2008 Rewind: The Not-So-Desperate Housewife

trishaAs 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.

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8 Comments

Filed under 2008 Rewind

8 Responses to 2008 Rewind: The Not-So-Desperate Housewife

  1. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar

    Trisha Yearwood is a class act, and is another artist who always retains her dignity, humility and artistic integrity. Something about these ladies of the nineties…

    I had the pleasure of seeing Trisha in concert this past spring, and I loved her no frills approach. Her relaxed, humble and humorous personality shined, without the need for bells and whistles..and musically, vocally of course, she is top notch.

    I have a friend from Atlanta who has seen TY in concert many times,and has met her quite a few times. He told me that Trisha takes several minutes with each of her fans who meet her to converse for a bit. More than just a few words exhanged, Trisha really seems to savor the time with her fans.

    I hate what the current climate and the marketplace is doing to artists like Trisha Yearwood. These timeless ladies are forced to compete with the trendy…True Artists nowadays receive far less airplay than the current crop of entertainers. But fortunately for us, they persevere, and their music takes a back seat to no one!

  2. This entire article is just … freakin’ awesome.

  3. CarsonNo Gravatar

    This is a great article.

    It’s very sad to see Trisha not getting the recognition or radio success she deserves. In my state, “This is Me You’re Talking To” was the only song we heard from her, besides her duet with Josh Turner this year, and that was barely ever played itself.

    Although I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan myself, I really would love to see not just Taylor, but legends like Trisha, Dolly [Parton] and other legends getting the radio airplay they deserve.

  4. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    One can’t blame Trisha for going from a big-name label like MCA to a virtual indie label like Big Machine; she wasn’t considered an asset anymore at the big label. But did the switch to Big Machine really do her any good? Not really, not with Taylor Swift on the same label getting tons more attention than her. And it goes back to the very thing that bugs me about today’s country music: Age and life experience are being shoved aside for youth and glitz, which makes for some real mediocrity.

    Trisha will still have a very steady career, not based on selling ten millions albums a shot, but on doing things that give her artistic satisfaction and can still post solid commercial numbers. It’s a tight balancing act; but since Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris can do it, and since Trisha has modeled much of her approach from them, certainly she can, too (IMHO).

  5. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    “Not a Bad Thing” offers that being single isn’t the killjoy that Lifetime Television, numerous gossip rags and your concerned mother would suggest.”

    Hillarious!!

    I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to read this article. It’s fabulously insightful!

  6. I loved that quote too, Leeann. Classic.

  7. CoryNo Gravatar

    I am so ashamed I missed this article till now! I have followed this intriguing career of Trisha’s from the start even at a young age, but once I was old enough to really follow on the buisness aspect of it, and understand how things worked I was more amazed at the things she was able to pull off. Her career has had silent grace all through the 90s. She never was over publicized and blown up in the media, at times I felt that was hurting her career, but at the same time felt that it kept it going. But MCA did loose the fire and I felt she really wasnt a priority just someone they had a contract to fill out with. But who is to say that Big Machine was the right choice, Borchetta a man who has often gone with market appeal over quality, crediting albums such as “Thinkin About You” as Yearwood’s best but finding “Hearts In Armor” lacking that type of ‘song’. But we need to look at it as Trisha got 2 top 25 singles off this album, the first time one of her albums produced that off its original release singles since Where Your Road Leads….maybe this is a sign of things to come. The sales were dissappointing but the radio play is showing signs of a possible momentum as long as she dosent take another 2 years off.

  8. ErwinNo Gravatar

    I can only agree with what the article and all the folks who commented on it said. It’s such a pity.
    Since country music isn’t really an option here in Germany (you only find what you look for) I can’t rely to American Charts. I saw the CMA-Show on TV (with a three month delay), though: Nominations for Martina (as always?) and Allison (as always?) and the “new kids” on Music Row.
    And then the performances of those nominated: Martina McBride (far from brilliant when she tries to sing live – and I felt that time three times in a row now), Taylor Swift’s fairytale performance literally sucked (I don’t know her from radio, so after this performance I find it even harder to understand the hype. Allison Kraus IS a great singer, but she kind of always sounds the same to me and carrie underwood, well I don’t know too much about her either, but I admit I really liked her performance.
    But most of these chicks are much lower class than Trisha Yearwood, who (again) was not nominated. She went a 100 per cent country with Jasper County and HHATPOL, she proved that she can shine in ANY niche of country and they don’t even nominate her! Country Radio won’t play her! Whose feet do you have to kiss in that business?
    I can only hope she’ll go on producing such classy albums.
    But since country radio and many folks on music row don’t care what she does anyway: why doesn’t she do some more excursions towards pop music? at least that way there would be a wider range of radio stations all over the world who might add her to their playlists (who don’t at the moment, because they “don’t do country”).
    Whatever she does, I hope she’ll go on recording excellent songs. I hope she’ll be back in the studio soon, can’t wait to hear more, more, more :-)