After country divas Sara Evans and Faith Hill recorded a couple of her tunes for their last records, Boston-native Lori McKenna started to recieve interest from Nashville’s major labels. Warner Brothers (home of Faith Hill) eventually won out and re-issued Lori’s 2004 “Bittertown.” Three years later Lori returns with her first major label funded release, “Unglamorous.” Ably produced by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw,”Unglamorous” positions McKenna on the same side of the country fence as rising star Miranda Lambert on some tracks while more or less placing Lori in the fertile fields of smart singer/songwriter music that was a pathway to gold and platinum for Mary Chapin Carpenter. It’s the amalgum of the two distinct styles that makes Lori McKenna rise above the MOR terretory that many female artists are forced to follow in Nashville.
Leading off the record is the swampy, spirited “I Know You.” In the grand tradition of country cheatin’ songs (or the appearance of one), the songs starts with the lyric “you never woke up beside a stranger, but you’ve never spent a night alone….” In reality, the song is about Lori’s husband Gene. They’ve been married since they were teenagers and known each-other since they were in the 3rd grade. It’s the kind of song that is a different kind of love song, it says that she knows her man better than anyone else in the world and, like it or not, that’s a fact that will never change. The title track comes up next and it’s a brilliantly mixed Patty Griffin-like story song about the way that the song discusses, common people with their whole lives exposed. Honestly, It’s the kind of song that Faith Hill probably will record if only to prove to people that stars aren’t glamorous all of the time. Country radio won’t spin this track but, “Americana,” Triple A and AC stations should. “Your Next Lover” discusses, over a laid back melody, about the realities of making way through a new relationship and the fact that Lori observes a man’s ‘tells’ while he tries out new relationships. McGraw provides harmony vocals on the song.
“Witness To Your Life” and “Drinkin’ Problem” talk about two vastly distinct experiences in life. “Witness” is a radio ready track that discusses relationships or the lack there of while “Problem” finds Lori in complete country torch mode as she sings about her alcoholic husband as they struggle with his problems and how, like any relationship, those problems become her problems as well. It’s a very open and honest song that shows that alcohol harms more than just the addict and that we all can become addicted to it even if we’re not the ones drinking it.
There’s a lot to like about Lori McKenna and this fine album. Unglamorous is not the typical mainstream country record but it wasn’t ever intended to be like that and for that Tim McGraw, Byron Gallimore and Warner Nashville should be commended. She’s a unique singer/songwriter with some of the most open and honest songs you’ll ever hear. She is the kind of artist that needs to be listened to time and time again. She’s a superstar songwriter and a very good singer who also happens to be a wife and mother as well.