PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit
PrizeFighter: Hit after Hit includes the first set of new material from Trisha Yearwood in seven years. That new material, six tracks in total, is uniformly excellent and often extraordinary, adding to her already impressive legacy as the genre’s finest singer and interpreter of the last thirty years. What a pity that the rest of the collection cheapens and sullies that legacy.
Let’s start with those wonderful new tracks. The lead single and title cut, “PrizeFighter”, is an inspiring, get back up when you fall power anthem, featuring supporting vocals by Kelly Clarkson. In true Trisha form, the preview track is better than just about anything else on the radio today, yet still only hints at the treasures that await on the rest of the album.
It’s those treasures that always keep Trisha Yearwood fans coming back for more, and she doesn’t disappoint. Scattered among the album, we get “I Remember You”, a poignant ballad that Yearwood recorded in honor of her late mother, but that will resonate with anyone who has lost a close friend or relative. “I know someday,” she sings, “Only God knows when. I’ll touch your face and I’ll breathe again.”
“End of the World” isn’t a Skeeter Davis cover, but instead finds Yearwood realizing her man is cheating on her. “I wondered how this would feel,” she sings over an Urban Country soundscape, “Turns out it ain’t no big deal. It’s just the end of the world.” The early eighties sound and self-deprecating humor recall early Rosanne Cash, which is a great little gift for those of us who wish Rodney Crowell was still producing her records.
“Met Him in a Motel Room” and “You Can’t Trust the Weatherman” are two great story songs that show she’s still just as great in the third person as she is in the first. “Motel Room” tells of a woman who checks into that motel looking to check out, but finds salvation when she finds the Bible in the dresser drawer. “Weatherman” follows a young couple through unplanned pregnancy, an armed robbery, and having their home destroyed by a hurricane. Both are far more uplifting than their plot lines suggest, thanks to Yearwood’s ability to garner empathy through her peerless vocal delivery.
And then there’s “Your Husband’s Cheating on Us.” Like “Lying to the Moon” before it, Yearwood found this one on a Matraca Berg album. She plays the role of the mistress confronting the wife with the shocking news that he’s found an even younger girl to run around with. It was a gem when Berg recorded it, but as always, Yearwood’s reading elevates Berg’s already strong material to a whole new level. If there’s been a better pairing between singer and songwriter over the past couple of decades than Yearwood and Berg, I can’t name it.
Berg has two more songwriting credits on this project, and it’s about time we get on with a discussion about why that is. Berg co-wrote two of Yearwood’s biggest nineties hits, “Wrong Side of Memphis” and “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” Those songs appear on this collection, which presents Yearwood as the consummate hitmaker and the project itself as a collection of her classics alongside new material:
But these aren’t the classics. Yearwood has already admitted as much when being interviewed about the project. These are re-recordings, deliberately crafted to sound as close to the originals as possible. It’s a shockingly deliberate act of deception, with intentionally misleading packaging meant to essentially trick the buyer into thinking they were getting Yearwood’s biggest hits with some new songs to sweeten the deal.
For hardcore fans, PrizeFighter is even more insulting, as we’ve never cared much about the hits in the first place. A big part of Yearwood’s legacy has always been her impeccable song sense. All of her albums had some hits, and as noted above, they were better than most of the rest of the radio dial at the time. But it was the album cuts that always mattered most, be it smart covers of songs that her contemporaries had recorded, or gems from her era’s strongest songwriters like Berg, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Jude Johnstone, and Jamie O’Hara.
All were decent recording artists in their own right. All paled in comparison when their recordings of their own songs were held up against Yearwood’s covers. All, presumably, happy about that fact, because it meant their generation’s greatest voice had provided immortality to some of their greatest work. Trisha Yearwood’s voice ranks with the all-time greats, but her name became synonymous with artistic integrity by what she chose to sing.
We’re not entitled to that voice. If she decided to never sing a note again, that is her right, and as disappointing as that would be, her legacy would still be unrivaled had she chosen to never sing again. But what we are entitled to is honesty and fairness. It is dishonest to trick listeners into thinking they’re getting your classic recordings, and it is unfair to require fans to purchase these soulless re-recordings in order to also get the new material that we’ve been longing for.
The six new tracks would’ve been a great standalone EP, and would’ve formed a solid core to a full-length new album. Scattering them among facsimiles of nineties hits is cheap and insulting, revealing a contempt for both loyal fans and casual listeners, who all deserve better. I’m beyond thrilled that Yearwood has finally returned to recording music, but I couldn’t be more disappointed in how she chose to do it.