Album Review: Lori McKenna, 'The Tree'

by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword), Folk Alley

Truth is something that we each have our own version of, based on our unique perspective of a shared world. Two people could look at the same building from different sides and describe seemingly disparate experiences. One sees windows. One does not. Each tells their truth of that moment in this world, without elision or interpretation, and they still offer conflicting accounts of the same detail.

When you've known your husband since you were kids and raised five children together in your hometown, you've lived quite a few truths of your own. That's the well from which Lori McKenna draws the songs on her albums, including her latest release, The Tree. There's a universality, a familiarity to the truths McKenna writes. Like the well-worn boards of a kitchen floor, you can hear the strained creaks from years of use, yet still feel the unwavering support of their inherent puissance and see the natural beauty in the details of their grain. Lifetimes have passed through these songs, as over those floors.

McKenna proves that point from the top on down, starting with the simple eloquence of “A Mother Never Rests.” As she sings through sentimental details that include band-aids and broken bones, night lights and hatchbacks, it all comes off as comforting rather than corny. Only someone who has lived those details could deliver them in that way. Such is the song's gossamery authenticity, even if this particular soliloquy doesn't match your mother, you want it to.

Familial nostalgia is The Tree's leitmotif, cropping up in the Timex watch and billfold of “People Get Old,” the bathroom tile and kitchen towel of “You Won't Even Know I'm Gone,” and the bedside Bible and summer smells of “The Way Back Home.” But, again, McKenna imbues these tales with so much of herself that she makes you long for a life you might never have lived. In German, the word fernweh means to be consumed with longing for a place you have never been. That's what these songs do... fernweh.

Even as those folky ballads highlight her heart in ever-captivating ways, it's on the feisty bounce of “Young and Angry Again” that she really shines. If you've only ever experienced McKenna through her songs, rather than reading an interview or seeing a show, you might not know how humbly hilarious she is. “Young and Angry Again” isn't a funny song, exactly, but it exudes a definite lightness of spirit that draws from that side of its writer.

Just like that building, Lori McKenna has different truths to tell, depending on which side of her you're witnessing. And just like those floors, every side of every truth is time-tested and resplendently rendered.

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The Tree is available at iTunes and Amazon.

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