littered with slang like “give it a spin” indicative of her love of vinyl. “For me music in general and songwriting and the whole experience, I like it because it’s grounding,” she says. “If you follow that into a medium, then analog is the most grounding form… that feeling of being grounded and in contact with something is comforting to me.”

Finding meaning in the music is partly what drew her to Joni Mitchell’s 1971 masterwork Blue in the first place. “A lot of the music from that era and lot of the indie music from this era is more unvarnished and honest and raw and just less about the shiny packaging and more about the human emotion,” she says—and that’s what she wants listeners to take away from her unorthodox holiday singles. “Just the idea that you can feel any way that you want to feel at any time, even if it seems like everyone is happy around you,” she explains. “Honor the feelings that you’re experiencing and experience them.”

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text