Album Review: Trisha Yearwood, PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit

Trisha Yearwood PrizeFighter

Trisha Yearwood
PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit

stars-2.gif

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:

IMG_0910

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.

33 Comments

  1. Is “How Do I Live” a rerecording? Trisha’s been saying that it’s the country version, not the one included on Songbook: A Collection of Hits. She says this version has never been on one of her albums before and she was excited to include it here.

    Now that you point it out, Kevin, an EP would’ve been a far smarter way to go. Just the six new songs. I never would’ve thought Trisha Yearwood would insult her fan base like this. Even Garth Brooks hasn’t stooped to these levels yet!

  2. Great review on all points except that i’m not crazy about Prizefighter w KC and I don’t need to have “Your Husbands Cheating On Us” since I have the Matraca Berg “Dreaming Fields” cd. True, Trisha probably does the song better than Matraca as she did with the song Dreaming Fields. I’ll just have to pass on the other 4 new songs.

    I absolutely share your disappointment as expressed in your last two paragraphs. I believe that Trisha could easily have found 4 – 6 more new songs if she didn’t want to come out with a 6 song EP. What songwriter wouldn’t want to have her record his or her song.

    I like what Zac Brown just did. They put out a greatest hits cd with no new songs so it’s fair to new fans but doesn’t put their old fans in the position of buying a whole album to get a few new songs.

  3. In Another’s Eyes is almost certainly the same recording – the ‘recorded and mixed at’ credit in the album liner is the same as in the liner notes to Songbook. I can’t compare HHATPOL, as I don’t have that album, but it sounds the same to my ears. The others are obviously re-recordings from the liner notes though.

  4. Great review! Prizefighter was waiting on my front porch when I got home from work. I’m listening to it as a type.

    I confess that I’m pretty baffled. Why re-record the songs at all if they deliberately tried to make carbon copies of the originals? Why not (a) just put the old hits on here or (b) re-record them in entirely new ways, such as acoustically or with an orchestra? I just don’t understand the marketing for this project at all. Especially because all of the re-recordings are serviceable but none are better than the originals (though not noticeably worse than the originals either). I have so much respect for Trisha as a person. It strikes me as odd and deceitful.

    The new songs are wonderful additions to her collection. Though I do find that “Prizefighter” is my least favorite of them. The chorus is a bit shouty and loud for me. Kelly Clarkson doesn’t add much to the recording, IMO. But the rest of the songs are all well worth getting, especially “I Remember You” and “Met Him in a Motel Room.” I agree with Kevin–Trisha’s album tracks have always been my favorites and these continue that tradition.

    So far the album isn’t available on iTunes either, for fans who might want to just download the new songs. A weird project. I would have waited another year for a complete new album.

  5. I couldn’t make these points any better, Kevin!

    She couldn’t put the original versions on this album because she doesn’t own her masters, but I absolutely agree that if she was going to re-record them, she should’ve been completely honest about it or record versions that were obviously different in order to give her fans something new and different. We can buy her original hits for much cheaper than this album and those of us who’ve been waiting years for a new album already have her hits. If she had the studio time and money to re-record these hits, she could’ve just taken that time to record 4 more songs to make an album of all new songs. But ultimately, the thing that bothers me the most is the deception about the hits recordings. If her promotion had just called it what it was, it would’ve been disappointing, but not baffling or so frustrating.

    “I’ll Remember You” is my favorite of the new songs.

  6. Trisha does not own her masters, not sure why not, her own networth should be enough but if not…she is married to Brooks.

    I feel pretty insulted. As a life long Trisha fan this whole package is a conjob and a joke. The re-recordings sound like cheap karaoke jokes, but it isn’t even her most quality work-it is the ones fans going to the Garth Brooks show may recognize and then hurry to buy the album. All I view this album as is the “Hey I am the chick on the Garth Brooks World Tour” and nothing more. The six new songs are stellar, but she isn’t even putting the effort into them promotion wise, and PrizeFighter will likely fall off the charts without even hitting the top 40.

  7. Somehow I knew what the deal was with this negative review even with just the teaser on the home page. I hate when artists re-record their classic hits outside of a live setting. Very, VERY rarely do they beat the originals. I can think of precisely one instance in which the new recordings were better.

  8. Thank you Leeann and Cory for clearing up *why* she did the re-recordings! I’m still learning. :) It makes more sense to me now, but I still don’t think this was the right approach to take. The re-recordings are simply not up to the high standards of the originals. “She’s in Love with the Boy,” for instance, lacks the youthful exuberance that made the original so infectious.

