In fact, let's start with the title track. Co-written with Liz Rose, the theme "we're regular people" is a comfortable one. While the full band behind McKenna is at first distracting, the ode to everyday struggles shines through. The story is painted out with short observations of the ordinary: "How beautiful - gravel road leading to a front door/How beautiful - old wool socks on a bedroom floor." Yes, comfortable is the word.
As I listened to Unglamorous, there were admittedly some reservations about the musical change of circumstances. I didn't like the idea of shared songwriting credits, of a full band, of strings, of backing vocals (even if they do come from the likes of Kelly Willis and Buddy Miller). But it seems that the changes mostly serve to amplify the power of McKenna's songs and voice. The closing "Leaving This Life" is proof. It's a powerful take on the death of her mother, where the message and the voice are all that you hear.
Elsewhere, the accompaniment is more stripped down. There are several songs about romance gone sour ("I Know You," "How To Survive," "Your Next Lover"), and love that's burning white hot ("I'm Not Crazy"). My favorite in all of this is "Falter." Reminiscent of Norah Jones' "Humble Me," it's a sad vignette of a life wasted. It's also a musical prayer flag, sending out a message of the hope for humanity's improvement. Can songs change the society they're born in? I think so.
I still have a fear that Lori McKenna is going to be swallowed by the Nashville machine. From her songs and what I've read about her, she seems to be far too grounded for that. But still, if McKenna gets to stand on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and send "Hardly Speaking A Word" and "Falter" out into the night, then there's nothing to worry about.