Lori McKenna makes cry – in a good “It’s a Wonderful Life” way. The kind of cry when you realize that the love and generosity of people is greater than you thought. Love is big. You are small. Even though life hurts sometimes, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
I should clarify that it is her songs, not her, and only a few of her songs at that.
I saw her album “The Bird and the Rifle” on several 2016 year-end best of lists. One day I had to come home early on account of a migraine, and I was looking for any sort of distraction. I listened to the first song, “Wreck You,” and had to hit the stop button. What had just happened? It was like chugging a Flannery O’Connor story in three minutes and eighteen seconds. It wasn’t a song. It was an event. I didn’t listen again for a long time. To this day I’ve only listened to it a handful of times. I didn’t need to listen to it again.
Then I listened to a few more songs, all very good, before I got to “Humble and Kind,” and then I had a good cry. I had never heard that song before. I didn’t know that Tim McGraw had won song of the year with it the year before. If you are a parent or have parents, make sure you have a tissue handy.
Since then, I google Lori McKenna, every few months to see if she has anything new coming out. I had July 24th circled on my calendar for a few months because that was the release day for her latest album “The Balladeer.” I think it is her strongest album. The killer songs are “Marie,” “The Dream,” and maybe the best of all her songs, “When You’re My Age.”
Her previous album, “The Tree,” is really good. It starts off with “A Mother Never Rests,” “The Fixer,” and “People Get Old.” I was in the car the first time I heard those songs, so I had to pull into a parking lot to pull it together. On “The Balladeer,” “Marie” and “The Dream” are the third and fourth tracks. You have a bit of a grace period before you get the heavy songs.
McKenna’s story also makes me cry. I am so happy for her. She is the mother of five who started writing songs in the evening after her kids went to bed. Her brothers encouraged her to start playing open mics in the mid-1990s around Boston near where she lives, which eventually lead to her recording and releasing three albums on her own. In a Cinderella turn of events in 2004, her fourth album was “discovered” by Faith Hill who decided to redo some of her own album, “Fireflies,” with some McKenna songs and even brought her to perform with her on Oprah. Fast forward almost a decade and in back to back years she won country song of the year with “Girl Crush” for Little Big Town (2015) and “Humble and Kind” for Tim McGraw (2016).