    Also: pistolero. I’m curious as to what the one good instance of a new recording is in your mind?

  9. I really feel terribly uncomfortable with saying this because Trisha is one of the better female country artists of the last twenty-five years; but the approach she took with this album is….well, is “lazy” too harsh a word to use? To re-record her hits from the past and only have six new songs, as opposed to making this an entire collection of brand-new material, not only doesn’t make any real sense from a recording point of view, but it really diminishes Trisha in my eyes as a recording artist all around.

  10. For the record, as annoyed as I’ve been by this approach, I certainly don’t think it’s the end of the world. I don’t think it makes her less of an artist and I even doubt that she meant to insult her fans. I just see it as a misstep that the next great album that she makes will quickly erase.

  11. The re-recordings wouldn’t be nearly as bothersome if she hadn’t joined Garth in requiring you to buy the full album and not allowing individual downloads.

  12. The fact she went out and released only six new songs and then denied fans the right to purchase just the new ones really bothers me. And the ten that I was forced to buy are these lazy re-recordings. I would have at least liked her to try a new twist on the songs if I am going to have to buy them again. Not attempt to mimic the exact same track to trick the less experienced buyer. This really shaves off a slice of her artistic integrity for me.

  13. BUT on a side note, I am really loving the new tracks. “I Remember You” is obviously a favorite, but I am really finding myself repeating “End of the World” quite a bit. Any of these would make great radio tracks, but after the death sentence “PrizeFighter” was given by Trisha’s camp why waste the effort of even sending it to radio?

  14. It really bugs me that she requires you to buy the full album to hear the six new tracks. It’s part of Garth Brooks’ supposed ‘artistic credibility’ drive, and the whole deal of the album being a whole that shouldn’t be split up – but in this case it’s more obvious than ever that it’s a money-making drive. As much as anything, there’s little flow or thematic reason for the structure of the album as it is.

    Trisha’s press releases are full of reasons as to why she did the re-recordings – mainly that she felt a lot of the old ones felt old-fashioned, with lots of reverb, and she wanted to update them. Unfortunately, that argument holds no water when she then made every effort to make them sound as close to the originals as possible. As said by others above, it’s simply because she doesn’t own the masters.

    I generally think Garth Brooks and all his recent blustering about the record industry has been a complete pile of crap disguising a desire to just make as much money out of his music as possible – and that opinion is strongly bolstered by the treatment Trisha’s material has got here.

  15. I do think that the fact that the new tracks aren’t made available for individual download is frustrating and Garth’s influence is certainly to blame for that. I’m not in the camp that his big ideas is simply to make a bunch of money; I do think that he truly feels that he’s doing it for better reasons than that, even if those reasons do seem flimsy to all of us.

  16. I’m curious as to what the one good instance of a new recording is in your mind?

    Billy Joe Shaver’s rendition of his own “Georgia On A Fast Train” from 1993’s Tramp On Your Street. Far surpasses the original from 1973’s Old Five And Dimers Like Me, IMO. (Not that the original was bad, mind you; the ’93 version was just that good.) I am not 100% sure, but I think “Oklahoma Wind” (with Waylon Jennings) from that same album was also a re-recording, as was “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal.”

    I hesitate on the latter two, but that recording of “Georgia…” is THE definitive recording of that song, from any artist, IMO.

  17. On a recent tour, Trisha did several Linda Ronstadt songs in a tribute segment. I would rather she had recorded and presented those on this album. If she had remade the Ronstadt songs instead of her own songs, at least it would be new material to Yearwood fans. And they would sound better than the bootleg recordings I have to listen to.

  18. Not that she needs any help picking out material, but my wish list for Yearwood includes a full-fledged Ronstadt tribute album, and a whole series like “Songs of Matraca Berg”, “Songs of Kim Richey”, “Songs of Brandy Clark”, “Songs of Lori McKenna”, etc., etc.

    I really do think this project proves that the only thing Yearwood can’t improve on is Yearwood, at least when trying to be a previous incarnate of herself.

  19. Whatever the reasons for the way this album is, it is just the kind of ploy that Linda herself avoided like the plague throughout her 42 year-long career. As perhaps the biggest fan of Linda’s in the female country hierarchy, Trisha must be aware of this; and I kind of wish she had followed that path instead of what I think is a cold-blooded business decision inspired by her hubby.

    In the end, PrizeFighter, depending on what audiences think, will either be a hit, or, at its most extreme, a career-killing disaster (IMHO).

