Album: Lori McKenna

Bittertown, CRS

Yet another splendid offering from 2004's bumper crop of female singer-songwriters, Bittertown is a cycle of songs shot through with small-town frustration. The Massachusetts-born Lori McKenna has already garnered comparisons to the Bruce Springsteen of "My Home Town" and the Lucinda Williams of World Without Tears for her spirited evocation of motives and memories here, delivered in a strident, slightly tart vocal tone that conveys the various nuances of ambition and loss in songs such as "Lone Star" and "Stealing Kisses". In the former, she celebrates the revenge of a local nerd over his schoolboy tormentors who returns as a rock star, while the latter involves the more standard country-music fare of the neglected housewife who married too young ("I was stealing kisses from a boy/ Now I'm begging affection from a man"), just one of several variations on the album's theme of entrapment and escape. The characters in "Cowardly Lion" and "One Man" are full of regret for the path not taken, reflecting on the unfulfilled dreams of an adolescence spent "acting like we'd leave this place the minute we ever had the chance", or else grasping at straws of partial contentment. It's a torment perhaps best conveyed in the opening "Bible Town", a dead-end place where people marry young and go straight from school to factory. Recommended.

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