Country Universe writer and editor Jonathan Keefe has contributed to an awesome new project called Kicking the Canon. Put together by In Review Online, Kicking the Canon attempts to expand on what has traditionally been considered the definitive music and films of eras gone by.
Keefe’s take on Trisha Yearwood’s landmark 1992 set, Hearts in Armor has gone live:
Her self-titled debut may have spawned four top-ten singles, but it was on Hearts in Armor that Trisha Yearwood properly announced herself as one of the finest country artists of her generation. Informed by the end of her first marriage, the album explores both the subtle and the dramatic ways that a relationship can dissolve, and it allows Yearwood to lay bare hard-earned truths that lesser vocalists might have left hidden.
And that’s just the beginning! You can read the whole thing here.
The only other country album featured so far is Iris Dement’s My Life, but there are plenty more on the way. You can preview their 25 albums from each year (1960-1999) on their master list.
I’ve been playing the new Trisha Yearwood CD non-stop for two days now. I’m really digging it, but what else is new? It’s not like this woman has ever put out a bad album. That’s the difficult part of reviewing her work. When an artist is so consistently excellent, it’s hard for me to get a handle on how the new music compares to the old.
So when I woke up this morning, a thought popped into my head: “I wonder if Jonathan Keefe has reviewed it yet?” Keefe writes for Slant magazine, and has the very admirable trait of discussing country albums at length. I don’t always agree with him, but his writing is top-notch and his opinions well supported.
Miracle of miracles, I headed over to Slate and there it was: a 4 1/2-star review for the new Trisha CD. What I like best about Keefe’s reviews is he is able to capture the big picture of an artist’s career while still maintaining focus on the new work he’s reviewing. Here’s a sample from his review:
For well over a decade now, Yearwood has been one of, if not the, best singers recording in any popular genre, with a combination of technical power and range, an intuitive, thoughtful command of phrasing, and a real sense of presence. So it’s really saying something that she’s never sounded better than she does on Heaven. Though she’s best known for her pop-leaning ballads, it’s her bluesier uptempo numbers and her more traditional country cuts that best showcase the breadth of her skill, and the album gives her plenty of shine on both. On the fiery lead single and title track, for instance, Yearwood doesn’t “sing” so much as deliver a pew-jumping sermon, and her performance is all the more effective because of how well she uses dynamics to emphasize key lines and build momentum. Yearwood can belt and growl better than just about anyone, but what makes her such a superior vocalist is that she knows when it’s in service of the song. The way she lapses into her upper register for a near-yodel on the bridge to “Cowboys Are My Weakness” is a genuinely clever and effective nod to the song’s deliberate retro style, while the way she swallows her vowels on the traditional country ballad “Help Me” recalls vintage Tammy Wynette. It’s amazing, really, that Yearwood is still finding new ways to use her voice and all the more remarkable that her instincts are so consistently right.
For those keeping track at home, that’s a 1/2 star less than he gave Miranda Lambert and a 1/2 star more than he gave Pam Tillis. I have a sneaking suspicion that our best-of lists for 2007 will consist of similar albums in a slightly different order. The real challenge for me will be finding new things to say after Keefe’s already covered the main points better than I could ever do!