concert reviews

Lori McKenna at Jammin' Java, Vienna, VA, Wednesday 19 August 2004

Coming from someone who is so quick to giggle in the middle of a song, Lori McKenna's frequently dark lyrics ("I'm not a winner / I am just brilliantly bitter," she sings in "Never Die Young") seem incongruous.

That somberness pervaded her music Wednesday night (her most recent album is "Bittertown"), and her folk tunes often had a blues feel, as on the melancholy "Pour." But although her music wasn't always cheerful, the cozy setting of Jammin' Java allowed McKenna to display her congenial personality as she divulged everything from her favorite songwriting spot (her kitchen) to her guilty pleasures (Jessica and Ashlee Simpson's reality shows, as well as VH1's "Behind the Music").

McKenna's rich alto had more twang than would be expected from someone who was born and raised near Boston. And, as with most folk singers, her subject matter focused on things familiar to her, such as the tensions of small-town life ("They marry young in these parts / They work in the factory," she sang in "Bible Song").

McKenna even launched into the morose Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt," revived by Johnny Cash last year, but she stopped after the first line of the chorus with a laugh, saying, "I forgot the chords!" As she worked them out with her accompanist, Lorne Entress, she quipped, "This is just like an Ashlee Simpson episode!" and restarted the song more confidently.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 20 August 2004
.: Selected discography: Bittertown (Lori McKenna, 2004); Paper Wings & Halo (Lori McKenna, 2002).