Let’s Be Frank
There’s a moment on Let’s Be Frank, right toward the end of “Over the Rainbow,” where I braced myself.
Trisha Yearwood’s performance had been building up since the beginning, growing in power as the lyric shifted from the mundane rain of every day life to the imaginary world just beyond the rainbow that follows the storm. By this point of the album, she’d already demonstrated her peerless strength as a vocalist. I knew she was getting ready to blow the roof off.
And then…she didn’t. Just as she’s asking the pointed question that ends the lyric – “Why can’t I?” – her volume drops to just above a whisper, transforming that final question from one of bravado to one of longing. It’s a choice that brings a new layer of depth to an overly familiar song, and it reminded me immediately that Yearwood’s unique greatness has always been that her talent as a singer is fully matched by her talent as an interpreter of song.
Mind you, that former talent has never been more fully evident on record than it is on Let’s Be Frank. These songs, nearly all of them generations old, were written for Singers with a capital S. The melodies are complicated, and they require a vocal dexterity notably absent from most modern forms of music, country included. Hearing Yearwood tackle them with such precision and ease is a reminder that her becoming a country music legend was a choice. She could have been successful in pretty much any other field of music. She learned all of the right lessons from both Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, balancing Linda’s ability to convey raw emotion through her vocals with Emmylou’s exquisite song sense and consistently good taste.
Those of us pining for another one of her conventional country albums will have to wait longer, but Let’s Be Frank is still worthy of attention from her traditional fan base. Most notable is the one new composition, “For the Last Time,” co-written by Yearwood and Garth Brooks. It’s a clever and well-constructed love song that fits the theme and sound of the album, even though I’m still hoping it gets another spin as a country song down the road. Also, while Yearwood sticks closely to the original arrangements, her presentation of these songs from a woman’s perspective gives them a fresh context, whether she’s asking Joe to set ’em up on “One For My Baby” or embracing “The Lady is a Tramp” by singing it in the first person.
Let’s Be Frank is a delightful detour, and while it doesn’t curb the hunger for more country music from the greatest female artist of the greatest generation of female artists, it is chock full of reminders of how she earned that distinction in the first place.
(Note: Let’s Be Frank is exclusively available through Williams-Sonoma until February 2019. Due to the limited release, Country Universe will consider this album for its 2019 Year-End Lists.)