Album Review: The Bird & the Rifle by Lori McKenna
Excellent, Based on 4 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Fresh off a Grammy win for "Girl Crush," the country smash she co-wrote for country-pop stars Little Big Town, Boston native Lori McKenna returns to what she does best: writing high-quality, deeply personal songs for herself. Her career as a Nashville tunesmith has been on a roll with high-profile artists like Tim McGraw and Hunter Hayes scoring chart hits with McKenna-penned tracks, but her last three releases as a singer/songwriter feel most vital. For her tenth LP, 2016's The Bird & the Rifle, she enlisted Nashville maverick Dave Cobb, whose organic production leanings have translated into critically lauded successes for artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
A list of Lori McKenna's writing credits includes some of the most emotionally fine-tuned country songs of the past few years: see Little Big Town's "Girl Crush," Brandy Clark's "Three Kids No Husband," and Tim McGraw's recent number Number One, "Humble and Kind. " But McKenna's roots lie in the stalwart folk scene of Massachusetts, her longtime home, and her own records indulge storytelling that tend to bypass supposed Music Row verities for more interesting places. That's been their strength, and on her latest, country Dave Cobb ups the production ante to match, adding to 2016's bumper crop of outstanding, outside-the-box country LPs, many which Cobb's produced (Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide To Earth, the multi-artist Southern Family compilation, Brent Cobb's forthcoming Shine On Rainy Day).
Lori McKenna has released ten albums in nearly twenty years, amassing a formidable catalog that marries forlorn country-folk melodies with vivid-story song lyrics about desperate women and dying towns. But her solo work has been lately overshadowed by the hits she has either written or co-written for other artists, including Faith Hill, Alison Krauss, and Mandy Moore. Last year she stirred up controversy when Little Big Town recorded a composition she co-wrote with Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose.
Halfway hidden in the hit factories of country music are songwriters like Lori McKenna, who quietly maintains her own recording career while others put her songs on the charts. “The Bird & the Rifle” is her 10th studio album in 17 years, and her most finely focused. It includes her own, scaled-down version of “Humble & Kind,” a No. 1 country hit earlier this year for Tim McGraw, which was also the first country No.