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Lori McKenna

The Bird & The Rifle – 2016 (CN/Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Lori McKenna

Lori McKenna's back story is a country song brought to vivid yet unaffected life. Married with five children, the Massachusetts native began exploring her longstanding musical gifts - she wrote her first song at 13 - by playing for family and friends, who then forced her to attend a regional coffee house open mic. After two years of regular gigging with her poignant songs of everyday life and becoming a favorite among Boston folk fans, McKenna self-released her debut, "Paper Wings and Halo," then signed with Signature Sounds for her next three albums. Lightning struck when Faith Hill covered three McKenna songs on 2005's "Fireflies," which led to McKenna's opening gig for Hill and Tim McGraw's Soul2Soul Tour and a short-lived Warner Brothers contract. McKenna's last three albums have been indie releases, but her songwriting star continues to shine brightly; she's been covered by or contributed to over 30 artists, including Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Hunter Hayes and Alison Krauss, and just this year, she was Grammy nominated twice for her work on Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," winning for Best Country Song.

"The Bird & the Rifle," produced by the perpetually busy Dave Cobb, shows once again that the amazing accomplishments she's notched over the past two decades have had little impact on her homespun, heartfelt perspective and presentation. Her wheelhouse has always been first person, mid-tempo reflections on the scuffed beauty and honest travails of day to day living, as evidenced by the lead track and first single, "Wreck You," where the song's narrator details a deteriorating relationship. The title cut examines a similarly troubled marriage from the viewpoint of the titular props, but quiet hope permeates "Always Want You," a little less quietly in "All These Things."

Like McKenna's entire catalog, "The Bird & the Rifle" is gorgeously melancholy, a perfect snapshot evocation of life in all its imperfections, and her songwriting success is the small print of the American Dream, written parenthetically underneath the titles of a hundred songs we know and love and live.