With four independently released albums to her name, Lori McKenna earned a reputation as a talented singer/songwriter whose songs have been covered by the likes of Faith Hill and Sara Evans.
Now, on her Warner Brothers debut, Unglamorous, McKenna employs her songwriting skills, capable of creating songs with potency and substance, into an album of direct and immensely affecting music.
McKenna’s narrative approach to songwriting, along with her forthright way of singing, makes for a familiar, unembellished sounding album. Yet, lest one deem such a style simple or effortless, crafting such an informal feel — to where it’s believable — requires notable skill. For instance, on one of the album’s finest songs, “Drinkin’ Problem,” McKenna sings, “No, I never touch the stuff/But honey I’ll tell you what/You can’t count all the ways it touches me”. Once she hits those lines, the listener recognizes the adroit and poignant paradox of the lyrics in relation to the context of the song. McKenna’s plaintive vocal only makes it all the more heartbreaking.
By its nature, the narrative lyric structure allows McKenna to assume various first-person roles and viewpoints, much like a prose writer would do in a short story or novel. On “Written Permission,” she becomes a disgruntled wife, unleashing a sonic pink slip to the other (and clearly not-better) half of a damaged marriage. With vitriol in her voice, she sings in repetition, “You can go now/You can go now,” effectively marching the unfit husband out of the picture for good.
Through the use of lyric imagery, a song like “How To Survive” further contributes to the accustomed quality of the album. In this song of utter disillusionment, McKenna depicts an aimless existence amid a stalled relationship. In a frustrated tone, she sings, “How come we keep this TV up so loud/What are we so afraid of that we keep drowning out,” thus evoking the palpable stress of such a bleak reality.
With such weighty subject matters, it’s worth mentioning that the songs on Unglamorous don’t sound disheartening. On the contrary, they resonate with a definitive, and often affirmative, expression. McKenna’s narrators may not know all the answers, but they do understand the scope of their problems and limitations.
Ultimately, what makes this album so affecting comes from Lori McKenna’s straightforward proficiency in writing about common problems and ordinary experiences. Unglamorous undoubtedly speaks of frustration and disillusionment, but also of loyalty and love despite its drawbacks. Quite simply, the album addresses life.