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In 'Drinkin' Problem,' an Enabler Finds Clarity

Songs about alcohol and its effects are common currency in country music. But in "Drinkin' Problem," Lori McKenna goes in a different direction, sidestepping the usual moralistic dimension in favor of getting under the skin of someone for whom the issue is an immediate concern.

The song's narrator is a teetotaler, but in a way, that's immaterial; McKenna still sings in the slow, desperate voice of someone struggling to force out her call for help in the brief flash provided by her moment of clarity. She tries so hard to avoid sentimentality that it's easy to hear her meticulously following the script that she knows she's supposed to follow. She admits as much, with her references to "the man down at the meeting" and "this book I've been reading."

But even if that suggests that this conversation has been a long time coming, it's not an intervention, exactly. Despite acknowledging the joint ownership of the situation, McKenna takes responsibility only for herself, singing the line "I think I've got a drinkin' problem" like it's an admission of her own defeat and nobody else's. It's the cry of an enabler who's hit rock bottom.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Marc Hirsh
Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.