A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective, Part Four: 1997-1999

A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective

Part Four: 1997-1999

Trisha Yearwood reaches her commercial peak and dominates the awards circuit during this part of our feature, enjoying a multi-platinum hits collection and winning the trifecta of Female Vocalist trophies from the CMA, ACM, and Grammy Awards.  But the compromises required to her artistry toward the end of this cycle result in her weakest studio album, which will ultimately set the stage for some of the best music of her career in the new century.

 

“I Need You”

Written by Jess Brown and Wendell Mobley

1997

#36

Grade: B-

A stately ballad that makes for a lovely album track, “I Need You” was a baffling choice for the third single from Everybody Knows. Even for a ballad, the tempo is particularly slow, and the production is understated in a way that foregrounds Yearwood’s performance. And it’s a gorgeous performance, of course. But, by this juncture in her career, Yearwood had proven her skill with ballads like this many times over, on songs with far more depth and detail. Lesser Yearwood is still pretty great, but this is certainly one of her weaker radio singles. – Jonathan Keefe

 

“How Do I Live”

Written by Diane Warren

1997

United States:

Country #2 | Pop #23

International:

Australia #3 | Ireland #2 | UK #66

Grade: B+

“How Do I Live” is a seminal record in Trisha Yearwood’s career, catapulting her to international recognition and fueling her domination of the 1997-1998 awards cycle.  Is it her best record? Not even close.  But her ability to transform a decent Diane Warren power ballad into something with deep emotional impact, simply through her interpretation, is still something to behold all of these years later.  – Kevin John Coyne

 

{Songbook} A Collection of Hits

1997

United States:

Country #1 (2 weeks) | Pop #4

International:

Australia #5 | Canada #22 | UK #81

Track Listing:

How Do I Live

The Song Remembers When

Wrong Side of Memphis

In Another’s Eyes (with Garth Brooks)

The Woman Before Me

Perfect Love

Thinkin’ About You

Down On My Knees

She’s in Love With the Boy

Walkaway Joe (with Don Henley)

XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)

Like We Never Had a Broken Heart

International Edition Also Includes:

A Lover is Forever

Believe Me Baby (I Lied)

On a Bus to St. Cloud

You Can Sleep While I Drive

The Flame

Save the Land (with Lee Kernaghan) [Australia Only]

Giving her first anthology set the title Songbook highlighted one of the things that distinguished Yearwood from so many of her contemporaries: Her gift for selecting exceptional material that she could elevate further through her performances. Sequencing the album like a proper mixtape, rather than taking the more common approach of arranging the collection of hits in chronological order, further sets Songbook apart from the other “greatest hits” of the era. It plays like a coherent, purposeful album, even though it included only three new recordings. 

Those new tracks include the Diane Warren song that would become one of her signature hits. “How Do I Live” opens the album with a bit of pop-country bombast, and it’s to Yearwood’s credit that she imbues the song with a real sense of humanity. She truly elevates what is otherwise a middling song. She’s less successful on “Perfect Love,” a song that sticks out on this collection for its haphazard songwriting.

As for the remainder of the tracklist, the selection of hit singles made room for “Down On My Knees,” which missed the top 20, but doesn’t include some of Yearwood’s bluesier, uptempo numbers that charted higher: “That’s What I Like About You” and “You Say You Will.” Either of those cuts could have made for a diverse set that more fully captures the breadth of Yearwood’s talent. Instead, the album does reinforce the idea that Yearwood is primarily a ballad singer. That’s never been the full extent of Yearwood’s story, and, though she’s a gifted singer of ballads, Songbook’s somewhat limited scope does play against it in the overall arc of Yearwood’s career.– JK

 

“In Another’s Eyes” (with Garth Brooks)

Written by Garth Brooks, John Peppard, and Bobby Wood

1997

United States:

Country #2

International:
Ireland #23

Grade: B-

This is one of the best Garth & Trisha duets.  To be fair, that isn’t saying much, but because it predates their happily ever after, there are still some pathos and darker emotional shades to be explored. As with pretty much every Yearwood duet with any artist, she’s the highlight.  – KJC

 

“Perfect Love”

Written by Sunny Russ and Stephony Smith

1998

#1

Grade: A

This should’ve been the blueprint for how to arrange Trisha Yearwood records, Mr. Tony Brown.  With a driving beat that derives from organic instrumentation, Yearwood delivers a rapid fire lyric filled with all the beautiful banality that is to be expected from any given day in an everyday love. Released at the peak of her commercial success, this would be her final #1 country hit. – KJC

 

“There Goes My Baby”

