Lori McKenna titled her album 1988 after the year she married her husband, Gene, yet the 10 songs within also serve as a love letter to lifelong friendships, people she’s lost, and her family. Recorded with producer Dave Cobb, 1988 naturally has its nostalgic moments, even if not every ending is a happy one.
With more of an electric edge than her past projects, Lori McKenna's 1988 feels in step with classic ‘90s albums by Sheryl Crow or Gin Blossoms, where the lyrics pulled you in as much as the melody or production. Playing together on acoustic guitars while facing one another in the studio, McKenna and Cobb tracked the album live, giving it a feeling of immediacy and authenticity.
“I was trying to let my age and experience guide me through making a record I wished I’d made when I was younger,” she explains. “I really wanted it to sound like if I made a rock record in the ‘90s, and then I remembered that I made my first album in 1998. There's something so 30 years ago in my head about this record. In a way I wish I could start again and know what I know now.” She continues, “I like doing solo shows, but I really like it when we’re all together. That’s another reason why this record sounds the way it does. I really wanted it to sound like a band, because it’s so fun to play live that way. You think of Jason Isbell’s song, ‘Traveling Alone,’ and I never did that, but all of my friends did. I'm a serious homebody, so I don't love being gone, but I love playing the shows. And I also love Nashville and I love chasing songs with new people. And I feel like I really lucked out in the fact that I get to still make records. I literally cannot believe how lucky I am.”
McKenna's musical journey began in Boston's singer-songwriter scene, where she self-released her debut album, Paper Wings & Halos. Recognized for her ability to encapsulate complex emotions with simple words, McKenna soon caught the attention of Nashville's songwriting community. One of the album's standout tracks, "Killing Me," co-written with frequent collaborators Hillary Lindsey and Luke Laird, exemplifies the lessons she has learned from Nashville's finest songwriters.
During the pandemic, McKenna found herself writing alone for four or five days a week. The result was "The Old Woman In Me," a song that conveys the mutual respect between her present self and the person she aspires to be in the future. Exploring themes of introspection and personal growth, the track offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the older self rather than the younger. Collaborating with her son, Chris McKenna, on "Happy Children," McKenna delivers a tender and kind-hearted wish. Other tracks, such as "Days Of Honey" and the title track "1988," offer up-tempo yet realistic portrayals of enduring relationships. Addressing the experiences of her generation, "Growing Up" explores the bittersweet process of comforting friends who have lost their parents.
The second half of 1988 delves into more somber territory, tackling heavy themes with both strength and sadness. "Wonder Drug" sheds light on the battle against opioid addiction, while "Town In Your Heart" serves as a heartfelt letter to a brother lost to alcoholism. McKenna's willingness to explore these difficult subjects stems from her desire to portray the unfortunate truths that everyone encounters in life. Despite winning three Grammy Awards, including Best Country Song, McKenna isn't exempt from self-reflection. In "Letting People Down," she contemplates the blessings and challenges of her career while staring at her collection of trophies in the garage. The album concludes with "The Tunnel," a poignant narrative that ultimately delivers an uplifting message. The gospel chorus adds a dynamic contrast to the intimate lyrics, a contrast that McKenna is excited to replicate during her live performances.
With 1988, Lori McKenna showcases her growth as an artist. The album's blend of nostalgia, introspection, and raw emotion solidifies McKenna's status as a gifted songwriter. As she prepares to hit the road, McKenna's desire to create an experience for her audience ensures that her music will resonate deeply, inviting listeners to embark on a journey through the landscapes of her soulful storytelling.