By Helen Jerome
For so long, McKenna has been the creator of timeless, homespun tunes for other artists and bands. Now, with 1988, she’s managed to keep some of the very best for herself.
1. The Old Woman in Me
2. Happy Children
3. Killing Me feat. Hillary Lindsey
4. Days Are Honey
6. Growing Up
7. Wonder Drug
8. The Town in Your Heart
9. Letting People Down 10. The Tunnel
10. The Tunnel
Known as the songwriters’ songwriter, Lori McKenna is a rare gem of a solo performer.
Her fourth studio album is named after the year she married her childhood sweetheart and, featuring co-writes with two of her sons, is filled to the brim with hard times, small-town blues and existential questions about life itself.
Kicking off with the gentle swell of ‘The Old Woman in Me’, McKenna’s powerful vocals soar above descending chords, with unapologetic verses that feel like pages ripped from a journal in Sunset Boulevard style.
Written with her son Chris, ‘Happy Children’ finds guitars fizzing around the edges as she sings of leaving a legacy through your kids. Her other son, Brian, helps with the title track; a pure love story of the dreams, storms and plans of married-life.
It’s in the latter part of the album, however, that McKenna really rolls up her sleeves and gets down to business. Here, she addresses her own small-town background and the memories it holds. Romanticising on the sepia-toned ‘Growing Up’, she plunges into the very heart of its darkness on ‘Wonder Drug’ and ‘The Town in Your Heart’.
The first is an honest look at addiction, the monster taking hold of small towns around America, and her wish that love had instead been the wonder drug that gripped them.
The second is a sweeping arrangement of big guitar melodies, yet is drenched in sadness, anger and regret, McKenna longing to keep a loved one’s memory alive after their untimely death. She aptly closes with ‘The Tunnel’, asking questions as she pores over a map of the area, perhaps searching for light at the end of the tunnel.
All ten tracks on McKenna’s latest album prove that we’ve previously underestimated her strengths as a performer. For so long, McKenna has been the creator of timeless, homespun tunes for other artists and bands. Now, with 1988, she’s managed to keep some of the very best for herself.
Lori McKenna's 2023 album, City of Gold, is released via Nonesuch records.
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