Written by Annie Roboff and Arnie Roman

1998

Country #2 | Pop #93

Grade: A-

A bait and switch for the forthcoming Where Your Road Leads album, “There Goes My Baby” misleads by suggesting that the pairing with producer Tony Brown was going to be a fruitful one and that Yearwood was still picking the highest-quality songs for her album. Neither of those things proved to be true, which makes“There Goes My Baby” all the more of an anomaly. Yearwood sings the holy hell out of it, veering between a full-throated wail and a riveting falsetto that pushes Yearwood’s voice, quite literally, to heretofore unheard heights. It’s one of the most captivating vocal turns in a career full of them. – JK

 

Where Your Road Leads

1998

United States:

Country #3 | Pop #33

International:

Canada #41 | UK #36

Track Listing:

There Goes My Baby

Never Let You Go Again

That Ain’t the Way I Heard it

Powerful Thing

Love Wouldn’t Lie to Me

Wouldn’t Any Woman

I’ll Still Love You More

Heart Like a Sad Song

I Don’t Want to Be the One

Bring Me All Your Lovin’

Where Your Road Leads (with Garth Brooks)

International Edition Also Includes:

One More Chance

I Have a Love [Japan Only]

Imagine finally getting to produce a studio album by the finest singer of her generation and not having a clue about what to do with her talent.

I’m looking at you, Tony Brown.  

Where Your Road Leads is the only studio album that Brown helmed for Yearwood, and all of his weaknesses as a producer are on full display. The instrumentation is bland and antiseptic, as if he’s scared that the tracks will be mistaken as pure country or pure pop.   The backing tracks operate on a separate plane of existence from Yearwood’s performances, as if her interpretation of the material was completely irrelevant to how the songs should sound.  

Worst of all, despite them only having collaborated on two Songbook tracks, the album provides paint-by-number remakes of both of them.  “Powerful Thing” is “Perfect Love,” part two.  “I’ll Still Love You More” is a retread of “How Do I Live.”   Neither sequel approaches the power of the original, rendering both of them redundant.  

Aside from the sixties power pop of “There Goes My Baby,” the album really struggles to showcase Yearwood as a vocalist.  Her phrasing is all over the place, especially on “That Ain’t the Way I Heard It” and “I Don’t Want to Be the One.”   She sounds flat-out disengaged on “Never Let You Go Again” and “Bring Me All Your Lovin’.”  Even “Heart Like a Sad Song,” which should be a slam dunk (and would’ve been, with Garth Fundis at the helm) is a bit too meandering for its own good. 

Where Your Road Leads is the only album in Yearwood’s catalog that can be skipped completely.  I can’t even recommend most of the singles.  Just skim “There Goes My Baby” off the top and move on to Real Live Woman– KJC

 

“Where Your Road Leads” (with Garth Brooks)

Written by Desmond Child and Victoria Shaw

1998

#18

Grade: D

A nadir for most everyone involved– and I say that as someone who’s rarely been impressed by Desmond Child– “Where Your Road Leads” is a bloated, overwrought mess. The lyrics read like they’re written in CAPSLOCK, and Brooks and Yearwood respond in kind. They scream the song in each other’s direction; their voices rarely complement, but they’ve never sounded worse on record than they do on this duet. – JK

 

“That Ain’t the Way I Heard It”

Written by Jamie O’Hara

1998

UK Single (Did Not Chart)

Grade: C+

One of the best examples of how Tony Brown’s production betrayed Yearwood on Where Your Road Leads, “That Ain’t the Way I Heard It” is a solid enough song by the reliable Jamie O’Hara, but Brown’s arrangement gives Yearwood nothing to anchor her performance to. As a result, one of the best interpretive singers of her– of any– generation sounds utterly unmoored. – JK

 

“Powerful Thing”

Written by Al Anderson and Sharon Vaughn

1998

Country #6 | Pop #50

Grade: C

It’s slightly better written, but “Powerful Thing” is such a bald-faced attempt to repeat the success of “Perfect Love” that it’s impossible to take seriously on its own merits. But, because it’s slightly better written, “Powerful Thing” is actually less memorable than was its forebear. Yearwood sounds invested in her performance, but the song just isn’t up to the standards she’d set earlier in her career. – JK

 

“I’ll Still Love You More”

Written by Diane Warren

1999

Country #10 | Pop #65

Grade: F

And speaking of bald-faced… Yearwood and Brown go back to Dianne Warren’s well in an attempt to recapture the crossover success of “How Do I Live.” But “I’ll Still Love You More” is simply inert, lacking any semblance of a hook, let alone something Yearwood could imbue with the urgency of, “And tell me     now” the way she had on The earlier hit. Brown produces the single like he’s aiming for airplay exclusively in Hallmark stores; pretty much all he’s missing is a flourish of windchimes in the chorus. To Yearwood’s infinite credit, this was the last (US) single on which she attempted to recreate something purely for its commercial success and not because of its artistic bent. A dreadful listen, the only saving grace of “I’ll Still Love You More” is that it brings the only poor era of Yearwood’s career to a close, as she prepares to pivot to an unprecedented run of quality work. – JK

