Monday, January 24, 2011

CD Album Review- Lori McKenna- Lorraine

There may not be an I in team, but there sure is in songwriter.

And therein lies the strength of Lori McKenna’s new album, Lorraine. It’s a highly introspective collection told from a powerful and personal place. She has woven a patchwork of life moments- mostly relationship-oriented ones- that are hypnotically autobiographical. McKenna has channeled her own experiences into song and brought with them all of her own hopes and dreams. The songs bathe themselves in insecurities, vulnerabilities and celebrations of life. It results in an emotional history that a listener can actually feel and hear in sound.

With a voice that’s kind of a cross between Miranda Lambert and Jessica Andrews, McKenna has thus far been known as much for being a successful songwriter than a performing artist. Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Alison Krauss, Keith Urban and Lee Ann Rimes are all artists that have recorded McKenna songs. If the world was just and fair, McKenna would be a star in her own right.

No song epitomizes the gist of this album more than the title track, “Lorraine.” Not only is it Lori’s given full name, but it is her mother’s name as well. The resulting song draws on her life-story as a child. She harkens back to her childhood and reflects on her mom- who passed away tragically when she was only seven years old- whose character and sacrifice made an indelible impact. Details of the celebratory daily life minutia that cement those memories in her mind spill out in lines like dancing to Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert. Those joyful memories that may not seem important to anyone else, (“That don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me,)” are extremely important because she allows us to peek behind the curtain.

There is a power that comes with the use of I as the protagonist- as long as it’s believable and feels lived in. On “All I Ever Do,” McKenna the storyteller takes the mundane of everyday life and wraps up an incredible love story in it every lover wishes they had. “You Get a Love Song” is an upbeat look at her own relationship that details her marriage at a young age. It reveals the lack of glamour love can have at times and the hard work and effort that goes into it. Getting a love song named after you seems a just reward. The song is incredibly relatable for anyone married with kids who still has mad love for their spouse but has a difficult time locating that fairytale love story that Taylor Swift sometimes sings about. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” analyzes the other side of the relationship coin in a song that reminds the listener of all of the best parts of Sarah Buxton/Keith Urban’s raw and emotional “Stupid Boy.”

She even draws in the reader to fill in the blanks. On “That’s How You Know,” she never comes out and says what you should know about. But with a descriptive collection of symptoms of heartbreak and recovery, the reader can place themselves in the middle of the song while still gaining more insight into McKenna the person.

The album closes with a song that doubles as a prayer to her mother, Lorraine. “Still Down Here” is an emotional dedication to the loved ones that have left their earthly bindings behind them and gone on to heaven. But the song balances that with an equal reflection of the ones who don’t want to be forgotten about still on Earth. They search for love, validation and guidance as well. It’s hauntingly written and the slight waver in her voice- perhaps even a warble- tells as much about Lori’s love for her mom as any of the lyrics that precede it.

The album resonates so well because McKenna has blurred the lines between herself and the character(s) she creates. She literally fills the area between the lines with her own experiences. It’s nothing overtly commercial, instead communicative, compassionate and personally revealing. I love it.

Key Tracks:
The Luxury Of Knowing
If He Tried
You Get A Love Song
All I Ever Do
Still Down Here

The Verdict:
Four and a half stars out of five