creative workshop ad
creative workshop

Lori McKenna: Lorraine

| February 2, 2011 | 2 Comments

Lori McKenna’s first name is actually Lorraine. Now you know. She is named after the mother she lost when she was only 7, but whose impact on Lori’s life reverberates to this day. In her sixth album, Lorraine, she considers the influence of her mother, who died at roughly the same age Lori is now, as well as her own place in relationship to her husband, family and community. It is her most personal album to date.

Lori’s unusual combination of professional and personal life, at least in the context of the modern music industry, is well-documented. She grew up in Massachusetts in a musical household. Her father was an excellent singer, and her mother played the piano. Two of her older brothers were songwriters, one of whom (Richard) she considers largely responsible for her career. He accompanied a reluctant Lori to open mic nights and gave her confidence that she was good enough. She began performing her songs in public at age 27, after she and her husband Gene already had three children. She and Gene continue to maintain a happy home in Stoughton, Massachusetts, adding two more children to their full lives.

She eventually became a staple of the Boston folk music scene, where she became friendly with Mary Gauthier. “We were the two old ladies in a sea of young faces,” she jokes. When Gauthier picked up and left for Nashville, she brought Lori’s music to the attention of her publisher. They got her music into the hands of Faith Hill, who fell hard for Lori’s songs. Hill recorded three of them for her album Fireflies. Lori’s way of articulating the love, pain and pathos of domestic life had a huge impact on Hill, and Hill’s very public championing of Lori’s music led other artists to Lori’s songs. Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Alison Krauss, Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes are among the many that have recorded her songs in recent years.

The increased acclaim for her song craft led to a record deal with Warner Brothers, who released her 2007 album Unglamorous. Working with Tim McGraw (who co-produced the album), an appearance on Oprah and an opening slot on McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul tour were heady experiences, and Lori is grateful for them. “The whole experience was wonderful, and there were several at Warner Brothers that worked so hard for my album,” she says, but there was always a sense that her music and their goals were not going to result in a perfect professional marriage. “Recording in Nashville, as good as the experience has been in many ways, is not exactly the safest way to guard your creative instincts.” Sales levels that would seem astronomical by the standards of the folk community that nurtured her were not enough for a subsequent regime at Warner Brothers, and they parted amicably. “One thing that did come out of that experience was a much deeper confidence in myself as an artist,” says Lori, which was one reason she decided to take the reins back in her professional life. By choice, she has no label and no manager for the first time in her career.

The album closes with a prayer to Lorraine. Lori used to pray to her mother when she was a child: there was a strong sense that Lorraine was watching over her. “I think I made better choices in my life because I felt she was there,” Lori says. “Still Down Here” is a prayer that Lorraine and all the loved ones who leave their earthly burdens behind remember the ones still here on Earth, still in need of their love and guidance. With a daughter so empathetic to the human condition and so loyal and loving to her family and community, one guesses that Lorraine is looking down, very proud.

—Photos by Nancy Giroux and Michael Wilson

Category: Be Heard Jukebox Archive

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Joanne Burns says:

    There was an immediate connection between me and Lori McKenna the first time I heard her music. She hooked me. It is hard to describe the feelings I have when listening to her. she touches me in a deep visceral way, she brings tears to my eyes, she brings out the soul in me. She breathes life into me. I hope she keeps it coming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *