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Lori McKenna - Unglamorous 
Review By: George Peden, CSO Staff Journalist

What a strong, sensitive and revealing album. They were my first thoughts on hearing Unglamorous, the Warner Bros debut from Lori McKenna. With four independent and self-released albums to her recording apprenticeship, McKenna has used them as seasoning to this, an incredibly engaging album.

With five children and a marriage of 19 years to her plumber husband, Gene, this Boston born takes the probable and predictable life of suburban domesticity and turns in masterful work. All the tunes are both crafted and thoughtful. Her modest claim, shared at her web site: “I’m just a housewife from Stoughton who likes to write songs,” shows a simple wonderment to her well received tunes. 

Listening to this album, it’s plain. McKenna comes doubly gifted. Both in her songwriting, which is a strong, observational pointed take on the passing parade around her, and in her clear vocal style. With both she delivers what some are saying is one of the sit-up and listen albums for 2007. They may just be right. Faith Hill, for one, spotted the obvious early.

Hill, enjoying American popularity with hubby Tim on their Soul 2 Soul tours, grabbed three McKenna tunes for her chart flying album, Fireflies. And just to show the admiration was family shared, Tim McGraw partnered with respected producer Byron Gallimore to produce McKenna’s 11 tracks.

McKenna opens her album with the probing “I Know You”. Written from the perspective of time, proving the longer you’re with someone, the less there is to hide. The focused first person lyrics paint suburban honesty. “You never woke up beside a stranger/but you never spent a night alone/in your jacket is a flask of Southern Comfort/ in your pocket you’ve got a comb/I know you – I know you….” The stylish mention of D.H Lawrence being the favored poet – if you thought poetry was cool – shows polished strokes to McKenna’s songwriting. 

The album moves through the tumble, the reality, and the honesty of emotive sharing, mostly self-written by McKenna, stopping frequently at some real and gritty tunes of substance. The title track is one. “Unglamorous” tells of family reality with frozen dinners around a crowded table, woolen socks on the floor, faded curtains and thread bare rugs. It’s authentic imagery of hardship, sung with a voice that neither whines nor moans, rather is strong with the joy of family bonds that bind.

Another tune, “Falter”, is a reflective nod to individual differences. The essence of the message is simple: reach out, touch, connect and learn that empathy is a commodity that shouldn’t be in short supply. But the standout tune, one that drew me in and made me think deeply, is “Drinkin’ Problem”. It’s intimate. It’s honest. It’s real. It’s for those who struggle, as they will relate to the message easily. McKenna’s pained vocal (Tim McGraw lends harmony) tells in plaintive terms the strain alcohol dependence places on living and loving. It’s country to its core.

This is rich and diverse album. Tunes like “Written Permission” is a vitriolic route march to the front door for a wayward husband; the emotive frustration of being used and overlooked plays out on “Confetti”; Leaving This Life” offering the sad passing of a mother and the shatter a 6 year old feels – all showcase a writer with a communal sensitivity, well expressed in wholesome and life revealing tunes.

McKenna is a singer songwriter of note. Now she’s in the mainstream, expect to hear and see much more, for hers is an artistry that is anything but unglamorous.

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