BOTTOM LINE Modern-day folk songs that find the heroism in everyday life.
Lori McKenna has been a top-tier country songwriter for years, increasingly gaining attention from co-writing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and writing Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.”
But on her new album “The Tree” (CN / Thirty Tigers), McKenna shows why no one sings her songs better than she does. As usual McKenna’s lyrics are detailed and poignant, but it’s her phrasing and delivery that makes them truly come to life.
“Here’s what I know,” she begins on the moving “A Mother Never Rests.” “Even when she’s sleeping, she’s still dreamin’ about you.” It’s the first in a series of truths she offers from the experience of raising her own five kids. “She's a silhouette smilin' with the weight of the world on her chest,” she sings later, a mix of determination and dreaminess. “She'll move a mountain for you by the afternoon — a mother never rests.”
On the first single “People Get Old,” McKenna serves as the knowing storyteller, as she relays personal memories. “My daddy had a Timex watch, cigarette in his hand and a mouthful of scotch,” she sings, conjuring up a picture of life in Stoughton, Massachusetts, the town where she grew up and still lives, “spinnin' me around like a Tilt-a-Whirl on his arm.”
She is offering truisms (“Houses need paint, winters bring snow . . . Live long enough and people get old”) but also capturing how those realities can still be painful. In the title track, she gives the line “No matter how much I’ve denied it, the apple never falls far from the tree” layers of meaning, deepened by her phrasing choices and the spare production of Dave Cobb, best known for his work with Chris Stapleton and producer of McKenna’s previous album, the Grammy-nominated “The Bird and The Rifle.”
On “The Tree,” McKenna celebrates the ordinary and holds it up as heroic, a skill that she has honed to become her superpower.
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