For the last 18 months or so, you’ve heard a lot of Lori McKenna. First, with Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and then, most recently, with Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.” McKenna co-wrote the LBT GRAMMY-winning hit with friends and songwriting partners, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey. The No. 1 “Humble and Kind” was a solo songwriting effort.
McKenna’s 10th album release, The Bird & The Rifle, just happens to be one of the best of 2016. Even her own version of “Humble and Kind” kind of makes you forget about McGraw’s version. And his version will undoubtedly be up for several CMA Awards and probably a GRAMMY too.
There’s a profound sadness in McKenna’s voice when she sings. Not the kind of sadness that makes you sad, but the kind that makes you long for something or think deeper about something. The kind of sadness that you can relate to all too easily. The profoundness comes from being a veteran songwriter in Nashville– who is also the mother of five and doesn’t even live in Nashville.
McKenna carries so much truth in her voice and stories, you feel like the story is yours.
For time’s sake and because at some point, there aren’t quite enough of the right words to describe this album, I’ll just tell you why you should be listening to this devastatingly raw album.
1. Dave Cobb produced it.
If you’re at all well-versed in the country music scene right now, you’ll know that Cobb produced Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free. The tracks build around her distinct voice in a way that capture her monumental stories with just the right amount of fanfare and swagger.
2. The stories.
McKenna didn’t sing in public until she was 27 years old, though she had been writing songs most of her life. She’s found a way to take words and phrase them in ways that few others can. The title track actually comes from an episode of “Modern Family.” It’s about an unhappy couple, not a bird or a rifle.
And the bird is always dreaming out the window
Looking at that big wide open sky
And the rifle, he used to be a dreamer
But he wasn’t meant to fly
Something down on the ground
Won’t let her out, it holds her in
And he’s afraid if she flies
She’ll never come home again
Something about the bird
And her spreading those wings
Always brings the rifle out in him
She’s been married to her high school sweetheart since she was 19 and the tune “We Were Cool” reflects the days of being “green as an evergreen” and hearing “Duran Duran on the radio.” She doesn’t sound all that cool when singing it, but then again– she does. The same with “Giving Up On Your Hometown” — she still lives in her’s, but somehow, she seems to be describing your hometown or maybe even mine.
It don’t make sense
But the cheap motel is always open
Seems like we’re sitting in a handbasket
Wondering where it’s going
There’s a freshwater shark in a small fish tank
Behind the counter
Door’s always locked
And you gotta pre-pay in cash by the hour
3. The details.
McKenna writes about everyday life, just like a lot of her peers. But what makes her markedly different is her ability to capture the details of each song and each story like no one. Again in “We Were Cool,” she tells us about the time in our lives “before we ever heard of the Internet.” Not just before we all had the Internet, but before we had ever even heard of it.
With “All These Things” McKenna describes all the great things a person could be to another, things not often used to describe something great, “the laugh that you get in the kitchen chair, making up the day’s grand plans.” And her delivery of the line, “the day that’s unseasonably warm, in the middle of the coldest winter,” reminds you that those days even exist.
Every song on The Bird & The Rifle is uniquely different than anything coming out of different right now. It’s not the album that’s going to “save” country music or one that will finally bury bro-country, but it will make your heart hurt in a way that only really, really good music can.
Lori McKenna – The Bird &The Rifle