Four years back, Lori McKenna had a brief flirtation with the major-label side of the music business. After writing folky, well-crafted, heart-rending tunes for almost a decade, she became a Nashville sensation thanks to her pal Mary Gauthier. Gauthier, a fellow Boston-based songwriter, moved to Music City and played McKenna's songs for her publisher. Faith Hill cut three McKenna tunes on her Fireflies album, including the title track. Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban also recorded her tunes, leading to a one-off contract with Warner Bros. The glossy production of the ironically titled Unglamorous didn't really suit her intimate style. When Warner went through one of their periodic shakeups, McKenna was dropped. Signature Sounds, her longtime indie home, has picked her up for Lorraine. On half the tunes here, McKenna collaborates with Natalie Hemby, Barry Dean, and Andrew Dorff, Nashville writers she met while she was making Unglamorous. Dean produces and with the exception of "You Get a Love Song" -- a track with a big country-rock sound that feels like a radio hit, complete with a screaming guitar solo -- he keeps the sound true to McKenna's quiet muse. The album is named in honor of McKenna's mother, and the most emotional tracks deal with her mom's life and death. (She died when McKenna was seven years old.) "Still Down Here," a co-write with Dean, is full of understated, and almost unstated, pain, balancing fantasies of a peaceful afterlife with the rough realities of her grief at her mother's passing. "Buy This Town" is full of nostalgia for McKenna's working-class childhood. It's a young girl's prayer wishing that money could buy another day of life or a little less suffering for her mother. "Lorraine," the album's most poignant song, is a poetic celebration of her mother's life. Guitar, mandolin, and harmony vocals give the tune the feel of a living-room performance, with McKenna's keening vocals giving the track a powerful kick. The rest of the album is full of the complex love songs and working-class vignettes that McKenna is so good at. "American Revolver" is a power ballad about an abused woman contemplating the death of her abusive husband; "The Luxury of Knowing," "Rocket Science," and "If He Tried" investigate the difficulties of long-term relationships; and "All I Ever Do" celebrates the pleasures of a long-term relationship with McKenna's usual grace and subtle poetry.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet