CD Review: Lori McKenna's 'Lorraine'
It’s easy to hear the appeal of Lori McKenna’s songs to country music stars and fans: the trials and tribulations, thoughts and actions of her everyday characters are those that fill countless country songs.
Yet I certainly didn’t come to her music from a country music angle. I first heard her singing “Fireflies” on the disc “Respond,” a compilation of songs by female folk singer-songwriters, and followed her with delight through the superlative “Bittertown.”
That album is what caught the attention of country-music queen Faith Hill, and gave Lori her brief shot at stardom. Lori toured with Faith, appeared on “Oprah” with her, and garnered her a deal with Warner Nashville which produced “Unglamorous,” a nice, if overly produced, group of country-leaning tunes. And while the attention was certainly warranted, it left me wanting my Lori back again.
And, luckily for me, she came back.
Her new album, “Lorraine,” is out Jan. 25 and it is everything I hoped for. According to her, the album is named after her mother, though she admits that her real name is Lorraine as well, so it may be just about as much about herself.
And as with her songs of the past, you deeply feel the pain, the uncertainty, the love that her characters feel in her lyrics.
She opens with “The Luxury of Knowing” (which Keith Urban actually sings as a bonus track on his new album), about the ups and downs of a couple’s relationship:
You know that I like to dance/ But only when I’m dancing with you/ You know I must be bad at lying/ Because I’ve only ever told you the truth. Just when I think you’re a hurricane/ You freeze right over and all that rain/ Turns to ice and your whole world just starts snowing/ I don’t have the luxury of knowing These lyrics just flow out of her. They could be about me, about you, about people we know. And her voice and delivery is so convincing of both the ache and love. It is why when you hear Faith Hill or Keith Urban sing her songs, well, it’s just not the same.
The title track, “Lorraine,” may be the most personal song of all here as she sings about her relationship with her mother, who died when Lori was small. The opening lines are so descriptive and wonderful:
The kitchen smells like orange peels/ Her stomach turns like a spinning wheel/ She puts the baby down in a little seat/ You should rest now mama you should eat/ It ain’t right you’ve been working all day and all us kids getting in your way/ So she goes to bed as soon as the kitchen’s clean/ And that don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me.
Other great songs include “You Get a Love Song,” which starts soft but turns into one of the few rocking songs on the album, and “Buy This Town,” which Lori described in concert as a song she wrote in her head while driving her kids back and forth through her town to school multiple times in the course of a day.
There’s also a lot more piano on this album than on her past ones. “If He Tried” has with a delicate keyboard intro and “Rocket Science” is pretty much just her voice and the piano (there’s some atmospheric guitar and backing vocals that add to the song’s beauty). My favorite song on the album is “Sweet Disposition,” an incredibly soulful and sad tune about someone who has lost her way but trying to find their way back:
My mother left me a wedding band/ And impossible shoes to fill/ Something I’ve always tried to do/ But I know I never will. If you ask my children about me/ I wish in their brief description/ They’d say I love them with a true heart and a sweet disposition.
Wow. If this stuff doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will. This is the Lori we know and love.