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Lori McKenna

Massachusetts – 2013 (1-2-3-4-GO!)

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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CDs by Lori McKenna

It still seems bizarre that such a great singer-songwriter like Lori McKenna, who's written songs for the likes of such country luminaries as Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, among others, as well as crafting her own records, reflecting an honest and insightful look into real life, is not a household name. Yet, perhaps, the Massachusetts-based artist is just fine with that, as her latest album, ironically titled after her home state, seems to suggest.

McKenna's songwriting has always managed to offer up a strong sense of honesty and power, sometimes exploring darker territories, and opener Salt is no different with its harsh declaration that "You aren't worth the spit in my mouth" while an acoustic invitation to heartbreak colors Make Every Word Hurt, McKenna's delivery recalling elements of Mary Gauthier's artistry. Shake carries this dark journey along as she sings of longing for that which is killing her, over a throbbing bass note and building arrangement.

Yet, while McKenna's lyrics oftentimes indulge in darker matters of life and relationship, there's light to be found here as well on tracks like Susanna, a tale couched in mourning, but showing the beauty of lasting love, and the laid-back love of How Romantic Is That as she sings: "I still want you - I still love you/I still lie there every night beside you/Every time I walk away from you I come running back/How romantic is that." Better With Time carries that same, time-worn feeling of love earned by hard, shared experiences, buoyed by some light piano notes and fiddle fills while Love Can Put It Back Together offers hope and Grown Up closes things out with a touch of parental reflection, speaking to her adult child over a simple acoustic guitar delivery.

And while it may be a crime that McKenna hasn't reached superstar status, perhaps, for her and for her listeners, that's for the best. McKenna's humble approach that continues to churn out solid, relatable and honest tunes speaking to both the ears and the heart may be compromised were she to go "big." Yet, for now, on "Massachusetts" she manages to continue delighting her fans with warm, heartfelt truths.