Paper Wings and Halo
Signature Sounds/Catalyst Disc(CAT 5003)
By David Schultz
It surprised me to find out that Lori McKenna's Paper Wings and Halo (1998) had not been reviewed previously by another FAME reviewer. McKenna's debut disc has been favorably compared to the strong debut The Honesty Room by a young Dar Williams. Now Catalyst Disc and Signature Sounds have re-released Paper Wings and Halo (minus Borrow Me), along with three live bonus tracks. The reissue also includes all-new artwork.
Although the production on Paper Wings and Halo was sparse, consisting of mostly Lori and her acoustic guitar, the occasional bass, mandolin, electric guitar, and piano, and minimal background vocals (Kris Delmorst, Bob Giroux, and Richard Giroux) also can be found. Despite this, McKenna's strong, distinctive voice makes this a powerful album, akin to Patty Griffin's acoustic Living With Ghosts, but different from McKenna's much more heavily instrumented Pieces of Me (2001).
Many of the most powerful songs on Paper Wings and Halo cover the well-worn topics of relationship trouble, but McKenna somehow provides a fresh perspective. In What's One More Time, the narrator meets her old lover in a coffeeshop "to make sure you don't still love me". The detail of the interaction masterfully tells the story of the uncomfortableness of the narrator and her nervous habits without being blatant: "The place is cold and the table's sticky. I take a napkin, you watch me wipe it down."
The dissolution of relationships and dealing with the post-relationship phase are explored on other songs. On the opening track "As I Am," McKenna pleads to her lover to stop trying to change her. The narrator in "Don't Tell Her" is cautioning her old lover to not reveal much about her to the new girlfriend.
Because Paying the Price is the only song on the album with McKenna backed by Bob Giroux on piano, it serves as a nice bridge in the middle of the album. Some of the songs (Swallows Me Whole and Holy Water) were recorded live on Paper Wings and Halo, although the sound quality is uniformly good throughout. The vocals are strong in the mix.
All three bonus tracks were recorded at Fox Run House Concerts on April 8, 2000. The first two songs do not appear anywhere else, including her 2000 CD Pieces of Me. Not In This Life" describes the tension between a priest and the narrator, the woman with whom he's in love with. Josephine is the child of a 16-year-old girl who's now grown up. Finally, the live version of Paper Wings and Halo features Meghan Toohey on background vocals, and is noticeably slower, more dramatic than the studio version.
If you don't own Paper Wings and Halo, you will do yourself a favor by picking up a copy of this CD. If you already own the original release of Paper Wings and Halo, you may want to consider buying the re-release for the bonus tracks alone.
Bonus Live Tracks:
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