  20. As a huge fan, I give the album 4 stars. The new songs are SO good, (I agree that Prizefighter if the weakest) that I’m happy to pay 10.00 for them. I’d pay 10.00 for I Remember You and You Can’t Trust The Weatherman alone. I do agree that the re-recordings are sad. She has done a different version of Wrong Side of Memphis live for over 15 years. Why not record that version as a treat for the fans? Why not license a few live tracks? (her CMA performance of How Do I Live, the Letterman performance of In Another Eyes).

    If Garth and Trisha are on Ghost Tunes because of artistic integrity regarding THE ALBUM, why doesn’t the album come with a digital booklet? I’ve heard Trisha talk many times about memorizing the musicians and songwriters names on a Ronstadt album. I got the digital album as a gift- loved the new songs and was baffled by the re records so I went and got the CD because I wanted to see the liner notes.

  21. I’m really struggling with this conversation, because I absolutely understand where she’s coming from in terms of not owning the rights to music she recorded and was a big part of making successful. I read an interview where she was attempting to resign with Universal, but when they wouldn’t meet her halfway on the ownership issue, she went with Garth so they could record duet albums when they want to. The re-recordings a way for her to re-engage with that material, and I doubt she had any input on the label stuck on the cover of the album that would jade that. Labels do that all the time, and to penalize her for promotion at the label may or may not be justified. And let’s be totally honest…that label also calls “PrizeFighter” a NEW HIT, making it even less credible.

    Having said all that, she’s following a talented but clearly paranoid man into a Don Quixote-style charge on the record industry, and I fear her reputation will suffer more from that than the re-recordings. Honestly, I’d love to see her land at a label like Rounder and release those tribute albums. They would probably be more than glad to allow the duet albums when the couple felt moved to record them.

  22. I am not as offended by the re-recordings as it seems some people are. I do agree that it would have been best to be forthcoming about the fact that these were not the original versions. I also agree that Trisha had to do it as MCA owns all of the masters and I would assume that the cost to license them would be probative to making a profit with this project. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, selling music is a business and the record labels (RCA for Trisha now) need to make money in an ever-shrinking market. So, rather than split the profits with MCA, RCA chose to re-record which was likely cheaper in the end. As for “why” they did the album the way they did with six new songs and ten re-recorded hits, it would be my guess there were two factor: 1. It’s been so long since Trisha had new music and she is not the “hot” thing any longer. So, they wanted to create something that would appeal to the largest audience possible, in this case a that would be the hits. 2. Also, she has stated that she recorded the new songs over a course of time (several years). Perhaps with her lower profile, she was not at the top of the list for songwriters/publishers to send their best material to now, so recording ten new “good” songs was difficult. As everyone noted, the new songs are of great quality. They went with PrizeFighter as the lead single hoping that Kelly Clarkson’s more current popularity would help bring spins at radio. That does not seem to be working. While I personally love Kelly, her country output has only done somewhat well. Frankly both Trisha (who is 50, and that is going to be a factor with getting airplay) and Kelly are struggling with the blatant sexism in country music. Look at the charts. The country top 40 is filled with men or groups. The only women who have top 10 hits are Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert. It’s a boys club and women have a tough time. Trisha is trying to do her best to battle all these elements and have a recording career and make a profit in 2014. We are in an era where young people expect their music to be free (Spotify) and CD sales are dwindling. Everyone is trying to figure out how they can stay in business selling music. On the plus side of the re-recordings, I will say they are pretty good to my ear. She used Garth Fundis who produced the majority of the originals (and got Don Henley to re-record “Walkaway Joe” with her). Trisha is one of the few recording artists who’s voice is about the same quality and range as it was in her 20s.

  23. Re-recording is one thing, but attempting to record them as mimics of the originals is so out of character for her. I agree licensing out live CMA or other concert performances would have been the classier root if need be. As far as the constant references to Ronstadt by certain individuals, I agree she is one of if not the biggest of the artist but Trisha long ago staked out her own identity on her own path to form a legacy for herself. She will go down as much more than just the country music fan of Linda Ronstadt.

  24. This comment trail has been a huge blessing. I’ve been a fan of Country Universe for a few years now, but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to leave a comment. Thanks for all of the thoughts and opinions on this mishandled album; not only have they helped me process what is by far one of the most disappointing records I’ve ever listened to, but they also make me feel less alone!

