A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective, Part Two: 1993-1994

A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective, Part Two: 1993-1994

Part Two: 1993-1994

The massive success of Trisha Yearwood’s debut album had created high expectations both critically and commercially.  While there was some grumbling on the latter end about her sophomore set, Hearts in Armor, it’s fair to say that her second album set her on a path to be the most acclaimed and consistent recording artist of her generation.  Her mid-nineties work sold well and received regular airplay, but she still flew under the radar a bit during these years.  The two years covered by this entry featured some stopgap singles, a Christmas set, and a third album anchored by a poignantly beautiful classic.

You Say You Will

Written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Verlon Thompson

1993

#12

Grade: A-

On which Yearwood unveils her inner Bonnie Raitt, and what a revelation. A departure for songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, best known for quiet, introspective coffeehouse folk, and Yearwood similarly embraced defying early attempts to pigeonhole her artistry. Backed by acoustic blues bars and a ragtime piano, Yearwood dresses down a lover for his never-ending disappointments; the final chorus, when the instrumental backing drops out and she delivers a perfectly controlled and perfectly sneering dismissal, is still a stunner.   – Jonathan Keefe

 

Down On My Knees

Written by Beth Nielsen Chapman

1993

#19

Grade: B

Yearwood’s first proper power-ballad showcased her ability to elevate that style into art. The song itself could have skewed toward the maudlin or even co-dependent had it been covered by some of her contemporaries, but Yearwood’s performance is a torrid tour-de-force: She isn’t subservient to the man she’s begging to stay, she’s making it clear that it’s her choice to fight for her relationship. That distinction matters, and that agency informs Yearwood’s catalog from this point forward. – JK

 

 

The Song Remembers When

Written by Hugh Prestwood

1993

#2

Grade: A

Hugh Prestwood is one of those songwriters who doubles as a poet, and this is his masterpiece.  A song about the very power of music itself, “The Song Remembers When” manages to elicit the same strong emotions that it describes in its lyrics.

Credit the clever production for part of that success. Garth Fundis opens the song with a guitar flourish that gets a callback following the line, “When I heard that old familiar music start.”  It’s subtle enough that it reinforces the message of the lyric without getting in the way of it. 

That’s a good description for Trisha Yearwood’s vocal as well.  It was her contemporary Patty Loveless that once said it was the job of a singer to not get in the way of the song.  Yearwood’s power is incomparable, but she barely uses it here because it’s a song about quiet longing for the past. You can hear her confusion as she wonders how she managed to forget the strong feelings that have returned, and there’s a desperation in the final verse as she closes the door on the past once again.

So a great song, well produced, and sung brilliantly. The formula for greatness is so simple, yet so difficult to achieve. – Kevin John Coyne

 

The Song Remembers When

1993

Country #6 | Pop #40

Track Listing:

The Song Remembers When

Better Your Heart Than Mine

I Don’t Fall in Love So Easy

Hard Promises to Keep

Mr. Radio

The Nightingale

If I Ain’t Got You

One in a Row

Here Comes Temptation

Lying to the Moon

 

An album on which Nashville desperately wanted to transform her into a crossover star, but Yearwood didn’t play along. On The Song Remembers When, she made it clear that her artistic path would be defined by her own choices, and she would own those choices. The result was an album that was far more idiosyncratic in its material, vocal performances, and sequencing than perhaps anyone could have expected from the follow-up to a game-changing album like Hearts In Armor

While the breadth of Yearwood’s ambition on this record was admirable, not everything truly worked. Her instincts are so good that she rarely misfires completely, but it’s hardly a surprise that MCA wasn’t keen on the idea of releasing a song like “The Nightingale” as a single. Country radio still embraced diverse styles in 1993, but “If I Ain’t Got You” and “Here Comes Temptation” were perhaps a bridge too far, particularly after her ugly-on-purpose rendition of Lisa Angelle’s “Better Your Heart Than Mine” stalled.

With The Song Remembers When, you come for the title track, which has rightfully become the gold standard for songs of its kind, and you stay for the track-to-track surprises tucked away on Trisha’s oddest album. – JK

Better Your Heart Than Mine

Written by Lisa Angelle and Andrew Gold

1994

#21

Grade: B-

This is an interesting record in the Trisha Yearwood catalog, because it’s one of the rare times that she’s made a vocal choice that doesn’t go well with the song.  Lyrically, “Better Your Heart Than Mine” is a spiritual sequel to “You Say You Will.” But Yearwood’s delivery is stilted, with the entire song sung in too deep of a register and the pacing of the music just a few beats too slow. 

MCA apparently didn’t know what to do with The Song Remembers When album, and abandoned the platinum disc after just two singles. A missed opportunity all around, given the gems that populated that album.  – KJC

 

I Fall to Pieces (with Aaron Neville)

Written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard

1994

#72

Grade: C

Aaron Neville has one of popular music’s most inimitable voices, but his peculiar tone makes him a tough singing partner. That is, unless you’re Linda Ronstadt or her spiritual and artistic heir, Trisha Yearwood. She and Neville sound phenomenal together– their tones actually compliment each other, which is rarely the case when she sings with Garth Brooks– on this cover. But the arrangement of “I Fall to Pieces” is just deadly dull. The song isn’t an uptempo ditty, but this cover plays like a funereal dirge. – JK

XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)

Written by Matraca Berg and Alice Randall

1994

#1 (2 weeks)

Grade: A

This signature hit has humble origins.  It was recorded as the theme song to a Nashville-based television movie that was intended to be an ongoing series. Wynonna was scheduled to record it, but she fell ill, so it ended up a stopgap single for Trisha Yearwood.

