Slant’s Jonathan Keefe on the new Trisha Yearwood

I’ve been playing the new Trisha Yearwood CD non-stop for two days now.   I’m really digging it, but what else is new?  It’s not like this woman has ever put out a bad album.    That’s the difficult part of reviewing her work.  When an artist is so consistently excellent, it’s hard for me to get a handle on how the new music compares to the old.

So when I woke up this morning, a thought popped into my head: “I wonder if Jonathan Keefe has reviewed it yet?”  Keefe writes for Slant magazine, and has the very admirable trait of discussing country albums at length.   I don’t always agree with him, but his writing is top-notch and his opinions well supported.

Miracle of miracles, I headed over to Slate and there it was: a 4 1/2-star review for the new Trisha CD.  What I like best about Keefe’s reviews is he is able to capture the big picture of an artist’s career while still maintaining focus on the new work he’s reviewing. Here’s a sample from his review:

For well over a decade now, Yearwood has been one of, if not the, best singers recording in any popular genre, with a combination of technical power and range, an intuitive, thoughtful command of phrasing, and a real sense of presence. So it’s really saying something that she’s never sounded better than she does on Heaven. Though she’s best known for her pop-leaning ballads, it’s her bluesier uptempo numbers and her more traditional country cuts that best showcase the breadth of her skill, and the album gives her plenty of shine on both. On the fiery lead single and title track, for instance, Yearwood doesn’t “sing” so much as deliver a pew-jumping sermon, and her performance is all the more effective because of how well she uses dynamics to emphasize key lines and build momentum. Yearwood can belt and growl better than just about anyone, but what makes her such a superior vocalist is that she knows when it’s in service of the song. The way she lapses into her upper register for a near-yodel on the bridge to “Cowboys Are My Weakness” is a genuinely clever and effective nod to the song’s deliberate retro style, while the way she swallows her vowels on the traditional country ballad “Help Me” recalls vintage Tammy Wynette. It’s amazing, really, that Yearwood is still finding new ways to use her voice and all the more remarkable that her instincts are so consistently right.

For those keeping track at home, that’s a 1/2 star less than he gave Miranda Lambert and a 1/2 star more than he gave Pam Tillis.    I have a sneaking suspicion that our best-of lists for 2007 will consist of similar albums in a slightly different order.   The real challenge for me will be finding new things to say after Keefe’s already covered the main points better than I could ever do!

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4 Comments

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4 Responses to Slant’s Jonathan Keefe on the new Trisha Yearwood

  1. Kevin,

    I always appreciate a nice plug… especially since I receive around a 1:4 ratio of positive comments to hatemail. Seriously: thanks!

    And, of course, I’ll say again that, as much as your breadth of coverage, it’s the quality of your writing– and the fact that your opinions reflect a different perspective on contemporary country than, say, the CMT message boards– that makes Countryuniverse a daily must-read for me. And I still wouldn’t have known about Rhinestoned if not for this site.

    As for Trisha: she knocked it out of the park on this one, didn’t she? I have Little Big Town and Josh Turner reviews still to write, but I’m having a hard time giving them much time in the CD player because of Trisha’s album.

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Purchased this album yesterday – typical Trisha Yearwood album in the sense that the vocals are excellent, the songs good (but not great) , and the backing not quite as country as I’d like it to be (I despise the sound of an electric organ) – 4 to 4.5 stars

    Trisha Yearwood is the best of today’s female vocalists and probably has only Rhonda Vincent and Connie Smith as peers, ever, in the genre

  3. Paul,

    I’m with you 100% on Connie Smith, but I’ve just not ever been a fan of Vincent’s, though I do think she obviously has a great country voice. That said, I’m only familiar with a relatively small percentage of her material– the occasional videos she’s had on CMT, and All American Bluegrass Girl, which I didn’t much care for at all. So I think I may just not have heard her best material. Can you recommend some tracks or albums of hers for me to check out?

    Also: what do you think of Cia Cherryholmes? I’ve been watching a bunch of Cherryholmes’ videos on YouTube, and she’s a real powerhouse singer with a tone and dead-on sense of pitch similar to Vincent’s.

  4. Leeann

    Trisha clearly has the best voice in country music, I heartily agree. I loved this review of the album. I wish she wrote music, but at least she seems to feel the songs that sings, even if she can’t write them.

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