Song Challenge Week 23 — A Song You Want Played At Your Wedding


The latest entry in my 30 Day Song Challenge weekly project.


Song Challenge Week 23 — A Song You Want Played At Your Wedding

“Witness to Your Life,” Lori McKenna

Have you ever noticed that I really like hedging on these things? I mean, like, almost every single one I start by saying how there’s not really a real answer, but I’ll provide some sort of context in order to give some sort of response. How many times have I just said, “It’s this”?

So, anyway, a song to play at my wedding.

I had a wedding, once. The music was pretty traditional wedding-y music. I remember more the song that wasn’t played. Nicole really wanted to play Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” (we got married all of 13 months after our first date. But it was a long 13 months, I guess) but I was deadset that there would be no country music played at my wedding. Oh, sure, she wanted the pop version of the song, but, dang it, Shania Twain’s a country singer, and it’s not going to happen.

In the last few years, I’ve been to concerts by Lady Antebellum a couple of times, Sugarland a couple of times, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, etc. etc. etc. But it was something then I wasn’t willing to budge on.

If I had it to do over again, I might handle it differently.

If I had it to do over again, I would handle a lot of things differently.

I’ve thought a few times since then I was going to have another wedding. There was the time we were going to have a Braveheart wedding at an outdoor mall. Or the time I was going to perform the service.

My favorite idea is still the one where I send out invitations asking people what they want to do in the wedding so that nobody was offended. The problem with that one is that it requires someone else who also wants that wedding.

So, getting back to hedging, the song kind of depends on the wedding, you know? I don’t know that the same music would fit all those weddings.

But to pick something to honor the request: Lori McKenna’s “Witness To Your Life”

It starts with a wedding — “Someone was crying and the bells ring” — and is still one of the most beautiful promises of partnership I’ve ever heard — “YOu should never have to be alone, someone will always call you home…

“… and I will be that witness to your life.”

Review — Lori McKenna, “Massachusetts”


lori mckenna massachusetts

Two years ago, singer/songwriter Lori McKenna released an album titled “Lorraine.” The title — her given name and that of the mother who died when she was young — captured the personal nature of the album. McKenna here was telling stories that were intimately her own, baring emotions that were clearly heartfelt.

The choice of title for McKenna’s latest release, “Massachusetts,” might seem a little more opaque at first; the album doesn’t make direct reference to the state. But in choosing to name her sixth full-length album after her home, McKenna is making a similar statement to the one made by “Lorraine” — if the last album were personal to Lori McKenna’s life, this one is deeply personal to Lori McKenna the artist.

“Massachusetts” is the work of a singer/songwriter at the height of her powers. Appropriately enough, in “Massachusetts,” McKenna is truly at home. The album is a celebration of who she is as an artist.

A prolific songwriter, McKenna is also a prodigious collaborator. Incredibly talented on her own, she loves the shared experience of writing with others who share her passion. With “Massachusetts,” she embraces that, including contributions from favorite writing partners.

After three “Nashville albums,” McKenna comes back home with the production of “Massachusetts,” as well, which was produced by long-time collaborator and fellow Massachusettsian Mark Erelli in a barn studio.

The result strikes a middle ground between her last two full-length albums. After the polished, major-label Nashville production of “Unglamorous,” the often beautifully sparse “Lorraine” highlighted McKenna’s distinctive voice. “Massachusetts” features arrangements that are richer and fuller than “Lorraine,” but still have a rawer edge than “Unglamorous.” The music here provides a complement to McKenna’s vocals while still allowing her voice to soar above them.

And, of course, McKenna is very much at home in the songs she’s written for this album. McKenna loves creating songs that make her listeners feel something — a task for which both her voice as a writer and her singing voice are ideally suited — and her favorite way of doing that is through gut-wrenching heartbreak.

“Massachusetts” showcases just how adept McKenna has become at doing that in a variety of ways. While both the opening track, “Salt,” and “Make Every Word Hurt” draw from the demise of a broken relationship, they evoke very different emotional landscapes — the plaintive heartache of “Make Every Word Hurt” is a far cry from the rousing pride of a woman leaving a man not “worth the good advice written on a dirty bathroom stall.”

Love and loss take a different form in “Susanna,” the tale of a widower making his way through the world when “there’s nothing down here for the left behind but a bed too big and too much time.” In McKenna’s hands, there’s a beauty even in the sadness, a sweetness in the sorrow.

Home does get a nod in “Smaller and Smaller,” a wistful tribute to a community whose spirit is diluted in the inevitable march of progress but not quenched; a story being played out in towns around the country.

