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.

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

Lori McKenna — “All I Ever Do” Lyrics


(“All I Ever Do” is from Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

All I Ever Do
Natalie Hemby/Lori McKenna

I turn the lights on in the hallway
Walk down the stairs without a bit of grace
The TV’s on and the weatherman says
It’s just another sunny day
Open the curtains in the bay window
Look out at the neighbors we don’t get to know
All the cars are in the turning lane
And everybody waves

All I ever do is work
All I ever do is pray
But I do know that I have for you
A love that never fades
And it’s OK
If it’s all I ever do

You and I were gonna leave this little town
Find a bigger city, go and settle down
Finally have the chance to see our dreams
Come springing into life
You sold your guitar when the baby came
We gave her Joni as her middle name
And cluttered up the house with Fisher-Price
Never sleeping through the night

All I ever do is work
All I ever do is pray
But I do know that I have for you
A love that never fades
And it’s OK
If it’s all I ever do

All I ever do

You finally pull into the driveway
We’re both exhausted from a long day
You wrap your arms around me with a kiss
You look at me and say
All we ever do is work
All we ever do is pray
But I do know that I have for you
A love that never fades
And it’s OK
If it’s all I ever do

All I ever do

But I do know that I have for you
A love that never fades
And it’s OK
If it’s all I ever do

I turn the lights off in the hallway

Lori McKenna — “Buy This Town” Lyrics


(“Buy This Town” is from Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

Buy This Town
Lori McKenna

If I could buy this town, I’d keep it small and rough
Full of third-shift dreamers and high school love
I’d keep the Church of Christ and the bowling alley open
Where the Bud Light signs crackle while they’re glowing
If I could buy this town

If I could buy one night, I wouldn’t buy the one you’d think
I’d buy the one when my eyes teared up by the light above the kitchen sink
And you held me tight and you begged me not to cry
If I could buy the sweetness of one kiss, well, that’s the one I’d buy
If I could buy one night

All the money in the world couldn’t buy a drop of real love could it?
And it really shouldn’t, now should it?
If I could buy the stars I’d polish them so bright

If I could buy your pain, first I’d buy the great big sea
And I’d put that pain inside a box and bury it so deep
If I could I’d buy you back the years you worked yourself to death
I would buy and waste your suffering until there wasn’t any left
If I could buy your pain

All the money in the world couldn’t buy a drop of real love could it?
And it really shouldn’t, now should it?
‘Cause I’d gladly give you every piece of my whole heart

If I could buy this town, I keep the Friday night bleachers
Full of kids falling in love and unlikely believers
And the firefighters are there, ’cause their kid’s in the game
And we don’t win too often but that ain’t why we came
If I could buy this town

Lori McKenna — “American Revolver” Lyrics


(“American Revolver” is from Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine. Additional Lori McKenna lyrics can be found here.)

American Revolver
Lori McKenna / Barry Dean

She’s crying again
You lay quiet on her chest
She knows you’re a dangerous comfort
But you haven’t broken her heart yet

She wants to feel safe again
She thinks that you understand
Maybe it’s crazy; maybe it’s brave
Either way it’s a losing game

She’s hoping she’ll know what to do
With a six-shot .22

When the only one who’s innocent is cold blue steel
For the first time someone’s listening to how she feels
Lord knows you can’t save her
You can’t stop or change her plans
Just an American revolver

You’re proof she means what she says
It’s a fairer fight with you around
To rescue her if things get so bad
There’s no other possible way out

She keeps going back and forth
Between herself and the door

When the only one who’s innocent is cold blue steel
For the first time someone’s listening to how she feels
Lord knows you can’t save her
You can’t stop or change her plans
Just an American revolver

Too late now for I’m sorry
American revolver
He’s coming up the front steps
American revolver
He’s been drinking again
She keeps going back and forth
Between herself and the door

When the only one who’s innocent is cold blue steel
But this time someone’s gonna listen to how she feels
Lord knows you can’t save her
You can’t stop or change her plans
Just an American revolver
American revolver
American revolver
American revolver

Lori McKenna — “Lorraine” Lyrics


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

Lorraine
Lori McKenna

The kitchen smells like orange peels
Her stomach turns like a spinning wheel
Put the baby down in her little seat
You should rest now, mama; you should eat
It ain’t right you been working all day
And all us kids getting in your way
So she goes to bed as soon as the kitchen’s clean
And that don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me

Well, I don’t know if this part is true
How memories lie; sometimes they do
But I can see her in our living room
With a smile on her face, and she’s dancing to
Judy Garland, Carnegie Hall, Sunday April 23rd
She said her cousin had a balcony seat
And that don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me

Oh Lord, am I good enough
When this world spins as hard as it does
And we both know how it shakes some people up
So how did you decide to give me so much love

Well, she never said a word to me
About dying, about how she’d leave
In all her pain she would never cry
Me and my best friend Tina would ride our bikes
From Lelland Road up Daily Drive
We took a paper route one summer time
Tina’s mom said I was part of the family
And that don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me

Oh, Lord, am I good enough
When this world spins as hard as it does
And we both know how it shakes some people up
So how did you decide to give me so much love
Love, so much love, so much love, love, love

You give me so much love, so much love

No one’s had a bigger say
In who I am today
And I swear I’ve tried to be worthy of
The name they gave me when I was young
But I ain’t that pretty; I ain’t that brave
My kids have seen me cry
They should have given her name to my sister Marie
And that don’t mean a thing to you
That don’t mean a thing to you but it does to me