Americana music, blog

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Best Recordings of 2020: Lori McKenna - The Balladeer


Lori McKenna has progressed from singing open mics in her hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts, to writing hits songs for Tim McGraw (“Humble and Kind”), Little Big Town (“Girl Crush”), and others. Her success has pushed her to the top of sought after songwriters. Meanwhile, she has released her own recordings that have improved with each release. In 2020 she released her best record thus far with The Balladeer (CN Records).

These songs explore the experience of middle age with reflection and appreciation of what has been and what it is still to come. She writes from a refreshing point of view, that of a middle-aged woman who lost her mother at an early age, has been married to her childhood sweetheart for thirty years, and watched her own children grow into adulthood. This is not the usual subject for the often inane topics of commercial country music. Her music falls more into the singer/songwriter genre than country. There are no wailing pedal steel guitars or fiddles on The Balladeer. Acoustic guitars and piano lead the way, allowing the songs themselves to be the center of attention. Dave Cobb, celebrated Nashville producer, has kept the arrangements simple but appropriate to each selection. McKenna has an understated, empathetic tone to her voice that perfectly suits these songs.

There are many well-known songs that have dealt with friendship, “Lean On Me,” “You’ve Got a Friend, and countless others. It’s a challenge for any writer to deal with a well-worn subject, but she adds her own spin to “Uphill.” 

“Marie” is a touching song inspired by her sister, and “When You’re My Age” is a heartbreaking look at a mother worrying about her children in an ever changing world. Her voice soars in the chorus of “Two Birds” and finds the right touch of tenderness in “The Dream.” Lori McKenna has achieved a near perfect album with The Balladeer.

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