There is light in the darkness, sometimes peering through the cracks and sometimes on full display. On those occasions when Lori McKenna writes a love song, it tends to be every ounce as raw and genuine as her sad songs. “How Romantic Is That” — which, like “Make Every Word Hurt” has sat on a shelf for years awaiting release — is one of the best examples of that, incredibly honest and incredibly touching.  And then there’s “Better With Time,” which offers a similarly unvarnished celebration of the joys of a shared journey of years together, the comfort that comes from the sort of familiarity that just seems to belong.

And ultimately that’s not an inapt metaphor for the album; wherever you’re from, at least some part of “Massachusetts” is going to feel like home.

Never The Same Song Twice


I knew Lori McKenna was going to be playing Nashville.

And, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently enough, I like the Lori McKenna. (And so should you.)

She played three dates there not that long ago, and I hated that I couldn’t go. There was a Friday night show at the Bluebird Cafe, much like the one I went to last year, but I was volunteering at the Space & Rocket Center. A little later, she was doing two more dates, but they were in the middle of the week.

But some things are worth doing. The latter of the two shows wasn’t going to work, but tickets to the other were only $5, so Rebecca and I headed up to Nashville.

The concert was actually a benefit event featuring several songwriters. Like, a lot of songwriters. I think we listened to like 15 other artists before Lori took the stage, each performing maybe three songs. Some of them, I plan to follow up on.

Lori wrapped up the show with two other songwriters, and it was an interesting performance. I’ve seen her live twice before, and each time it was what you would expect from an artist in concert — a mix of material from her latest album, some better known songs and some new unreleased songs.

This show, however, was nothing like that.

Lori was in Nashville because she’d been writing songs with the other two women, and they just showed off the songs they’d been writing. Lori sang only one song that had existed a week earlier, and even that was new since her last album.

While she’s a brilliant songwriter in her own right, she’s probably better “known” by the general public for songs she’s written for artists like Faith Hill, Sara Evans and Mandy Moore, among others. Some of those were very much Lori McKenna songs, others were songs that were very much written to sell.

From the comments made that night, these songs were very much the latter. And, barring her next album being very different from its predecessors, that would make since. Even though Lori was involved in their inception, these weren’t what I traditionally think of as Lori McKenna songs.

But, you know, that’s OK. Frankly, I would be first in line to buy an album of Lori doing this material. She’s a brilliant songwriter, but she also has an amazing voice. It was all kinds of awesome hearing her perform the songs.

It was also delightfully random. I hadn’t planned on going to the show, and, when I decided to at the last minute, I thought I was going to see the sort of Lori McKenna show I’d seen twice before. Instead, I saw her doing songs that she may never sing again. If I’d not gotten on the road, I may never have heard them in her amazing voice. I was glad I went, and I was glad I got to be there for them.

Which isn’t to say I don’t hope I get to hear her sing them again.

Song Challenge Day 4 — A Song That Makes Me Sad


To make the Post A Day 2011 challenge a bit more bearable, I’ve set up a couple of regular features. Saturdays are for reviews and Sundays are for song lyrics. But I’m out of song lyric ideas, so I wanted a new regular Sunday feature. Keeping the music theme I’ve been using, I’m undertaking the 30 Day Song Challenge as a weekly project.


Week 4 — A Song That Makes Me Sad

“If You Ask,” Lori McKenna

 

Oh, gosh. I cry just about every time I hear this song.

(The live video above isn’t bad, but lacks the power of the album version. Some people may also know if from the whitewashed Faith Hill cover. Lyrics can be found here.)

Part of the reason it has such an effect on me is personal.

I’ve lived a lot of that song. I’ve been the person that the addict comes home to, regretting giving in to the demons that they just can’t shake. It convicts me. Should I have been more like this song? Should I have been more patient? And it’s too late now. And there is a sadness in that.

But it’s also just a powerful and devastating picture of grace and unconditional love. The song deals specifically with patiently loving someone with a problem; what it’s like to care for someone, to want what’s best for them, and to be utterly unable to do anything about it.

The truth in the song is bigger than that, though. We all want to be loved. But we can’t make anyone love us. It’s a beautiful picture of what it is to love someone unconditionally. To say, “Whatever you do, where ever you go, I’m here for you. Even if you don’t return my love, even if you don’t want my love, I offer it.” Because ultimately, that’s all we can do. I can’t choose whether you love me. I can only choose whether I love you.

But to take it a step further, it’s a beautiful picture of how God loves us. He actually could make us love Him. But He doesn’t. He stands with an outstretched open hand, and waits. It’s our choice whether to accept or reject the gift, He offers it regardless.

It’s devastating to be the person standing there with open arms, and to be ignored. It’s devastating to think how many times God waits for me with open arms, and I ignore Him.

It kinda makes me sad.

