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