 

“You’re Where I Belong”

Written by Diane Warren

1999

International Pop Single (Did Not Chart)

Grade: B-

“You’re Where I Belong” isn’t a better song than “I’ll Still Love You More,” but it makes a world of difference to have a pop producer who knows what he is doing handling the arrangement. Yearwood’s solid vocal is the core of the record, and Keith Thomas wisely builds the rest of the track around it.  She really could’ve been a blue-eyed soul singer and been just as successful.  – KJC

A Trisha Yearwood Retrospective

Previous: Part Three: 1995-1996 | Next: Part Five: 2000-2002

 

4 Comments

  1. I’m one of those who likes Trisha’s and Garth’s voices together. While Trisha certainly has the superior voice, I think they have a similar crackle to their voices. I do think that their duet choices as far as song quality have been hit or miss though.

  2. I’ve always liked the 3 top ten singles this album produced. Powerful Thing gets stuck in my head and all the songs take me back to my high school days. Idk, maybe I just gave my nostalgia glasses on. It is interesting that she earned her 2nd CMA female vocalist award during this album cycle and an album of the year nom too!

  3. I’d have to agree with Kevin that this part of Trisha’s career was an artistically fallow one for her. Some of it may have had to do with the fact that there were a lot more women on the scene by 1997 than there were only six years earlier when her career got started. But some of the compromises Trisha had to make also seem to have been dictated by the kind of “focus group” mentality that was beginning to infect so much of mainstream country radio by the turn of the millennium, and which, I think, has since had such a debilitating effect on the way albums and songs are made, and how they do on the charts.

    I think one of the reasons she went with Tony Brown as her producer for Where Your Road Leads is because he had a lot to do with her signing with MCA back in 1990, and perhaps because of his reputation, which dates all the way back to being part of Elvis’ performing retinue during the King’s final years in the mid-1970’s. But again I have to agree with Kevin that that didn’t necessarily make him the right producer for her the way Garth Fundis is.

    Fortunately, she and Garth (Fundis, that is) would re-team for her artistic re-emergence in 2000 with Real Live Woman.

  4. Really nice to see this feature continuing on.

    I actually happen to like most of the singles Trisha released during this period of her career (perhaps you can blame it on my late 90’s nostalgia), though I agree that her best work is definitely with Garth Fundis at the helm.

    I actually don’t recall hearing “I Need You” at all on the radio, but I definitely agree that it’s one of her more bland and forgettable efforts. I personally would’ve liked seeing either “I Want To Live Again” or “It’s Alright” sent to radio, though maybe the latter would’ve been considered too traditional leaning for that time.

    “How Do I Live” will always be one of my favorite Trisha songs, due to a combination of her more mature heartfelt performance on it (compared to Rimes’ version), and just plain 1997 nostalgia with having heard it all throughout the summer of that year and seeing the movie Con Air. Also, I actually prefer the slightly countrier version that was sent to radio, featuring some nice steel guitar work, instead of the saxophone featured on the Songbook version.

    “Perfect Love” and “Powerful Thing” are two of my favorite upbeat numbers she’s done, and both bring back good middle school memories from when they were going up the charts. Though maybe a bit repetitive, I always found “Powerful Thing” charming, and I’ve always liked the steel guitar work and Al Anderson’s backup vocals on that one.

    “There Goes My Baby” is actually one of my all time favorite Trisha songs. The Roy Orbison/Mavericks style is right up my alley, and I just love her powerful, emotional performance on it. This one was a constant presence on the radio throughout the summer and fall of 1998, and I always enjoyed it very much every time it came on. Never fails to take me back to those great times!

    As for the duets with Garth, I agree with the general consensus here that while they’ve always sounded great together, it’s the songs I’ve found to be bland and a bit boring. “In Another’s Eyes” is actually not too bad, but it’s far from being one of the best from either artist. As for “Where Your Road Leads” I don’t really remember hearing it that much when it was released, and when I heard it on the album, I could easily understand why it was quickly forgotten after its chart run was over. It’s definitely contemporary country at its blandest.

    On the other hand, I’ve always kind of actually liked “I’ll Still Love You More” and the Where Your Road Leads album (Prepares to duck for tomatoes, lol). While maybe not her best work, I still find the majority of the tracks enjoyable in a typical late 90’s pop country kind of way.

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