REVIEW: Lori McKenna – ‘The Bird & The Rifle’

imageIf you know Lori McKenna, you probably know her as one of the most accomplished, sought-after songwriters in Nashville. With a seriously impressive list of song writing credits including ‘Girl Crush’ for Little Big Town and ‘Humble Kind’, you could be forgiven for overlooking her solo artistic efforts. As a singer, Lori has gone completely under the radar (perhaps that’s by choice). Such is the state of country radio and the acceptance of ‘real’ country, she’s unlikely to get that lucky break.

Lori’s 10th studio album ‘The Bird and the Rifle’ is an impeccable collection of tracks that showcase the sheer quality of her writing, as well as her vocal abilities. Any album produced by Dave Cobb is unlikely to disappoint. Stapleton, Isbell, Simpson…you name them. He’s worked with the best in the business.

I always have so much respect for a song writer that can take you away for a moment and place you somewhere alongside the characters within a song. I sang the praises of Brandy Clark’s latest project for this reason, and Lori’s album has exactly the same impact.

The title track ‘The Bird and the Rifle’ is lyrical imagery at its finest. A heart-breaking tale of a woman trying to chase her dreams whilst her controlling partner restricts her from living her life. “Something down on the ground won’t let her out, it holds her in. He’s afraid if she flies she’ll never come home again. Something about the bird in her spreading those wings always brings the rifle out in him”. Lori’s wavering vocals truly reflect the struggles of the girl in question; you can feel the emotion and pain in her delivery.

‘Giving Up On Your Hometown’ follows, a personal favourite and a clear stand-out. A story about returning to a hometown which is virtually unrecognisable – “sunsets still look the way they always do, over the back yard trees my Grandma used to sit under in the afternoon. And you can’t keep anything the way you want it, feels like even the ghosts are getting out. Giving up on your hometown…”. There’s a real warmth about this track but also such sadness at memories that seem to be slowly fading away. Have some tissues nearby!

Lori’s version of the smash-hit ‘Humble and Kind’ is presumably how the song was originally intended to sound, before the orchestral McGraw production grabbed hold of it. Nothing more than a couple of acoustic guitars and a gentle back beat, accompanied by Lori’s raw, emotionally-infused vocals is all that this masterpiece requires. Country music is ‘Your Life In A Song’, right? Surely one of the most universally-relatable country songs written in recent memory; it’s a real life lesson. Thankfully it’s getting the recognition it deserves internationally, and hopefully Lori’s profile and the success of this album will be influenced by it.

Another highlight and perhaps the most edgy track on offer is ‘All These Things’, a foot-tapper with an underlying attitude and grit. The introduction is very reminiscent of Runrig’s ‘Maymorning’. “I could be the bird leading you to your blue sky, you could be the breath in the wings. You could be the love that I thought that I’d never find, baby we could be all these things”.

The style and sound never really strays far from the familiar Lori McKenna path. If the modern, pop-country electric sound is your thing, stay away. If you’re looking for an intricately crafted collection with powerful stories and wonderful instrumentation, be sure to give this one a listen.

I fear that this will be another ‘Big Day In A Small Town’. An album that deserves so much more than it will inevitably receive. Don’t let this one pass you by, it’s well worth 40 minutes of your time. We have yet another contender for our album of the year.