by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
When talents as enormous as Lori McKenna and Dave Cobb come together in a studio, the resulting record is bound to be special. Exhibit A: The Bird & The Rifle. Both music-makers have been riding high lately, with hit records and Grammy Awards to spare. But, if any two folks ever deserved such accolades, it’s these two.
The secret to McKenna’s success is that she understands that life — and, therefore, art — is all about the details. The real stuff happens in the space between the breaths, the calm between the storms, and the quiet between the words. That’s where she lives (along with her husband and five children) so it’s also where she creates. In McKenna’s hands, the often arduous daily toil gets sculpted into magnificent vignettes.
Even when McKenna takes a hard look at long-term commitment, as she does so wondrously in the album’s opener, “Wreck You,” she makes the lack of romanticism somehow romantic. And Cobb’s intuitive production — the gently soaring strings, in particular — lets the piece lean over and peer into the abyss of what a collapsing marriage can be, while still keeping it from falling into any sort of despair. The story’s resolution is left for another day, but the listener might easily imagine that the singer’s resolve will get the couple through the darkness and back to the light.
That same matter-of-fact handling works to great effect as McKenna prattles off the poignant check-list that is “Humble and Kind.” With another singer — let’s say Tim McGraw, just for argument’s sake — the tune could go from sentimental to saccharin in four bars flat. But McKenna packs the punch of several decades as a mother and each line was written for one of her kids, so her grasp of the material is steeped in authenticity.
Other highlights include the breezy vibe of “We Were Cool,” the Mary Chapin Carpenter feel of “All These Things,” the thoughtful sway of “Old Men Young Women,” and the telling shuffle of “Giving Up on Your Hometown.” Really, though, there’s nary a missed shot anywhere in the set.