100 Greatest Women, #8: Trisha Yearwood

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#8

Trisha Yearwood

2008 Edition: #8 (No Change)

Trisha Yearwood was the genre’s most consistently excellent recording artist during the boom years of the nineties and the decade that followed, with a stronger ear for material than any of her contemporaries and nuanced performances that drew on her vocal power without exploiting it.

She was born and raised in Monticello, Georgia, the daughter of a banker father and schoolteacher mother. She was a big fan of Elvis Presley when she was young, but her passion for music really developed when she first heard Linda Ronstadt. She later said that it was the first time she heard a singer with real emotion in her voice, and when she met with her producer years later, she brought Ronstadt’s Prisoner in Disguise album with her and said, “This is the kind of music that I want to make.” Another pivotal moment in her musical development was hearing Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache”, which she later called the first country record that seemed relevant to her generation, rather than being her parents’ country music.

Yearwood loved singing publicly, but she was also sensible, and she pursued a business degree at a junior college. She moved to Nashville to complete her education, studying at Belmont University as a Music Business major. This led to her first industry job, as an internship at MTM Records became a full-time job after graduation. Her vocal talent did not go unnoticed, and she soon became an in-demand demo singer. She built a solid reputation for learning songs quickly, so those that hired her could save on studio time by having her sing the demos. Legend has it that she could record a demo so quickly that she could double-park her car and be in and out before she’d get a ticket.

Yearwood became friends with Garth Brooks, a rising young country singer, and they made a pact that whoever broke through first would help the other one. Brooks earned a deal with Capitol Records, and employed Yearwood as a backup singer on his albums. By that time, Yearwood had begun a partnership with producer Garth Fundis, known for his work with Don Williams and Keith Whitley. Fundis arranged a showcase concert for Yearwood, with the expectation that RCA would sign her to a deal. As an afterthought, he also invited MCA to the showcase. To his surprise, RCA didn’t extend and offer, but Tony Brown at MCA did, and Yearwood joined the roster of the top label in town.

Yearwood and Fundis recorded her debut album efficiently, as the label shipped her lead single “She’s in Love With the Boy” to radio. Meanwhile, Garth Brooks invited Yearwood to be his opening act, and the stage-shy singer was suddenly playing in front of thousands of people every night. The audiences soon knew who she was, as her debut single took off like a rocket. By the summer of 1991, Trisha Yearwood was the first woman to have her first single go #1 since Connie Smith in 1964, and the “young love” theme of the song endeared Yearwood to little girls across America.

Yearwood’s self-titled debut album eventually sold two million copies, the most successful first album by a female country artist at the time. As she scored more hits with “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart,” “That’s What I Like About You,” and “The Woman Before Me,” she was honored by the ACM with the Top New Female Vocalist trophy. However, as Yearwood prepared her second album, she was determined to make a strong artistic statement rather than try to replicate the success of “She’s in Love With the Boy.”

Listeners got their first taste of her new musical direction with lead single “Wrong Side of Memphis,” a country-blues number that was bolder than anything on her debut record. Her sophomore set Hearts in Armor was released to astonishing critical acclaim, as she mined the catalog of songwriters like Beth Nielsen Chapman, Matraca Berg, and Jamie O’Hara. In the studio, she harmonized with everyone from Garth Brooks and Vince Gill to Emmylou Harris and Don Henley, on a set that was heavy on introspective ballads.

After establishing her credibility as an album artist with Armor, she followed with another collection of mature songs, The Song Remembers When. The title cut became one of her signature songs, and the set closed with her stunning revival of Matraca Berg’s “Lying to the Moon,” which Berg herself didn’t perform for a long time afterward because she felt that Yearwood had blown away Berg’s performance of her own song. When the Grammys reintroduced the Best Country Album category, the set was nominated, starting an unbroken run of every Yearwood studio album being nominated for Best Country Album.

After a solid Christmas set in 1994, Yearwood released her road album, Thinkin’ About You, in 1995. The set featured women leaving failing relationships by car, bus and train, along with a handful of songs about women sticking around, either because they’re newly in love, like on the #1 title track, or because they’re working full-time while also running a household (“XXX’s & OOO’s”). The album became Yearwood’s fourth straight platinum studio set, and “On a Bus to St. Cloud,” a majestic Gretchen Peters ballad, became a crossover Adult Contemporary hit.

After winning a CMA for her contribution to an Eagles tribute album and a Grammy for covering “I Fall to Pieces” with Aaron Neville, Yearwood released her sixth album, Everybody Knows, in 1996. The title cut and the Kim Richey-penned “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” were both major hits, and Yearwood was a featured performer at the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in her native Georgia.

She was then invited to sing the theme to the movie Con Air, “How Do I Live,” which would become one of her biggest hits and won her another Grammy. As the lead single of her first hits collection, it powered that set to huge opening-week sales, becoming her first #1 album. {Songbook} A Collection of HIts also featured her Grammy-winning duet with Garth Brooks, “In Another’s Eyes,” and the #1 single, “Perfect Love.” The set went on to sell four million copies, and Yearwood swept the industry vocalist awards on the strength of it, winning CMA Female Vocalist in 1997 and 1998 and ACM Top Female Vocalist in 1998.

