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Chart Beat Podcast: Lori McKenna on Writing Country Smashes for Tim McGraw, Little Big Town & Carrie Underwood

Plus, the Grammy Award winner performs two songs from her new album, "The Tree."

Welcome to the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast, where each week co-hosts Gary Trust and Trevor Anderson, from the Billboard charts department, discuss why what’s on the charts … is on the charts, while also looking at current chart action in a historical context for even greater insights.

This week, Gary, Trevor and Billboard.com editor Taylor Weatherby welcome special guest Lori McKenna, who muses about songwriting and more and performs two songs from her new album, The Tree (released July 20): lead single “People Get Old” and set opener “A Mother Never Rests.”


McKenna got her start as singer-songwriter in the Boston folk scene and has since become one of the most in-demand writers in Nashville, having penned the Hot Country Songs No. 1s “Humble and Kind” for Tim McGraw and “Girl Crush” (with writing partners Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose) for Little Big Town. The songs won McKenna her first Grammy Awards, each for best country song, in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

McKenna’s latest Hot Country Songs top 10 as a writer, her fifth, is “Cry Pretty,” performed by Carrie Underwood, with whom McKenna, Lindsey and Rose wrote it.

“Jesus and James Taylor is how we grew up,” McKenna says of her influences. (The line “Jesus and James Taylor” is also one of multiple potential song titles that she effortlessly generates in conversation. Another, not that she needs any songwriting help from us: “Check Every Guitar,” as she chuckles, “I have gotten to the point where I’m like, ‘I cannot write a song today. I just need today to be a regular day without trying to rhyme words.’ Sometimes I check every guitar in my house and there’s just not a song there.”)

As for co-writing “Cry Pretty” with Underwood, McKenna says, “It was just great to have a girl day hanging out with her, talking about Whole Foods! She wanted to talk about our husbands and our kids. It was just like another girl in the room … except she can sing like Carrie Underwood.”

Enjoy the latest Billboard Chart Beat Podcast and remember that you can be a part of it by calling the new Chart Beat Podcast hotline: 212-493-4021 (aka, “40-to-1” … like a countdown!) Call with your chart questions and/or observations for us to play back and respond to, and check back for additional upcoming episodes with artists, label executives, radio programmers and personalities, songwriters, producers and more. And, to receive every episode automatically in your inbox, subscribe to (and rate) the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast on iTunes!