A great covers record, no matter how sincere the artist’s intentions, must provide a satisfactory answer to one question: Why should we listen to this artist’s versions of these songs when the originals are still there for us to enjoy?
There are moments when Terri Clark’s Classic answers that question effectively, as well as some when the answer is murky at best. Produced by Clark with Jeff Jones, the project fares best when Clark brings thoughtful vocal interpretations and creative production touches to her renderings of these classic songs. Her take on Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” marries a pleasantly subtle vocal reading to a warm and inviting bluegrass-tinged arrangement. Another highlight is a reworking of Tanya Tucker’s 1972 debut hit “Delta Dawn,” on which Tucker herself contributes duet vocals. Tucker proves to be in fine voice, while an acoustic guitar and fiddle-based arrangement accentuates the song’s Southern Gothic charms. The album also includes some less-expected cover choices such as Linda Ronstadt’s “Love Is a Rose” and Emmylou Harris’ “Two More Bottles of Wine” – not necessary the usual go-to selections for a classic country covers project, but Clark’s searing fiddle-laced reworkings are a real treat.
The album’s most polarizing aspect would likely be its recurring tendency to place the songs in contemporary country-rock settings (which may make some country purists wince) similar to the style that became Clark’s calling card during her days as a mainstream country star. One could commend Clark for adapting the songs to her own style (as opposed to causing the same musical whiplash as Martina McBride’s by-the-book re-creations from her Timeless project), but the strategy does suffer from the occasional overhaul. She amps up Kittle Wells’ landmark hit “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” into a honky-tonk shuffle that could have worked if not for her overwrought vocal delivery, but an over-produced take on Loretta Lynn’s “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” all but buries the infectious sass of Lynn’s 1967 original. By the time Clark’s rocked-up versions of Merle Haggard’s “Swingin’ Doors” and Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” roll around, the style begins to feel somewhat tired.
The duets included on the album are something of a mixed bag. Dierks Bentley turns in one of his better performances as he fills George Jones’ shoes on the classic Jones-Wynette duet “Golden Ring.” Dean Brody joins Clark on “I’m Movin’ On,” thus shifting the song to a two-person (ostensibly an ex-couple) perspective. The third-person narrative of “Delta Dawn” is likewise well-suited to the duet treatment. On the other hand, sonically pleasant duet versions of “How Blue” (with original artist Reba McEntire) and Patsy Cline’s “Leavin’ On Your Mind” (with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Jann
Arden) suffer from the simple common flaw that the songs don’t work well as two-woman duets.
Terri Clark is to be commended for the sense of risk-taking evident on Classic, but unfortunately it sometimes comes at the expense of consistency. Sleepless Nights it isn’t, but the best moments on Terri Clark’s Classic make it an enjoyable and worthwhile listen as a whole, even if the project falls a degree short of fulfilling its lofty potential.
Top Tracks: “Love Is a Rose,” “Gentle On My Mind,” “Delta Dawn”
I guess that on country websites it would be considered akin to a sacrilege to say that, other than “Gentle on My Mind” and “Leavin’ On Your Mind”, I don’t care much for any of the other “Classics” selected for this project, the original or Terri’s cover – and I’m a TC fan. I have all of her studio albums up to now. For me, the greatest decade for country music was the 90’s.
…not quite sure, whether it is terry clark’s guts to stray off the beaten track of the usual country classics or the quality of the review that really makes me wonder how this project sounds. guess i shall have to find out for myself.
Doing these all-covers albums as so many artists have done, now including Terri, can either be considered a commercial ploy or an extreme risk because of the fact that these songs have already been done definitively at least once, and even many more times by other artists.
When it comes to “Love Is A Rose”, obviously I’m showing my bias for Linda’s 1975 version, but I really think Terri’s heavy drawl really gets in the way of the song, in contrast to Linda’s natural, unaffected Southwestern twang; and the arrangement doesn’t have the kind of muscle of the original. I had felt the same way about “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”, where I think Terri’s drawl didn’t really work on so blackly comic a song about gang rape. With “Gentle On My Mind”, she’s not just competing with Glen Campbell’s classic version (which itself is bluegrass-influenced in its own way too), but also the more R&B-influenced recording that Elvis did on his classic 1969 album From Elvis In Memphis, plus versions by other artists like Lucinda Williams, and (if you can believe this) Aretha Franklin. And with “Two More Bottles Of Wine”, Terri’s going up against Emmylou, who, like her good pal Linda, set a very high bar for female artists over the last forty years. It simply isn’t that easy to just put another “spin” on songs like these, and I’m not always sure that the artists who do such cover albums, Terri included, really realize that.
I really like this album. It’s my favorite thing that Terri Clark has done.
I don’t know if anyone really makes a covers album with the intention of “going up against” the original artist so much as to shine a spotlight on the songs and artists that helped shape the artist. I generally don’t expect cover songs to replace the original or definitive versions in my listening library, but do expect an artist to bring something of their own to the table to validate the existence of a cover version – and I generally feel that’s what Terri was able to do with most of these songs (though not all).
(which itself is bluegrass-influenced in its own way too)
True. I’m not sure why I such worded my description of Terri’s version, but it does feel bluegrass in a slightly different way than the Campbell version, if that makes any sense at all.
I’m partial to the Ronstadt version of “Love Is a Rose” myself – It’s my favorite Linda Ronstadt song – but I do enjoy Terri’s version for what it is.
I don’t think anyone makes cover albums to go up against the originals either, and that includes Terri. It’s just such a large risk to take, both artistically and commercially, and it is not easily pulled off.
One irony about “Love Is A Rose”: it is a fellow Canadian of Terri’s who wrote it in 1974, Neil Young; and he earned quite a few bucks off of Linda’s bluegrass-spiked rendition (which reached #5 on the Billboard C&W singles chart in November 1975).
And in regards to “Gentle On My Mind”, the reason I related G.C.’s version as bluegrass-influenced is because of the presence of the late, great Douglas Dillard on banjo, and the fact that the great John Hartford, whose background is in folk and bluegrass, wrote it. Indeed, so many artists (and now Terri) have covered “Gentle On My Mind” now that Hartford, though sadly gone from the scene now for twelve years, probably made more money off just that one song than some other songwriters have made from their entire catalog.
I imagine there are a good many artists who don’t fully consider the risks involved with a covers album, but that there are many who simply choose to accept the risks for the sake of creating something they believe in. I can’t be the one to say which group Terri Clark falls into, though.
I am listening to clips of this album, I really enjoy it. The production was a nice change to an average remake/covers album. I’ve always enjoyed her voice.