    There’s not much that I can add to this thread that hasn’t already been said, but I will chime in with this: if Trisha released this compilation back in, say, 2009 or 2010, I’d be disappointed, but only slightly. But, hearing this now, in 2014, after a seven-year absence from the music scene, this entire album could’ve remained on the digital shelf and I would’ve been much happier. There’s a serious problem these days (across all media platforms) with artists giving into nostalgia-fueled fan service; I wish that we could chalk up the poor quality of this album to that pandemic. But regardless of what prompted Trisha to record six subpar, middling-even-when-compared-to-her-spotty-’90s-output songs alongside watered-down versions of ten previous hits that simply didn’t need to be touched, there’s no denying that this whole affair reeks of laziness and thoughtless (for Trisha, at least) work. Just listen to her re-recorded versions of “How Do I Live” and “Perfect Love”–she sounds absolutely bored!

    I hate being so harsh on one of my absolute favorite singers. As someone who still listens to Hearts in Armor, Real Live Woman, and Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love more often than more recent albums by newer country artists, I was over the moon when I heard that Trisha would finally hang up her apron and call off the TV crew (even if it was just briefly) to finally record some new music. If Trisha’s going to take another hiatus from recording music, I hope she follows the lead of Lee Ann Womack (whose The Way I’m Living is hands down my favorite album of the year, regardless of genre) and comes back with quality songs that challenge her and manifest what made us fall in love with her in the first place.

  25. I agree with Steve and I think the 2 star rating given this album was infantile – it is a much better album than that, somewhere in the vicinity of 4 stars. The remakes are good, if perhaps not quite up to the originals, and certainly better that the chaff on country radio today whether by male or female artist

  26. This is a far better review

    Yes, it’s been more than seven years since Trisha Yearwood has released a proper single. Yes, it was worth the wait.

    “Prize Fighter” is uplifting, inspirational, and powerful. It showcases Yearwood’s still flawless voice, an instrument that is effective at every setting between whisper and shout, and is always properly calibrated to the material it delivers. It’s a credit to Kelly Clarkson that she can even keep up with Yearwood, and her contributions to the track are complementary, if not entirely necessary.

    As for the song, I’m pretty sure it’s great. I say “pretty sure” only because it’s Yearwood singing it. She’s so good at what she does – so, so good – that she can make a good song sound great. Is this song more insightful in the end than similar go get ‘em anthems because of Yearwood’s legendary taste in material, or her legendary skills as an interpreter of material?

    Would it sound less profound sung by Jo Dee Messina or Martina McBride? Certainly. But would Yearwood ever go near some of their mediocre anthem songs in the first place? Certainly not.

    For me, “Prize Fighter” is holding up well after dozens of listens and still sounds great when put up against her best singles and tracks. As usual, Garth Fundis scales the production perfectly, and things get more intense without getting more loud. Maybe we can get Yearwood to head up A&R and Fundis to be an in-house producer, and they can show the new generation how it’s supposed to be done.

    Because even twenty-three years after she first came on the scene, she’s still in a class all by herself. Prize fighter, indeed.

    As for the rest of the album – Trisha was not being lazy she actually recorded tons of new music but after her mom died she shelved
    Everything. Rather than put a bunch of filler songs on this album like most artist do she recorded 6 amazing songs and added the hits for people who may not know who she is. Her voice has changed over the years so she recorded the songs as she sounds now giving them all an updated sound. Sure there or many other reasons but that’s a big one and if you don’t like it pull out your other cd’s and listen to them there. None of these songs sound bad and even at Trisha’s worst she sounds a hell of a lot better than most. You all need to relax and be thankful that one of the worlds most talented singers put out new music!

    W.

  27. Thanks for sharing, Wayne. I don’t think I’m in the same league as the guy who wrote that review, so I’m glad to see it get some well-deserved attention, even if it’s only on a comment thread.

  28. Well said Wayne!!! It’s beyond me that anyone could bitch about any of Trisha’s beautiful work. Especially after what country music has become.
    She still stands way above the group!!

  29. Yes, country music is in arguably the sickest state of affairs it has ever been in in its history, with these consistently idiotic bro-country bromides.

    But when you announce you’re coming out with a new album, people have expectations that it’ll be at least ten, maybe even twelve, all-new tracks–not a mere six new ones, and ten re-do’s, as Trisha has done. This chops her down several pegs in my book, and it pains me to say it, but I’m not going to mince words here.

  30. I have to agree with Cory regardint Trisha having her own identity outside of being a fan of Linda Ronstadt. I’m guessing that while Linda has influenced her music to a point, she does not influence her general music, life and business decisions in any major way. And that’s fine.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Quotable Country – 11/24/14 Edition | Country California

Comments are closed.