Album Review: Lori McKenna – Lorraine

Blake Boldt | January 17th, 2011

Lori McKenna - LorraineLori McKenna, 42, scored her big break in 2005 when she landed cuts on albums from Nashville starlets Faith Hill and Sara Evans. The next year Warner Bros. Records signed her to a recording contract and she appeared with Hill on an episode of Oprah. It was all heady stuff for the Stoughton, Mass. native, a plumber’s wife and mother of five who only began performing in public in her late 20s.

A split from Warner shortly after the release of 2008’s Unglamorous freed McKenna to follow her creative muse. On her new, self-released album Lorraine, a nod to her given name, she delves deeper into the suburban minefield she’s immersed in. In interviews, McKenna has delighted in the little things in a housewife’s small-town life–prime musical fodder for a mainstream country audience. On record though, she’s more determined to wring out every last drama inside those city limits.

McKenna’s default persona is that of a put-upon woman, barely scraping through a series of mind-numbing days. On “The Luxury of Knowing,” a ballad that Keith Urban covered for his latest album, she mourns a love that has survived more from addiction than affection: “Baby, you’re like a diesel truck/Shiftin’ gears and the pedal’s stuck.” The constant tension carries on with “Sweet Disposition,” where she’s struggling to pinpoint the moment she put a limit on her emotions and ambitions. “Can’t stay warm when the world gets cold,” she sings over a barren acoustic arrangement.

As she explores the pain of a dying romance, she sounds resigned to her fate. The inconvenient question is: How long will it last? The musical arrangements offer few answers. Lorraine is plagued by a sameness in the production; most everything here settles into slow-tempo doldrums. This is a case where some Nashville spit-and-polish (Tim McGraw and producer Byron Gallimore shared producer dutied on Unglamorous) might have made for a better album.

The songs lift McKenna through the muck. Her host of small-town troubles could pose as an inspiration block, but she chooses to move forward with her most loyal fans–her family–by her side. “Buy This Town,” a bittersweet paean to third-shift dreamers and high school love, captures the simple pleasures of life and reveal the roots of her underdog spirit. “We don’t win too often,” she admits while attending a high school basketball game. “But that ain’t why we came.” And none of the 13 tracks match the energy of “You Get a Love Song,” a sprightly tune that seeks the virtues in permanent commitment. “They ain’t gonna make a movie about a couple of fools like us,” she sings. “No one’s gonna write a book about our little love.” Someone might make an awfully good country song out of it, though.

3 Stars

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  1. Ollie
    January 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    “On her new self-released album Lorraine, a nod to her given name…”

    FYI. Lori McKenna’s mother, who died at 42, the same age Lori is now, was also named Lorraine. I strongly suspect that the album’s title is, at least in part, a reference or tribute to her mother, who has been the subject of several of the songs Lori McKenna has written, including “Leaving This Life” on Unglamorous.

  2. Ollie
    January 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    “McKenna’s default persona is that of a put-upon woman, barely scraping through a series of mind-numbing days.”

    Again, just to follow-up, I think some of the songs on this album may be based, at least in part, on Lori McKenna’s reflections about her mother’s life, not– or not only– her own life.

  3. David Hitt
    January 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Nothing against “Unglamorous,” but I personally prefer Lori without the Nashville spit and polish. Stripped of the perfect production, there’s a rawness to Lori’s songwriting and voice that carry an honesty and a realness of emotion.

    A review with a slightly different take:

  4. Lorraine Phillips
    January 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

    When I saw this I was surprised ! My name Is Lorraine and my daughter is Lori and we named her that short for Lorraine . This not only is an awesome song but for me a special meaning ! Thank you so much for sharing ! <3

  5. stormy
    January 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

    David: I couldn’t give it less than 5 stars either.

  6. Jonathan
    January 26, 2011 at 11:49 am

    This is easily my favorite country album since Miranda’s REVOLUTION. She is one of the best songwriters around and this is some of the best vocals of her career.

    I couldn’t really get into UNGLAMOROUS, but this I love. I’m a fan for life now.

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