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‘The Bird & The Rifle’ review: Lori McKenna sings ‘real’ country

Lori McKenna's

Lori McKenna's "The Bird & The Rifle" is the singer-songwriter's ninth studio album. Photo Credit: CN / Thirty Tigers Records

THE GRADE A

BOTTOM LINE The celebrated country songwriter steps into the spotlight herself

Will Lori McKenna become this year’s Chris Stapleton, another country “overnight sensation” decades in the making?

Well, she certainly should be. Like Stapleton, the Stoughton, Massachusetts, singer-songwriter has written or co-written hits for a who’s who of country music, including Hunter Hayes’ chart-topping “I Want Crazy” and Little Big Town’s Grammy-winning “Girl Crush.” On her new album “The Bird & The Rifle” (CN/Thirty Tigers), McKenna works with producer Dave Cobb, who handled Stapleton’s “Traveller.” And, also like Stapleton, her album is filled with “real” country, genuine stories sung in her distinctive voice, including a song about whiskey.

Tim McGraw recently took her song “Humble and Kind” to No. 1 on the country charts, but McKenna uses it here as well, giving the potential Song of the Year Grammy candidate her own more motherly spin. However, crafting gorgeous sentiments is only one of McKenna’s skills.

She’s pretty straightforward about her thoughts on May-December romances in “Old Men, Young Women.” “Old men, young women, only work in the beginning,” she sings surrounded by the trappings of classic country. “She’s the past in a summer dress, he’s a ride in a red Corvette. She’s a prize, he’s winning.”

In true country form, McKenna writes a lot about broken relationships, but they are filled with real, often flawed people. It’s clear what side she’s on in track “The Bird & The Rifle,” which tells the story of a dysfunctional couple, but she tries to explain where each side is coming from. The details she uses in “Wreck You,” right down to the change in the car’s ashtray, or “We Were Cool,” where she recalls where the relationship was when Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were playing in their car, are what makes her one of the best songwriters in country music right now.

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