Lori McKenna - 1988
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1988 (CN, 2023)

Lori McKenna

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

Seemingly in a blink, Lori McKenna has released her 12th album, "1988," named for the year she married her husband, Gene. Steady prolific output at about an album every other year, this is the fourth produced by Dave Cobb, the first call producer for Nashville singer-songwriters of McKenna's caliber.

The album rings a bit more electric than previous offerings as McKenna and Cobb sat across from each other in the same room, cutting the basic tracks live. McKenna confesses to going after a '90s pop-rock sound musically, indicating that "something so 30 years ago was in her head." As per usual, McKenna writes some songs herself, with frequent collaborators Hillary Lindsey and Luke Laird, and this time out, two with family members.

The album takes us through a myriad of moods and emotions with astute, clever and often provocative lyrics along the way. "The Old Woman in Me" is the opposite of all-too-common reflection on youth while "Killing Me" is the epitome of McKenna's lyrical strengths – "Would it kill you to be happy because trying to make you happy is killing me." Yet, she lauds the values of an enduring marriage and the blessing of five children in "Days of Honey" and the title track. "Happy Children," written with her son, Chris, is also upbeat and teeming with charming messages.

Along with the bliss and nostalgia are some tougher themes too as we'd expect from the long proven courageous songwriter. "Growing Up" is her effort to bring comfort to so many of her generation going through the periods of losing their parents. "Wonder Drug" takes on opioid addiction, and "Town in Your Heart" essays the brutal results of alcohol addiction. "Letting People Down" actually reflects on being blessed when so many are not while "The Tunnel" is initially a dark narrative that blossoms into a gospel infused hopeful message as she exits. It's superior songcraft from one of our very best writers.

McKenna's collaborations with Cobb have all been poignantly strong. This makes four in a row.

CDs by Lori McKenna

1988, 2023 Christmas Right Here, 2021 The Balladeer, 2020 The Tree, 2018 The Bird & The Rifle, 2016 Numbered Doors, 2014 Massachusetts, 2013 Lorraine, 2011 Unglamorous, 2007

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