December 26, 2008
As a new generation arrives, Trisha Yearwood flies under the radar on Music Row
A beautiful blonde, signed to Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records, remained a constant force in popular country music, churning out chart-topping singles and blazing the concert trail with a slew of the year’s most-played songs.
That’s Taylor Swift, for all of you playing along at home, but another of Borchetta’s singers is a beautiful blonde operating in Nashville, though she’s not the top draw that she was in the early stages of her career. Trisha Yearwood debuted in 1991 with the classic tale of Katie and Tommy, “She’s in Love With the Boy,” and twenty top ten singles, a shelf-full of Grammys, ACMs and CMAs and fifteen million albums sold signaled her reign over the country queendom in the ‘90s, an era of milk and honey and unsurpassed riches for the genre’s top acts.
In this decade, with a host of pretty young things clamoring for their own star turn, Yearwood receded into the shadows, with an extended break between 2001’s Inside Out and her 2005 comeback disc, Jasper County. She appeared to like regular life so much that her career could’ve easily fallen by the wayside. She could’ve taken a permanent break from her all-consuming profession and embraced small-town life in Oklahoma, lining up lunch dates with her fellow housewives and trotting out her trusty meatloaf recipe for hubby Garth Brooks. But instead, she continued to produce some of the strongest musical statements in country music, and that mission resulted in her career-best album last November.
Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is a richly rewarding set that embraced blues, pop, country and Western swing. Paying little mind to Music Row formulas, Yearwood assembled a batch of songs that deal with real-life dramas in a smart, focused manner. The demise of the family farm is mourned on the stunning “Dreaming Fields,” while “Sing You Back to Me” honors the memory of her late father, Jack, who passed away in 2006. “This Is Me You’re Talking To” reflects the uneasiness in a chance meeting between estranged lovers, while “Not a Bad Thing” offers that being single isn’t the killjoy that Lifetime Television, numerous gossip rags and your concerned mother would suggest. Instead of relying on bankable hits, she chose songs that connect to her, songs that are gratifying in their grounded honesty.
In this look-at-me generation, Yearwood’s a casual, modest woman who eschews the spotlight, simply recording the best Music Row material without a need for mammoth fame. She’s grown more confident, though; she’s now quicker to show off her sharp wit and tart tongue (she co-hosted The View, for example, a program that desperately needs a little levity), flashes of personality that never quite sprung to the surface when she was dominating the airwaves. In addition to her musical endeavors, she’s maintained exposure by releasing a cookbook, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, touring occasionally (even with Garth) and acted as one of the most eloquent spokeswomen ever in the genre.
But 2008 furthered the notion that contemporary country music may become the eternal province of the youth movement, a problematic shift that handicapped Yearwood’s commercial prospects. Yearwood was conspicuously absent from the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year race, a competition that she won in 1997 and 1998. In a frigid radio environment, she managed three charting singles, but none scraped into the Top 10 (including “Another Try,” her duet with Josh Turner). What should’ve been a banner year was a rather quiet one for the Monticello, Georgia, native.
It’s certainly not for lack of skill. Where the current babe brigade adds a blast of wattage in every possible position, Yearwood carefully renders the right notes with a subtlety that’s foreign to many of her colleagues. But she also lets loose with the best of ‘em, belting with a vocal range that defies logic. How many times have we marveled at her rich, expressive voice? How many voices have ever compared to it? In this helter-skelter musical world, Yearwood is a trusted stalwart. And while she’s no longer a commercial favorite, we can still marvel at that wondrous, spine-tingling instrument. Yearwood’s a gentle reminder to embrace country’s greatest while they’re still at the top of their game.