Lori McKenna

Bittertown

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AllMusic Review by

Steeped in a kettle of Americana or alt country, Lori McKenna should rank up there with quality performers such as Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller, Kathleen Edwards, and Mary Alice Wood. "Bible Song," which sports a guest appearance by Buddy Miller, gives a perfect example of the singer knowing what she wants and getting it right: hints of twang, mandolin touches, and a melody that is just as uplifting as it is dreary and pragmatic. More radio-friendly are the pop-inspired roots on the infectious yet world weary "Mr. Sunshine." It has more in common with a lighter Melissa Etheridge, but McKenna is more than capable of pulling it off with flying colors. The folk-like quasi-lullaby "One Man" is pure professionalism as she sings about a town "losing its balls" while Chris Trapper provides strong harmonies. Sparser but not quite as polished is "Pour," a slow, downtempo tune that resembles early Jewel. "Stealing Kisses" and "Silver Bus" are the true great singer/songwriter tunes, recalling softer offerings from Mary Chapin Carpenter or Nanci Griffith, as she is basically left on her own. The minimal Cowboy Junkies-like "If You Ask" has McKenna at her most vulnerable as Kevin Barry's resonator guitar results in a slightly fuller sound that toes the line between coffeehouse folk and roots country. "Monday Afternoon," another gem that fits like a well-worn shoe, is nearly too formulaic, but the singer builds on the momentum during the second verse. The comfort and care in each track is exemplified on the pretty and poignant "The Ledge," which sheds most of the studio polish. The eerie mountain music motif found during "My Sweetheart" could be Gillian Welch once removed. Thankfully, she only goes to the roots rock well once on a mediocre Sheryl Crow-esque "Cowardly Lion." Wrapping up another quality and stellar piece of work, the boogie ramble on "One Kiss Goodnight" recalls Natalie Merchant if she grew up in the heart of the South. The album is rarely bitter but incredibly sweet.

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