Lori McKenna

Unglamorous

  • AllMusic Rating
    6
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

Unglamorous marks a new stage in the career of Lori McKenna, a gifted contemporary singer/songwriter from Massachusetts who makes her major-label debut here. Her previous releases -- Paper Wings and Halo (2000), Pieces of Me (2001), The Kitchen Tapes (2003), and Bittertown (2004) -- were spare, masterfully written, and sometimes painfully intimate. It was easy to envision McKenna sitting at home alone -- her husband away at work and her kids safely at school -- writing songs at her kitchen table with her acoustic guitar in hand, recording her music onto blank cassettes as a ticking clock fills the quiet between songs. The Kitchen Tapes romanticized this notion, its cover featuring a drawing of a kitchen table with a cassette lying upon it, a wooden chair pulled out from the spot at which McKenna presumably had been sitting, unassuming tiles dotting the floor. "Recorded by Lori McKenna," a back-cover credit reads, while a stark cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" signals her knowingness. Songs like "Bible Song," "One Man," and "Stealing Kisses," each from Bittertown, wonderfully showcase her gift for turning domestic small-town quietude into a kind of poetry, one marked by serenity as well as melancholy. It's pretty powerful music, especially if you can relate to the characters in her songs, the faceless towns those characters embody, or perhaps even McKenna herself. Evidently, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were among those moved by her music, because they brought her into their fold. Hill's Fireflies (2005) included three of McKenna's songs, one of them the title track. The superstar country duo also took McKenna on tour as their opening act, and McGraw even went so far as to produce Unglamorous with his longtime studio hand, Byron Gallimore. Hence the major-label contract with Warner Brothers. McKenna embraces her shot at the big-time here, as Unglamorous is a world apart from The Kitchen Tapes. The production is full, bright, and punchy, with a full-band backing. A rocking wah-wah guitar solo even pops up on "Witness to Your Life." This turn away from lo-fi folk music and toward contemporary country sheen isn't necessarily bad in and of itself; in fact, it's tastefully done here on Unglamorous, to the credit of McGraw and Gallimore as well as McKenna, who sounds comfortable. And while Unglamorous is McKenna's first album to feature co-writers, among them Nashville pro Liz Rose, who contributed to the standout title track, the songs here are thankfully characteristic of the Massachusetts mom's past work. Still, as tastefully produced and characteristically well-written as Unglamorous may be, fans of McKenna's past albums are likely to be disappointed by the result. The soul-baring of Bittertown, the nakedness of The Kitchen Tapes, the intimacy of Pieces of Me -- it's difficult to find those qualities in these dressed-up performances. On the other hand, fans of McGraw and especially Hill (who both show up here as harmony vocalists) will likely fall head over heals for Unglamorous. Though it lacks their star power and radio-ready hooks, it offers instead songs that are written and sung with a heartfelt authenticity neither McGraw nor Hill can rival. [Warner Bros released a bonus CD edition in 2007 as well.]

blue highlight denotes track pick