Lori McKenna (not to be confused with Loreena McKennitt) is a well-worn name round country-folk campfires.
Hailing from the taverns of the Massachusetts folk scene, McKenna’s had eight well-received releases, and penned ditties for the likes of Hunter Hayes and Little Big Town. Now on her ninth outing, McKenna shows she’s still a song-writing heavyweight with a keen eye for the poetic.
‘The Bird And The Rifle’ treads that perilous minefield between country and folk, but manages to own that no-man’s land with a comfortable stroll. McKenna’s lyrics are the stars of the show, mixing country ain’t-it-just-so earnestness with Dylan-style folk-fuelled verbosity. The album features the usual cast of small-town captives, regretful romantics and bitter nostalgics, but McKenna’s flair for detail give these tired tropes new life. The “Freshwater shark in the small fish tank” from ‘Giving Up On My Hometown’ is the kind of titbit that elevates these tracks above the late-night drive-anthem rank-and-file.
McKenna deviates from the closing-time whiskey-swillers format too. The title track gives us an anthropomorphic fable take on the abusive relationship ballad. Steeped in wordplay and Tom Waits turns of phrase, it’s a pity more of the album doesn’t try this Little-town America fairy-tale approach. Another oddball is ending track ‘If Whiskey Were A Woman’ which almost does for simile what Alanis Morissette did for irony.
The production on the album is deftly done, with McKenna’s crisp vocals taking centre-stage. The album’s sweeping strings are a wise addition, especially on ‘Wreck You’ and ‘Humble and Kind’, and give these last-orders heartbreakers a classier veneer. Like Willie Nelson slipping on a blazer and nipping into a wine bar.
If there’s any criticism, it’s that McKenna could do this in her sleep. Tracks like ‘Halfway Home’ are typical of the slow-burn narratives McKenna is famous for. They’re easy radio-plays, either performed by her or slipped to another artist. But they’re nothing new. Then again, perhaps that’s what country music is really all about. Things never changing.
Overall, this is a solid, if unsurprising, country-folk hybrid. The lyrics are snappy, the vocals are sharp, and the strings are swelling. With fleshed-out characters and a narrative streak all wrapped in an accessible soft-country package, it’s an ideal album for the overly-cerebral Nashville bartender looking for something to stick on before his after-hours poetry club.
‘The Bird and The Rifle’ is available now on CN Records.
This Lori McKenna article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson