1996 | #28
In the years after the release of Shania’s runaway success of an album The Woman In Me, she largely focused her creative efforts on relentlessly positive upbeat pop-country material, rarely delivering sorrowful country ballads.
But in listening to the ballads included on The Woman In Me, it’s easy to wish that Shania had offered a few more such efforts in following years. Country heartbreak was not a style that she did often, but it was definitely something that she could do well.
Lady and Gentlemen
A new covers album from LeAnn Rimes would likely draw comparisons to her 1999 self-titled effort, which found her covering the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. But this time, there’s a twist: All of the songs she’s covering were originally recorded by male artists. Thus, Rimes is re-interpreting them in a female perspective.
And while 1999’s LeAnn Rimes album might have given you a feeling that you were listening to really good karaoke singer, as her versions seldom strayed far from the originals, Rimes’ new collection Lady and Gentlemen finds her taking substantial liberties with these classic hits. She even alters lyrics on Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” (re-titled as “The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line”). The songs are given modern, yet reverent, production arrangements, with Rimes adding her own personal style to each one, resulting in a uniquely creative effort.
Lee Brice’s new release is a song that sets a casual conversation to music. Woman asks husband, “Honey, what would you do if you’d never met me?”
Answer: “I’d do a lot more offshore fishin’ / I’d probably eat more drive-thru chicken / Take a few strokes off my golf game / If I’d have never known your name / I’d still be driving that old green ‘Nova / I probably never would have heard of yoga / Be a better football fan / But if I was a single man / Alone and out there on the loose / I’d be looking for a woman like you.”
Own the Night
Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” is a once in a career kind of hit. That drunk-dialer ballad became a such a huge cross-genre smash hit that is was virtually inescapable no matter which radio format you tuned into. The Grammy-winning hit pushed Lady Antebellum to instant add status on country radio, which is where they stayed even as their single releases gradually slid downhill in quality.
The downward slide continues on the trio’s third album Own the Night – an uninspired effort that savors strongly of an act coasting along on their superstar status, while resting on their laurels artistically. One could present the easy-out criticism that the album is not country, and indeed it makes little effort to sonically resemble country, but the real issue is not simply that these are pop songs. The issue is that, pop or country, they’re just flat-out not good songs.
Sunny Sweeney’s 2007 debut album was fantastic, but too raw and twangy for country radio to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Thus, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame produced no charting singles. Sweeney re-emerged in 2010 with “From a Table Away,” a single that took on a glossier finish so as to be more radio-friendly. Still, the core country elements were uncompromised. The strategy worked, netting Sunny Sweeney the first Top 10 hit of her career. Likewise, the remainder of her sophomore album has enough polish to be palatable to country radio, but Sweeney’s traditionalist bent remains intact, as the album retains an identifiably country sound throughout (such that the “pop-country” label would be a misnomer). Concrete sounds poised to build on Sunny Sweeney’s newfound career momentum, yet it also finds an artist able to make reasonable commercial concessions without sacrificing her own identity in the process.