Lori McKenna has been recording and releasing music for nearly 16 years, but with her songwriting success over the past year, now is as good a time as ever for her to release an album. McKenna co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, a song which captured the attention of pretty much everyone. And most recently, Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind”, written solely by McKenna, topped the airplay charts and has gone onto be a career hit for McGraw. McKenna teamed up with producer Dave Cobb with The Bird & The Rifle, Lori McKenna delivers nine brand new songs as well as her own recording of “Humble & Kind.”
The Bird & The Rifle begins with the heartbreaking “Wreck You.” McKenna sings from the first person point of view of a wife struggling to find out why her marriage has been falling apart. She’s not exactly sure where things went wrong or what she needs to do to change and fix it, but she’s aware that something is definitely wrong. You can hear the pain in McKenna’s voice as she sings. This is followed by the excellent title track for the album. An acoustic driven story song, Lori McKenna sings of another troubled marriage. She compares the wife to a bird and the husband to a rifle, two things that don’t go together well. While the bird can sing beautiful songs that rifle loves, the bird has the urge to fly but seems to be held down by the rifle’s fear and anger. “Something about the bird her spreading those wings always seems to bring the rifle out in him.” It’s a tried and true story, but McKenna writes and delivers it with a new sense of purpose and heart.
Lori McKenna visits small town life with “Giving Up on Your Hometown.” A bit more upbeat song than the first two, but this song takes a solemn look returning to your hometown and not recognizing how it has changed. People have passed, old hot spots have been torn down, and the place simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. Even with a more slightly upbeat production, the song doesn’t drift any faster than a mid-tempo ballad. “Halfway Home” tells the story of a woman who’s stuck in relationships with men who are unreliable or around for only one night. The song encourages the woman to keep moving on because she’s halfway home, half of the way to finding the true love she deserves. “Halfway Home” is another excellent vocal delivery from Lori McKenna.
I like Tim McGraw’s recording of “Humble & Kind”, but Lori McKenna’s recording on The Bird & The Rifle is even better. Maybe it’s due to the fact that McKenna is the lone writer of the song, but she sings the lyrics with such a conviction that isn’t present in McGraw’s recording. “Humble & Kind” is a song with fantastic lyrics, and hearing Lori McKenna sing them is a gift for the listener. “We Were Cool” is another song of nostalgia. Lori McKenna reminisces about growing up and how she and her friends felt cool riding in the older brother’s cool car. With an album full of poignant heartbreaking songs (and following the excellent “Humble & Kind”), “We Were Cool” gets a little lost in the shuffle, but it’s still a fun song to listen to, and it doesn’t make it a bad song by any stretch of the imagination.
Another album standout is the brutally honest “Old Men Young Women.” For starters, this song has one of the best opening lyrics. “You can have him; I hope you have fun. I guess wife number three could be the one.” Lori McKenna, presumably singing from the perspective of wife number one, speaks to the young third wife, shining a light on the dark corners of the marriage. She’s the trophy and link to a past he’ll never experience again, and he has the material resources to provide for her. But at the end of the day, neither one is fulfilled emotionally and it’s only a matter of time before the relationship meets its inevitable end.
“All These Things” is an upbeat love song, perhaps the most upbeat song of the album. McKenna lists off several different things and situations that illustrate the strength to their devotion to one another. “Always Want You” is a song about trying to get over a break up. Just like water runs through the creek bed or church bells ring on Sunday, McKenna believes she’ll always want the one she can’t have. “If Whiskey Were a Woman” is another heartbreaking song about a marriage on the rocks. Again, Lori McKenna is singing from the perspective of a woman who has let her marriage fall apart. She knows she can’t love and comfort her husband like she should, and compares herself to the whiskey he clings to and drinks, and how she would be if she were the whiskey.
In a word, The Bird & The Rifle is excellent. Lori McKenna writes and sings great stories with a stunning conviction and honesty. These truly are McKenna’s stories to tell, and she sells you on that truth. Even with the slower and mid-tempo production, Dave Cobb helps keep the focus of the album on McKenna’s voice and words, which is where the strength of the album lies. Whether it’s a single word choice in the title track or the biting delivery in “Old Men Young Women”, Lori McKenna let’s focal point of the album shine. The Bird & The Rifle is a must listen and a must buy album. Lori McKenna delivers a stunning country, folk album.