2008 Edition: #54 (+4)
A pure country singer with a sweet tooth for pop hooks. Sara Evans was one of the few female artists able to maintain mainstream success during the male-dominated opening decade of the 21st century.
She sounded like something out of another era when she burst on the country music scene in 1997, only two years after moving back to Nashville after a stint in Oregon. While she had recorded some sides in the early nineties with E and S Records, she was pretty much starting all over again when she returned to Music City in 1995. But songwriting legend Harlan Howard heard her take on his classic tune “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” and was so impressed that he worked actively to get her noticed. Eventually, his efforts led to a deal with RCA Records.
When she released her debut album, Three Chords and the Truth, it was widely praised for its classic country sound. It was produced by Pete Anderson of Dwight Yoakam fame, and while it featured a handful of covers from the Nashville Sound era, the album was most notable for establishing Evans’ gifts as a songwriter. The haunting title cut was as pure a country song as anything released to radio that year, and Patsy Cline would’ve had a field day with Evans’ ditty “Shame About That.”
However, radio didn’t bite, so Evans was sent back in the studio to prep her sophomore set, No Place That Far. It featured a more contemporary sound, and while first single “Crying Game” barely dented the charts, the title cut was her breakthrough hit. It featured a soaring harmony from Vince Gill. The song went to No. 1 and pushed the album to gold status. Evans was nominated for the CMA Horizon Award in 1999 and 2000 on the strength of the hit and its follow-up, the lower-charting “Fool, I’m a Woman.”
Evans finally hit the big time with her third album, appropriately titled Born to Fly. The title cut was also the lead single, and it topped the singles chart in the fall of 2000. She followed up with her first bold pop move, a cover of the Edwin McCain hit “I Could Not Ask For More.” It went to No. 2 and helped push her album to double-platinum status. At the 2001 CMA awards, she was a five-time nominee, including nods for Female Vocalist and Album of the Year. She took home the trophy for Video, honored for her Wizard of Oz-themed “Born to Fly” clip.
When Evans returned in 2003, she attempted to further mine the big pop sound on her fourth album, Restless. However, first single “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” stalled at No. 16, and while she recovered with the incessantly catchy “Perfect”, a No. 2 hit, album sales were still well below expectations.
The market had switched back to a more traditional sound, with female crossover artists suddenly out of fashion at country radio. But Evans had included a pure country rave-up at the end of her Restless set, almost as an afterthought. When “Suds in the Bucket” was released, sales for the album exploded. The song became her third No. 1 single and pushed her once-struggling album to platinum sales.
In 2005, Evans released her fifth album, Real Fine Place, and led off with “A Real Fine Place to Start,” a Radney Foster song that topped the charts for two weeks, and its follow-up “Cheatin’” also went top ten. The album hit a stumbling block when third single “Coalmine” faltered in the wake of mine disasters, but her consistency over the past few years was honored by the ACM when they named her Top Female Vocalist in 2006. A fourth single, “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” went top twenty later that year, and Real Fine Place became her third platinum album.
Meanwhile, Evans raised her visibility in an unorthodox way, becoming a highly popular contestant on Dancing With the Stars. She left the show for personal reasons, and dropped out of the spotlight for a few months to tend to them. But she came back with a batch of freshly written material to add to her first Greatest Hits record, released in October 2007. “As If” just missed the top ten, and was followed by the single “Some Things Never Change.”
Evans expanded to writing in 2010, co-writing a three book fiction series with Rachel Hauck. That same year, she released “A Little Bit Stronger,” which eventually became her fifth and final #1 single. Its parent album, Stronger, topped the country albums chart in 2011. Evans released two more albums for RCA Nashville, both in 2014. Slow Me Down became her final studio set for the label, released only months before her first full-length holiday collection, At Christmas.
In 2015, Evans announced she was parting ways with RCA after two decades, and one year later, announced her new recording contract with Sugar Hill Records. She stated at the time that the new contract would allow her full creative control of her music, which she’d never had before. However, a corporate restructure left her in limbo, and led to her launching her own independent label, Born to Fly Records. Words, her first project for the label, released in 2017.
- No Place That Far (with Vince Gill), 1999
- Born to Fly, 2000
- I Could Not Ask For More, 2001
- Perfect, 2004
- Suds in the Bucket, 2004
- A Real Fine Place to Start, 2005
- A Little Bit Stronger, 2010
- Three Chords and the Truth (1997)
- No Place That Far (1998)
- Born to Fly (2000)
- Restless (2003)
- Academy of Country Music Awards
- Top Female Vocalist, 2006
- Country Music Association Awards
- Music Video of the Year
- Born to Fly, 2001
- Music Video of the Year
- Dove Awards
- Special Event Album
- Glory Revealed II: The Word of God In Worship, 2010
- Special Event Album
Next: #49. Janie Fricke
Previous: #51. Carlene Carter