McKenna's set list included a healthy portion of songs from her fine most recent solo album, "The Bird & The Rifle." It was amazing how many sad songs this seemingly happy and well-adjusted young woman has written. "Halfway Home," which she sang with cowriter and friend Barry Dean, gets inside the confused head of a woman on her post-one night stand ride home "still wearing yesterday's clothes." She has good intentions and longs for true love, yet knows yesterday's bedroom activities have nothing to do with that worthy goal.
"Old Men Young Women" tells truths about strange bedfellow couples of widely varying ages that each buy into the lie that these relationships will beat the long odds and last.
In front of a packed house, McKenna sang the words to these sad songs as though she was living out these tragic scenarios right before our very eyes. "We Were Cool," also from "The Bird & The Rifle," might have come off like another youthful nostalgic trek in the hands of a lesser lyrical talent. Country radio is filled with such songs that shoot emotional fish in a barrel. McKenna's song is much more serious than that, though. "We had a baby on the way the year our friends started school" she lets out at one point, revealing how youthful behavior isn't always quite so blissfully inconsequential.
And yes, she also sang a few songs we all knew well. "Humble & Kind" is that lyric with all the great parental advice. "Girl Crush," which was controversial for a minute - especially among those without the intelligence or patience to listen to what its lyric actually says - came off as just one more smart song tonight.
In the end, one was left wishing we could one day hear McKenna's voice singing her smartly written words on mainstream country radio. At least this is the thinking person's girl crush.