If you call my name, I will come
If you ask for my love, I will give you some

Song Challenge Day 1 — Your Favorite Song


To make the Post A Day 2011 challenge a bit more bearable, I’ve set up a couple of regular features. Saturdays are for reviews (yesterday being an exception) and Sundays are for song lyrics. But I’m out of song lyric ideas, so I wanted a new regular Sunday feature. Keeping the music theme I’ve been using, I’m undertaking the 30 Day Song Challenge as a weekly project.


Week 1 — Your Favorite Song

“Witness To Your Life,” Lori McKenna

It’s no shock to readers of this blog that I like the Lori McKenna, so it’s probably no surprise that my favorite song is one of hers.

I heard this song because I like Lori’s music, but I love Lori’s music because I heard this song.

It speaks to a desire of my heart — To be known. To have someone care.

All you really need is someone to be here
Someone who never lets you disappear
And I will be that witness to your life
This may just be a softer place to fall
But somebody will answer when you call
And I will be that witness to your life

As a writer, the idea of “story” is important to me, and that carries over into relationships. I want someone to share my story with, I want someone to share their story with me, I want to be able to share a common story with someone.

(One of the blessings of being in a relationship with your best friend — Heather knew my story before we ever started dating.)

I love the sound of the song, the music, and Lori’s incredible ability to use her voice to make the song real; the way she sings it like she means it.

I love the writing; in addition to the idea of the songs, there’s another little nugget that really speaks to me — “Stopped listening to all your friends / They think this is where life begins and ends / No one reaches, no one trandscends — they just learn to live with it.” I want to lead the sort of life that no one would ever say that about me. It’s a nice challenge.

And that’s my favorite song.

Next week — My Least Favorite Song

Lori McKenna — “Next Best Thing” Lyrics


(“Next Best Thing” is a free download from NoiseTrade. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

Next Best Thing
Lori McKenna/Trent Dabbs

When you gonna to learn to give up?
When you gonna give into my love?
When you gonna to stop your dreaming,
Thinking this town ain’t big enough?

You’re trading in what you’ve always known;
I’ve watched the taillights disappear on up the road.
But you know
I’ll always love you more than a kid could love a candy store.
Honey, why you out there making plans when your heart could be in better hands,
Drinking beer and rolling cigarettes?
Well, I ain’t changed no one’s life just yet.
I’ll give you space and you’ll come back around to me,
Next best thing.

Everybody’s wondering ’bout you;
What should I tell them when they ask?
Are you still that same sweet Christian boy,
Or just another prayer that’s fading fast?

There’s a parking lot in the field where we first kissed;
They took a wrecking ball to the white church walls we should have been married in.

But you know
I’ll always love you more than a kid could love a candy store.
Honey, why you out there making plans when your heart could be in better hands,
Drinking beer and rolling cigarettes?
Well, I ain’t changed no one’s life just yet.
I’ll give you space and you’ll come back around to me;
I’m not going anywhere and I’m just fine to be
Next best thing.

Sometimes I just wait downtown
And watch every passenger get off the train,
Occasionally saying your name.

AndI know
I’ll always love you more than a kid could love a candy store
Honey, why you out there making plans when your heart could be in better hands
Drinking beer and rolling cigarettes
No one else has changed my life just yet
So when the lights go out and you see through the make-believe
And I’m not there to give you what you need
Baby, close your eyes and remember me
Next best thing
Next best thing

Thanks to Heather Smith for help with transcription

Lori McKenna — “Still Down Here” Lyrics


(“Still Down Here” is from Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

Still Down Here
Lori McKenna/Barry Dean

St. Peter says “You picked a real good day”
Your lungs fill back up with air and your worries float away
Jesus smiles; he is a handsome man
He’s taller than you thought — eyes so warm — reaching out his hand

In the Holy Kingdom angels sing a hymn
For all your good behavior they handed you your crown and wings
You don’t feel the sorrow; there’s no pain or fear
Don’t forget about me, don’t forget about me
I’m still down here

Everyone knew you were on your way
Earlier than expected, said the papers in both places that day
Saw your family, some for the very first time
There were smiling faces, strawberry cake and a welcome home sign

In the Holy Kingdom angels sing a hymn
For all your good behavior they handed you your crown and wings
You don’t feel the sorrow; there’s no pain or fear
Don’t forget about me, don’t forget about me
I’m still down here in the shadowland, here where there’s doubt
Here where we must learn to live with what we live without

Clouds of silver and streets of gold
Where no shadow is cast; there’s nobody growing old
You find some old friends and take a walk around
But believe them when they say, “Tell you one thing — just don’t look down”

In the Holy Kingdom, angels sing a hymn
Stay there above the clouds now; don’t ever shed one tear
Don’t forget about me, don’t forget about me
I’m still down here