The singles from the hits collection were her first to be produced by Tony Brown, and he helmed her entire CD that followed, the pop-flavored Where Your Road Leads. The platinum album was powered by “There Goes My Baby”, and during the set’s run, Yearwood was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. However, despite the success of the project, it was Yearwood’s least ambitious album since her debut, and she returned to work with Garth Fundis on her next set.

She was determined to make the album that she always dreamed of making, and that dream was realized with her 2000 release Real Live Woman. The title cut and lead single made a strong feminist statement about true beauty, and Yearwood turned in her strongest vocal performances to date on the Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kim Richey rocker “Where Are You Now” and her awe-inspiring revival of Linda Ronstadt’s “Try Me Again.”

In 2001, Yearwood had a top five hit with “I Would’ve Loved You Anyway,” from her #1 album Inside Out. The set was her second and most recent album to not be produced by Garth Fundis, as she worked with Mark Wright instead. It was a solid album that featured a cover of Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache,” with Cash herself singing backup. It also included one of her most traditionally arranged cuts, “I Don’t Paint Myself into Corners,” which became a fan favorite.

Yearwood took time off for the first time in her career after that album, but she returned in 2005 with what would be her MCA swan song, Jasper County. The album was previewed by the bittersweet ballad “Georgia Rain”, and it earned her a trio of Grammy nominations. It opened with the biggest first-week sales of her career, and was certified gold only a month after its release.

Yearwood’s deal with MCA ended with the project, and she chose to switch labels to the independent Big Machine. Her 2007 release for the label, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love, was yet another smash with critics, and was anchored by Matraca Berg’s “Dreaming Fields,” a spiritual sequel to the Deana Carter classic “Strawberry Wine.” Yearwood earned a total of four Grammy nominations for the project over two years.  In 2008, she appeared as a harmony vocalist on the Josh Turner hit, “Another Try.”

2008 also brought the release of her first cookbook, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen.  By this time, Yearwood had married Garth Brooks and relocated to his home state. This coincided with a significant career shift that was heavily influenced by changes in her personal life. In addition to wanting to spend more time with Brooks and her stepchildren, Yearwood suffered the loss of her mother in 2011, which made completing the planned sessions for another Big Machine studio album impossible.  In the year that followed, Yearwood re-emerged as a television personality, hosting Food Network’s Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, which has been a ratings hit ever since, and earned her a Daytime Emmy in 2017 for Outstanding Culinary Program.

Yearwood has spent the bulk of her performance time supporting Brooks in the past few years, both at his Las Vegas residency and on his record-breaking comeback tour.  She also appeared on his studio albums and they teamed up for a hit holiday album in 2016, Christmas Together, which became Yearwood’s fourth #1 country album.  They also paired up that year for a performance on the 50th Annual CMA Awards, covering classic country duets.

As for her own recording career, Yearwood signed with RCA in 2014 and released PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit, featuring six new songs and re-recordings of her MCA classics.  She had her first #1 country single in eighteen years in 2016, with her contributions to the multi-artist hit, “Forever Country.”  She starred as Mary in 2016’s The Passion: New Orleans, contributing several songs to its soundtrack.  Her cover of Lifehouse’s “Broken” became her biggest solo chart hit in years, reaching #17 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and #48 on the Hot Christian Songs Chart.  She also appeared with Kelly Clarkson on Reba McEntire’s Grammy-winning Christian album, Sing it Loud.

Yearwood has been promising a new studio album for many years now, and early in 2018, she indicated that it might be released this year. That now seems unlikely, but she has revealed that the set will include multiple tracks originally written and recorded by British country singer Lucie Silvas. In the meantime, Yearwood will continue her collaborations with Brooks and with her cooking show, which is now in its twelfth season.

Essential Singles

  • She’s in Love With the Boy, 1991
  • The Woman Before Me, 1992
  • Wrong Side of Memphis, 1992
  • Walkaway Joe (with Don Henley), 1992
  • The Song Remembers When, 1993
  • XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl), 1994
  • Thinkin’ About You, 1995
  • Believe Me Baby (I Lied), 1996
  • How Do I Live, 1997
  • Perfect Love, 1998
  • There Goes My Baby, 1998
  • Real Live Woman, 2000
  • I Would’ve Loved You Anyway, 2001
  • Georgia Rain, 2005
  • This is Me You’re Talking To, 2008

Essential Albums

  • Hearts in Armor,1992
  • The Song Remembers When, 1993
  • Thinkin’ About You, 1995
  • Everybody Knows, 1996
  • Real Live Woman, 2000
  • Inside Out, 2001
  • Jasper County, 2005
  • Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love, 2007

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Music Video of the Year
      • Forever Country, 2017
    • Top Female Vocalist, 1998
    • Top New Female Vocalist, 1992
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Album of the Year
      • Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, 1994
    • Female Vocalist of the Year, 1997, 1998
  • Daytime Emmy Awards
    • Outstanding Culinary Program
      • Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, 2013
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
      • I Fall to Pieces (with Aaron Neville), 1995
      • In Another’s Eyes (with Garth Brooks), 1998
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • How Do I Live, 1998

