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Lori McKenna – The Tree

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Jul 17, 2018.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    If it takes more than 10 minutes for Lori McKenna’s The Tree to break your heart, you might not have one.

    McKenna has always excelled at crafting tearjerkers. In addition to eight previous albums full of (mostly) sad songs, she also wrote or co-wrote songs like Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” (happy sad) and Brandy Clark’s “Three Kids, No Husband” (sad sad). Her latest co-write to move the needle is a Carrie Underwood song called “Cry Pretty” (badass sad). Suffice to say that McKenna is familiar with tears and exquisite, aching pain.

    Even by McKenna’s standards, though, the first 10 minutes of The Tree are a doozy. In those 10 minutes, she manages three songs—“A Mother Never Rests,” “The Fixer,” and “People Get Old”—that are bound to put a lump in your throat. The first is a tribute to great moms and all the hard work they do to raise their kids. The second is about a family patriarch who tries to cope with his wife’s ailing health by tinkering with tools and projects. And the third is about McKenna’s father and the slow and steady march of time.

    These are remarkable songs, and they earn their sadness. McKenna’s songs hurt not because they focus squarely on tragedy, but because they focus on the things that give tragedy its back-breaking force: love, time, and memory. You can always hear the years in McKenna’s songs, and not just because Dave Cobb’s dusty, no-frills production makes them sound like faded photos in an album where the spine is cracking because you’ve flipped through it so many times. “A Mother Never Rests” aches because it captures the entirety of youth, from the day a child is born to the day they drive away for college, in the space of two minutes and 45 seconds. “The Fixer” punches you in the gut because everything in McKenna’s storytelling—from their grown kids to the way the characters discuss their differing opinions about religious faith—suggests two people who have been together for a very long time. And “People Get Old” is wondrous in part because of how quickly the choruses whip you through time, from the innocence of childhood to the rebellion of teenage years, all the way to marriage and parenthood.

    It says a lot about The Tree that McKenna packs so much of life into those first three tracks. By themselves, these songs could function as one of the year’s most complete artistic statements. The rest of the album only deepens those themes of family, domesticity, and growing up. “Young and Angry Again,” one of the album’s punchiest cuts, is a paean to the wildness of youth, and to a time when you “hated broken hearts but loved the songs about ‘em/’Cause someone finally felt the way you did.” “The Tree” is an extended metaphor about how our parents and families shape us and define us in ways we don’t always realize until many years after the fact. “You Won’t Even Know That I’m Gone” is McKenna’s entry in the “road life” song genre, told with deep empathy from the perspective of someone trying to convince herself that the love of her life won’t be lonely in her absence (spoiler: he will be). And “The Way Back Home” is about that moment where the kids leave home to chase their own stories, and about how leaving doesn’t mean never coming back.

    One of the most wonderful moments of The Tree comes in the form of “The Lot Behind St. Mary’s,” a song McKenna says she wrote after reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir. “[I was] amazed by his detailed reflection on growing up surrounded by the Catholic Church,” she said. “The Lot Behind St. Mary’s” took form as a result. The young couple in this song chooses the parking lot behind a church as their spot for rebellion: for quietly stolen kisses and cigarettes they shouldn’t be smoking and beers they aren’t old enough to drink. As they get older, their relationship strains and loses its magic, and they find themselves wishing they could “get back to when September was our only adversary”—a simple bit of imagery that flawlessly captures the freedom of a youthful summer and how you can never really get it back. “God’s love is almighty,” the characters learn at the end of the last verse, “but our love is just bones and flesh.”

    If there are better songwriters than Lori McKenna on the planet right now, I bet you can count them on one hand. Her last record, 2016’s The Bird and the Rifle, hinted at that fact, but The Tree is even better. Its emotional gut punches linger for longer, and its themes build into something more potent across the course of 11 songs. Like the best Springsteen LPs, The Tree grapples with many of the same questions from one song to the next—about the specters of faded youth, the durable bonds of family, or the forever-ness of a place truly worthy of being called “home.” Also like Springsteen, she doesn’t necessarily find the answers she’s looking for by the time the record stops spinning, if only because life is a constant search for answers that will always, always elude us. The result is that, with The Tree, Lori McKenna has made an album as big as life itself. It’s her masterpiece.