It might as well have been written for her in the first place, as it sings of a woman who has married the boy that she was in love with, and is dealing with the pressures of being the perfect wife, while also furthering her career goals.  What were the needs of such a woman in the nineties? “Well, she’s got her God and she’s got good wine, Aretha Franklin, and Patsy Cline.” – KJC

 

The Sweetest Gift

1994

Country #17 | Pop #105

Track Listing:

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Reindeer Boogie

Take a Walk Through Bethlehem

Santa Claus is Back in Town

It Wasn’t His Child

Away in a Manger

The Sweetest Gift

There’s a New Kid in Town

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)

 

This may seem antiquated to any readers of the shuffling and streaming generation, but I’m going to make the point anyway: sequencing matters.

There are two Christmas albums here, and they’re all jumbled up.  One is a deep reflection of the spiritual nature of the holiday, and the other is a feel good collection of secular holiday tunes.

The Sweetest Gift was released as the compact disc was reaching its dominance, but even if this album wasn’t going to be thought of as two sides, it should’ve dawned on producer Garth Fundis that “Reindeer Boogie” sounds jarring between “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” and “Take a Walk Through Bethlehem.”  

That isn’t to say that what’s here isn’t worth listening to.  As a series of individual tracks, the effort is solid. Yearwood gives the definitive reading of “It Wasn’t His Child,” the Christmas song for adoptive fathers everywhere.  Her cover of “The Sweetest Gift” is tender and heartfelt. And if the purpose of recording overly familiar Christmas standards is to hear your favorite singer record them, you can’t get much better than having them sung by Yearwood.

So put it on shuffle and it stands the test of time, but it lacks the thematic cohesion Yearwood is usually known for. – KJC

 

It Wasn’t His Child

Written by Skip Ewing

1994

#60

Grade: B+

Few Christmas songs released in the last thirty years– there’s Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and Wham’s “Last Christmas,” and not much else– have gone on to become true seasonal standards. Yearwood’s reading of Skip Ewing’s “It Wasn’t His Child” deserves to be in that very small company. To adopt the perspective of Joseph expands the scope of the Biblical Christmas story in ways that were unexpected but still reverent, and Yearwood’s performance is grounded in empathy and grace. – JK

A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective

Previous: Part One: 1991-1992  | Next: Part Three: 1995-1996

5 Comments

  1. An irony here, with respect to Trisha, Aaron, and Linda, is that Linda herself had recorded this same song, this time with a surprisingly more uptempo C&W/rock shuffle, live at the Troubadour in West Hollywood in 1971 (it was included on her self-titled album, released just after the start of 1972).

    Also, it was on The Song Remembers When that Trisha started paying more direct homage with Linda through her cover of “Mr. Radio”, which Linda had recorded for her 1982 album Get Closer.

  2. Really loving this feature!

    Totally agree with Kevin’s assessment on “The Song Remembers When.” It’s truly one of the finest songs and performances of Trisha Yearwood’s career, and one of my favorites of all time. And when I think of some of my favorite songs written by Hugh Prestwood, this is the first one that always comes to mind.

    Also agree that releasing only two singles from that album was a missed opportunity. I personally love the album and rank it as one of my top favorites in her discography. Besides the title track, I also love “Hard Promises To Keep,” “Here Comes Temptation,” “I Don’t Fall In Love So Easy,” “One In A Row,” and “Mr. Radio.” The whole album is a delight to listen to from beginning to end, though.

    I’m simply guessing part of the reason the album wasn’t as successful with radio was because around the time it was released, upbeat sing along songs and line dance ready tunes were becoming more favorable on the radio than ballads. And this album was pretty much the polar opposite of that trend.

    Also really love The Sweetest Gift, though I agree some of the sequencing could’ve been better. “It Wasn’t His Child” is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time, and it’s a must play for me every holiday season. Actually, it sounds great all year round!

  3. My wife love love loves Christmas songs – so I love Christmas songs. Happy wife, happy life. We have Collin Raye’s 1996 Christmas album “The Gift” and Trisha Yearwood’s “The Sweetest Gift” but hardly ever play either. (We included “It Wasn’t His Child” on a separate Christmas playlist. It’s the Yearwood version but we also have Skip Ewing’s. It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs.) For Christmas albums my favorite by a female country artist is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Suzy Bogguss. By a male country artist, it’s John Berry’s “My Heart is Bethlehem”.

  4. oops! forgot my comment on “The Song Remembers When” album. While I love Yearwood’s recording of the great Hugh Prestwood song, I think the album is one of her weakest. (but weakest for Trisha isn’t so bad).

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