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #7. Patsy Cline

Previous: #9. Alison Krauss

 

13 Comments

  1. It is great to see Trisha still this high up on the charts–but I daresay that, like so many female artists who came into success in the 1990s, country radio has really abandoned her as of late. The one album she made for Big Machine, Heaven, Heartache, And The Power Of Love. while a fair success, was, in my opinion, not all that well promoted by them, because it seemed like they were more interested in cultivating a then-burgeoning “kid” named Taylor Swift. At the same time, however, I also don’t think that re-recording her previous hits for Prize Fighter, whatever the reasons for it, was all that great a move either, be it artistically or commercially. I know a number of fans of Trisha’s who felt that doing so cheapened their memories of the originals.

    Along with all else in her life (losing her parents; marrying Garth; the cooking show), Trisha has said that Linda’s having lost her voice to Parkinson’s was an enormously crushing blow, because, of course, Linda was her spiritual role model, and that one of her goals was to do even just one song with Linda. And if nothing else, Trisha arguably should have been invited to perform at Linda’s 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

    Still, Trisha does carry on the tradition of being authentically who she is, which is what Linda always encouraged (“You don’t have to be original, just authentic); and one hopes that other female singers of today would follow that mantra like Trisha has.

  2. I’ve always felt that the luckiest men in Nashville were the ones that married any woman with a great or better voice. Garth Brooks is among those lucky men. Remember when I said Barbara Mandrell and Suzy Bogguss were permanent top twos on my list of favorite country ladies? Trisha Yearwood is right up there with ’em – what a voice.

    Glad to see “Thinkin’ About You” in the Essential Singles. It’s haunted me since I first heard it on my dad’s copy of Songbook. If only I were that fond of the video:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hPfmZCTv2gM

    (If only I knew how to embed properly, too…)

  3. Trisha is my all time favorite vocalist ever in country music. IMO, she is the best pure vocalist for any woman in country (which is saying a lot). Trisha can use her voice to convey any emotion on a track ranging from heartache, a deep track, or even a laid back fun track. Trisha has it all from a amazing voice and a amazing discography. My favorite Trisha’s albums are: Hearts in Armor (one of the best country albums of the 90’s and all time), Real Live Woman (one of the best country albums of the 00’s and all time), The Song Remembers When, Thinking About You, Everybody Knows, Inside Out, and Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love. Her self titled debut album and Jasper County were solid albums as well. My favorite Trisha’s songs are: I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners, Where Are You Now, There Goes My Baby, Walkaway Joe, This Is Me You’re Talking To, and of course XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl) and She’s In Love With The Boy (it’s one of the greatest country singles of all time). Trisha personify what it means to be a country artist by staying true to her roots and herself.

  4. No, but I guess two minds think alike! I love Trisha. Next to Patty Loveless, Trisha was the most prolific country artist for women through the 90’s to mid 00’s. Her albums from her self titled debut to Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love is a almost flawless run. I’m loving this list so much! You guys keep up the good work.

  5. What I love about favorite Trisha Yearwood lists is that they end up so long that they include almost everything, she’s been so consistently good. The Loveless comparison is apt. Country music was just better when both women were recording regularly.

  6. I’ve always preferred a few others such as Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack over Yearwood. I may be wrong but Yearwood always seemed a little more poppy to me.

  7. I was thinking about listing my favorite TY songs but it would take too long. Shortly after HHPL was released I made up a cd of my 20 favorites then found another 20 i liked just about as much.

    “Hearts in Armor” and HHPL are my 2 favorite TY cd’s. At the bottom I would list “Jasper County” (never cared for “Georgia Rain”) and “The Song Remembers When” (great title track but otherwise disappointing”)

    Love Trisha’s take on “New Kid in Town” from “Common Thread” and “Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go” from “Alabama & Friends”.

  8. I have a few dream duets I’d like to see between some of my favorite artists:

    Dolly & Reba (I believe they’ve performed live together but not on record)
    George Strait & Reba (maybe on a western swing number; they were on the same record label for years and it never happened)
    George Strait & Dolly

  9. A true great of 90s country music, with an enduring legacy. The only misfire was re-recording her hits in that awfully-produced Prizefighter album. I suspect that was Brooks’ influence in encouraging her to own her own masters of her biggest hits….

    So many great songs but if I had to pick just one it would be “I would’ve loved you anyway”. Big song, big production but it all just worked.

    FYI Lucie Silvas is British. I hope she doesn’t record her songs to be honest….I’m not a huge fan.

  10. I never really thought of Thinkin’ About You as her road record. In that context, “Where Are You Now” would have fit in well on that album too.

    Does anyone know the background on “On a Bus to St. Cloud”? I thought I had heard that it was written from the point of view of the one who is left behind after their partner commits suicide and isn’t just about the end of a relationship. Hearing it again earlier today, it seems like both perspectives would work.

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