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Considering the nature of her primary themes — namely, the love and tumult with which both marriage and parenthood are freighted — what continues to amaze about Lori McKenna is how elegantly she circumnavigates the obvious potential pitfalls of writing songs which circulate in that realm. Which is to say that on The Balladeer, as with every record in her stellar discography, what you won’t hear is McKenna sing a false or mawkish note.
She has honed a power, seemingly unique to her, to strike at the heart of the sentimental and mine songs built with genuine ardor and a sincere, idiosyncratic integrity of spirit. This is especially apparent on The Balladeer, which it’s tempting to characterize as McKenna’s most personal record to date.▼ Article continues below ▼
Whether she’s inhabiting the titular performer on the title track (“They’re never gonna play her on the radio/So she hangs in the darkest bars with downtrodden bleeding hearts”), recounting the influence of her older sister (“Marie”), providing a peek into her own marriage of 30-plus years (“Good Fight”), or singing directly to her growing children on the album’s most stunning track, “When You’re My Age,” McKenna’s vulnerability twined with her true gift and grit for honest, unadorned songwriting is impossible not to be moved by.