September 4, 2008
Do You Know
Jessica Simpson is all country. At least by her own account. She has fully embraced the sound of Nashville pop-country, along with all the elements of its image. The conversations flavored with “Y’all” and “Bless your heart” and all those sweet, southern sayings. The wardrobes of jeans, t-shirt and a perfectly worn pair of cowboy boots. And the songs feature just enough steel and country sass to fit well with all that has become mainstream country music. Is the image a true reflection of Simpson as a person? Likely. Are the songs there? Unfortunately not, for the most part, on Do You Know.
The first single, “Come On Over,” became a Top 20 success on country radio; however lyrical content is not its strong suit. In fact, it fully discloses the major problem that courses through the entire album. Do You Know sounds good, thanks to Brett James and John Shanks, who aim to please fans with a mix of innocuous country licks amidst the melodic tricks of pop music. However, the stories in the songs are rarely there, and even when the material matches the rest of mainstream country music today, the production choices are, at best, questionable.
For example, “You’re My Sunday” speaks to a lazy-day love with the silence and sensitivity found in the best of relationships, and then Simpson starts to hollering in the chorus and the peaceful, easy feeling dies a painful death. Plus, the music tends to drown out the message. And on “Might As Well Be Making Love,” Simpson tries to strangle every note on a song that otherwise is a tender ode to reconnecting with her man.
Even when the music matches the mood, the results are fair to middling. “Pray Out Loud” is a song about faith and fearlessness in the face of struggle, but the mid-tempo number hardly shows a pulse. Same goes for “When I Loved You Like That,” a fairly non-descript track that tries to cover too much terrain without having a central theme. On an album supposedly full of important ideas, they are often absent altogether.
The most notable (and honestly, the most focused) track is the title cut, a song written specifically for Simpson by country legend Dolly Parton, who lends her distinctive vocals to the title track, “Do You Know.” Although her harmonies seem a little out of place in such a contemporary setting, it’s the best one on the album. The lyric is unique and unyielding in its power, and Simpson is (finally) in fine voice.
Simpson is a capable singer, but her wailing ends up failing her on a number of tracks that could use a gentler touch. Does she belong in country music? Her country music “roots” and her comfort level within the genre suggest that one day she could, given great country songs and better artistic advice. But those qualities aren’t featured here. At least by my own account.