Lori McKenna

Bittertown, Lori McKenna's exceptional fourth album, finds the skilled singer/songwriter looking at life through the eyes of one whose hopes and dreams have been tempered by fate and circumstance. Bruised but determined, she has created a harsh yet telling snapshot of rural existence, using riveting melodies to etch an indelible impression.

Yet for an album so mired in melancholia, Bittertown is a surprisingly resolute affair. McKenna conveys her material from a knowing perspective, one that teeters a narrow line between remorse and defiance. "Bible Song," "Mr. Sunshine," and "Monday Afternoon" are bracing, griping, irresistible anthems that find her spitting contempt while also pleading for compassion. The empty, washed-up losers in "Lone Star" and "One Man" could hail from Anytown, U.S.A. The neglected housewife who laments the dissolution of romance on the sad, sweet "Stealing Kisses" ("I was stealing kisses from a boy/Now I'm begging affection from a man") might easily live next door.

Insightful and compelling, Bittertown is home to dashed fortunes and troubled memories. McKenna's tangled tales provide a postcard from the edge.

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Lee Zimmerman