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Album Review: Lori McKenna – The Tree

Artist: Lori McKenna

Album: The Tree

Year: 2018

Label: CN Records

Genre: Folk, Americana, Singer-Songwriter

What you won’t find on two-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s eleventh studio album is a hell-raising good time party anthem. What you will find are a few tears rolling down your face as you listen to the words of each song. The Tree, like her 2016 release The Bird and the Rifle, was produced by Dave Cobb. The production is simple, but the feelings McKenna leaves you with are anything but. Cobb has a knack for honing in on just what a record needs to compliment an artist’s strongest abilities. With McKenna, it’s her honest and captivating songwriting.

Photo Credit: Becky Fluke

Even if you’re not familiar with her name, you’ll surely be familiar with some of Lori McKenna’s songs. She penned Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” and co-wrote Carrie Underwood’s most recent single, “Cry Pretty,” Hunter Hayes’ “I Want Crazy,” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” just to name a few. Reba McEntire, Alison Krauss, Faith Hill, and Keith Urban also have McKenna to thank for songs in their repertoires. In 2017 the songstress won an ACM Award for Songwriter of the Year making her the first woman to do so in the award show’s 52-year history. McKenna also has a CMA Award for Song of the Year for “Girl Crush,” and as mentioned earlier, she’s also won two Grammy Awards for Best Country Song. One in 2016 for “Girl Crush,” and the second in 2017 for “Humble and Kind.”

Having written songs like “Humble and Kind” and “Girl Crush” we know that McKenna isn’t afraid to tackle difficult emotions head-on. The Tree takes on a similar air to “Humble and Kind.” This is an album about home, about family, about regular ordinary life; it’s a mother reflecting back on the life she built passing advice and words of wisdom from the things she’s learned as a wife, a mother, a friend, and a lover, even as a songwriter on to her children. McKenna, having five of her own, is well versed in her choice of content. Her vivid prose is what makes her music so striking. She is undoubtedly one of the best songwriters of this generation, filling the shoes and then some of the songwriters of days gone by. McKenna takes every detail from life’s simplest things and makes them elegant whether it’s throwing bottles at chain link fences, scrubbing bathroom tiles and cutting threads off kitchen towels, the smell of summer rising off the driveway, or tinkering with kitchen lights. The Tree is unquestionably the album of a songwriter.

Photo Credit: Becky Fluke

With her lyrics gaining traction on the airwaves for other artists, she lays herself out on the line in a soothing alto hum as if to say, “This is me, this is my life, what makes me tick; take me or leave me.” Rather than captivate listeners with the steady pulse of a kick drum, the infamous slide of a steel guitar, or twin fiddles, the songs McKenna produces under her own name are far milder than that, putting complete focus on her rich storytelling with its gentle acoustics, no backing track any more powerful than the words she’s written.

Each and every one of us is going to find a little piece of our lives on this album. We’ll hear our weary mothers, see our quiet fathers, and we’ll recognize ourselves and our wilder, younger days. If you’ve yet to stumble across Lori McKenna’s solo work, namely The Tree, you’re missing out on something especially important; the soundtrack to your life.

Favourite songs: A Mother Never Rests, People Get Old, Young and Angry Again, You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone, The Way Back Home, Like Patsy Would

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