Photo by Becky Fluke
Lori McKenna is a bit disarming. Appearing to a sold out City Winery crowd Friday night in support of her album The Bird & The Rifle, released that morning, the Massachusetts dweller didn’t ask for much of a pedestal. She didn’t mention the Grammy her ovation-earning encore “Girl Crush” earned, the chart-topping Tim McGraw recently did with “Humble & Kind,” or the accolades her new album is receiving.
Instead, she sang. McKenna played much of the new record, peppered with the stories of how songs like “The Bird & The Rifle” came to be, or her town in Massachusetts, which she joked might expel her after “Giving Up On Your Hometown.” She laughed through introducing “We Were Cool,” which she said aimed to bottle the moment she decided that once in her life, maybe just for a week, she had been cool. McKenna dipped briefly into older parts of her catalog as well, like the crushing “The Luxury of Knowing.”
Opening the show was Ruston Kelly, a songwriter and artist whose breathy vocals and penchant for sad songs punctuated with pedal steel made for the perfect appetizer. “Sad songs” were indeed a theme of the evening – McKenna repeatedly joked about being full of them. “It was a joyful experience with all these sad songs,” she said of the recording process for the new record.
But though her music can at times lean sobering in its intimate intimations of truths, the show itself was balanced with mirth. Both McKenna and Kelly are understatedly funny; though songs like “Halfway Home,” about looking for love in unyielding places, and “Wreck You,” the confession to being a destructive partner with which McKenna began her set, are heart-wringing, her audience was as prone to laughter as tears.
Though McKenna resides in Massachusetts, where she grew up, Nashville is in many ways a hometown crowd. Many in attendance have either written with her or hope someday they might; all are connoisseurs of great songwriting. McKenna was casual with her (engaged and unafraid-to-be-vocal) listeners; in introducing “Girl Crush” she began, “Did I ever tell you the story?”
Joining McKenna onstage for the song were her Love Junkies cohorts themselves, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey; Lindsey and songwriter Barry Dean also joined her for backing vocals for several of her songs in the set. Her backing band was subtly star-studded; much-acclaimed The Bird & The Rifle producer Dave Cobb and Creative Nation co-owner and renowned songwriter and producer Luke Laird both backed McKenna on guitar.
Catch a stop on McKenna’s tour:
July 22—Vienna, VA—Jammin Java
July 29—Nashville, TN—City Winery (SOLD OUT)
July 30—Atlanta, GA—City Winery
August 4—New York, NY—City Winery
August 13—Boston, MA—The Sinclair
August 19—Brownfield, ME—Stone Mountain Arts Center
August 20—Plymouth, MA—Spire Arts Center
September 9—Northampton, MA—Iron Horse
September 10—Ogunquit, ME—Jonathan’s
September 20-25—Nashville, TN—AmericanaFest 2016
October 12—San Antonio, TX—Tobin Center for the Arts
October 13—Austin, TX—One World Theater
October 14—Houston, TX—Dosey Doe
October 15—Dallas, TX—Kessler Theatre
October 21—Los Angeles, CA—Hotel Café