  2. dotKev


    Great review. Easily one of my most anticipated releases of the year. The hype is real.
  3. zmtr

    WETHER WEATHER BE THE FRo0o0o0o0OST Supporter

    Excited for this
  4. aerials Jul 17, 2018
    (Last edited: Jul 17, 2018)


    Oh man, I had no idea Lori had a new record coming out this year. The Bird and the Rifle is easily one of my top 5 albums of the last few years. I just put on the NPR First Listen stream of The Tree right now while reading your review. SO GOOD.

    I actually learned about Lori (and the absolutely. amazing. Natalie Hemby) from your reviews here. I truly can't thank you enough for exposing me to this stuff. I really believe the most exciting and innovative songwriting is coming from this kind of Americana/roots genre right now.

    Craig, if I can give you one small recommendation in exchange for all of the great ones you've given me, it would be to listen to a very young and remarkably gifted singer/songwriter/guitarist named Katie Pruitt. I can best describe her stuff as bluesy roots Americana rock.

    I discovered her a few weeks ago via her billing as the opening act for Ruston Kelly in Fall 2018. (Sidenote: Ruston Kelly is a pretty great alt-country singer-songerwriter himself in the vein of Ryan Adams; if you haven't heard his debut 10-track EP Halloween (2017), check it out. He also happens to be Kacey Musgraves' husband.)

    Anyhow, back to Katie Pruitt. She just released her phenomenal 5-track OurVinyl Live EP (2018). The following are all YouTube video links:
    * My Mind's A Ship That's Going Down <--- my favorite of the bunch, but they're all great
    * Grace Has a Gun
    * Wishful Thinking
    * Loving Her
    * This Isn't a Love Song

    Just... listen to those tracks.

    I really have no affiliation to her, I just found myself lucky enough to stumble over her stuff and I can't stop raving about it to people. If you find yourself, like me, not getting enough of her work, then you can continue here...

    Some non-album tracks to check out next:
    * The cannabis-themed Light It Up
    * An impressive blues cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water

    Her first release was the three-song The Ordinary EP (2017), which can be streamed on her personal site.

    She has a few more non-album tracks on various Soundcloud pages:
    * Thoughts & Prayers (Rough Mix) (2018)
    * Ordinary (live) (2017)
    * This Isn't a Love Song (live) (2017)
    * It's Always Been You (live) (2017)
    * Beautiful Day (2017)
    * Wishful Thinking (live in studio) (2016)
    * Katie Pruitt & Luke Levenson - Terminal B (from Chip Colon's Tuckaway Sessions) (2016)
    * Light It Up (demo) (2016)
    * Colorado (This Sound Goes Around blog exclusive) (2013)

    And if you want to support her, the MP3s of the OurVinyl Live EP are available for purchase on Amazon here (non-referral link): Pruitt&index=digital-music&search-type=ss&tag=absolutepunk-20

    Hope someone finds her stuff as amazing as I have!
    Petit nain des Îles likes this.
  5. marsupial jones

    make a bagel without the hole

    I’ve never heard of her before. Gonna check some of her albums out tonight.
  6. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Hey, thanks! Hope you enjoy this album. And of course, glad I could turn you on to Natalie. She's such a big talent, and such a cool, genuine person.

    I'll definitely check out Katie. I'm already a big fan of Ruston Kelly and have actually heard his new album. Spoiler: it's fantastic.
  7. zmtr

    WETHER WEATHER BE THE FRo0o0o0o0OST Supporter

    Lori is maybe the only musician on earth I can only listen to in small doses just based on how sad all of her music is.

    I listen to sad music almost exclusively but man... her writing is just so visceral and heart breaking
  8. Ryan G

    Moderator Moderator

    Incredibly excited for this