Much like the poet Mary Oliver, Lori McKenna chronicles the small glories and setbacks of family life and the past moments that animate the present. McKenna never slips into gauzy nostalgia or maudlin regrets, though she never pulls back from uttering anger or sorrow or from embracing the little joys associated with relationships among family and friends. In short, 1988—the title comes from the year she and her husband, Gene, were married—follows the contours of life and the shapes of that life.
With ringing guitars flowing beneath McKenna’s crystalline vocals, the sonically spacious “The Old Woman in Me” mediates on a life in progress and the hopes for the future. McKenna reflects on the wisdom she’s gained about herself through the years and acknowledges that she is a “work in progress.” She wistfully wishes that she gets to meet the “old woman in me” to see how she’s grown.
“Growing Up” hearkens back to “The Lot Behind St. Mary’s,” from McKenna’s 2018 album The Tree; they’re heartful ballads about coming of age in a small town. Layers of cascading guitars and spiraling vocals breathe fierce life into the angry and defiant “Wonder Drug,” about a life cut short by addiction, while the electrifying “Town in Your Heart” reverberates vibrantly over the loss of a loved one to alcoholism.
Bright guitar strums open the title track, a bright and sprightly celebration of the marriage: “I’ve been your thick and thin since 1988.” The propulsive, expansive country rocker “Killing Me,” featuring the vocals of Hillary Lindsey (who co-wrote the song with Luke Laird and McKenna), encourages optimism despite the easy choice to be pessimistic: “Would it kill you to be happy/because trying to make you happy is killing me.” The album closes with the slowly unfurling and anthemic “The Tunnel,” an atmospheric ballad mapping the journey of life through all its shadows and light.
1988 showcases once again McKenna’s ability to capture in her songwriting snapshots of life in all its messiness and glory and wonder. Her gratitude for living through these moments underlies every song on her first-rate new album.
1988 is available HERE.