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Things change for McKenna, but not everything

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., December 18, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
The more things change - and in the case of Lori McKenna, that's a really good thing - the more they remain the same. Not only is that also a really good thing for McKenna, but also her fans.

This was the annual rite of December for McKenna in coming to her home area of Massachusetts and playing a run of shows at the venerable club where she has toiled many a night over the years.

Only McKenna keeps showing you can go home again - if you want anyway - despite increasing respect and success in her main method of making a living, songwriting.

McKenna received four Grammy nominations a few weeks ago, pretty much thanks to Tim McGraw covering her very fine song of advising your children how to behave, "Humble And Kind."

All well and good, but she also released another worthy album on her own, "The Bird and the Rifle," going top 20 on the Billboard country albums chart her first week out. It's safe to say that the sales resulted from her songwriting acclaim.

At the closing show of her Passim run, McKenna concentrated on the new material, and it was up the quality of previous efforts. Armed with an acoustic guitar and only aided at the end by keyboardist Jamie Edwards, McKenna was unadorned, letting the songs stand on the lyrics.

McKenna painted pictures of honest feelings and attitudes about people and relationships and conveyed them with her singing ability. "We Were Cool" detailed her teen romance with now plumber husband Eugene. Some songwriters ought to remain in that profession only, but McKenna has carved out a niche as a performer as well. She may not be Faith Hill, who has covered her songs and first helped boost her career, but McKenna's vocals get to the heart of the material without overdoing it.

Per usual, she remained an affable artist as well, engaging with a few people she recognized in the crowd and also wondering if her son was present. There was no star quality whatsoever about McKenna. That's not who she has ever been.

McKenna may enjoy an extensive list of songwriting credits, but she didn't play that card very often on this evening. In fact, she closed her set (McKenna joked about hating the whole concept of encores, and while maybe she technically did do one, she never left the stage and had made it crystal clear that she would sing a bit more) with her biggest hit, "Girl Crush."

Curiously, it wasn't as if McKenna received a big hand in particular when she started playing the song. It's as if her fans were quite attuned to McKenna's own material that hadn't been made famous by anyone else (yet?).

McKenna closed with "Humble and Kind." Not only has she taught her children (there are five of them) well, but she has seemingly lived up to that motto as well. She has the hits, released her own albums and headlined clubs nationwide, but Boston is home.

Change is good, at least when it comes to the type of success McKenna has encountered. But so is being able to return to one's roots.