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Lori McKenna does more than write the songs

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., April 4, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Lori McKenna has enjoyed her greatest success by far as a songwriter in the Nashville community. Folks like Faith Hill, who helped put her on the map, and Little Big Town are among the country crowd, who have recorded McKenna songs. But the engaging McKenna ably demonstrated once again in a club setting that she is fully an artist in her own right.

Yes, it is certainly true that Hill has a better voice - by far - than McKenna, but that didn't mean that McKenna had any difficulty whatsoever in capably putting across a song about adult love in Stealing Kisses. Ditto for My Love Follows You Where You Go which Allison Krauss put down for "Paper Airplanes."

And a bunch more during McKenna's 1 -hour show (the second of two on this night in a four show, two-night run) built as a CD release party of her very fine upcoming disc, "Massachusetts."

McKenna easily dove into the new music, not a difficult task given the quality of the songs. In fact she played 11 of the 12 songs. That could be difficult for many artists, but McKenna was preaching to the very faithful.

McKenna writes well and brings a lot of herself into the songs when performing. As comfortable with soft songs (especially Make Every Word Hurt from the new disc, which was acoustic based) as well as the up-tempo (this band definitely veered towards rock as on Unglamorous), McKenna and crew deliver with a requisite amount of intensity, not overdoing it, but not being afraid to breath life into the lyrics and music.

McKenna and her group tended to build the songs, letting them breath.

McKenna's band consisted of the folks who played on the album, and it showed. As usual, Mark Erelli tossed out a bunch of licks, sometimes twangy, sometimes steely, into the sonics along with steady backing vocals on many songs.

Bassist Paul Kochanski may have been visually buried to the far right on the too small stage, but his active bottom playing along with drummer John Sands anchored the songs. Keyboardist Jamie Edwards filled out the sound with his steady playing enhancing the material.

McKenna remains a warm figure on stage, heaving Boston accent and all. Yes, she's had a tremendous amount of success, but she makes it clear that she goes through the same trials and tribulations as any of us.

The suburban Boston resident was not afraid to get personal either, relating how she once played Better With Time for her plumber husband Gene right after she wrote it, something she said she never does. And she cried, ultimately realizing that the song was about their relationship, showing her human side without overdoing it or sounding cloying.

Not leaving the stage for a false encore - something McKenna has previously done (and announced) - McKenna ended on the light side with Two More Bottles of Wine, which she said she learned on YouTube from an Emmylou Harris video.

Given the sometimes intense nature of the songs, McKenna capped off a fine night on the lighter side. In a way, it was fitting. Delbert McClinton penned the song, but McKenna showed yet again she is more than a songwriter.