On her first new release in 14 years, K.T. Oslin offers one new song and eight re-imagined incarnations of past singles and album cuts from throughout her thirty year career.
Rarely having been an artist to adhere to convention, Oslin eschews the simple, perfunctory approach of ticking off the hits one by one. “Hold Me” and “80s Ladies” are the only Top 10 hits included – chart-toppers “Do Ya”, “I’ll Always Come Back”, and “Come Next Monday” are all left off. Instead, the song selections touch on different eras of her career, from her early non-charting 1982 single “Younger Men” to a trio of excellent cuts from her last RCA album, 2001’s Live Close By, Visit Often (“I Can’t Remember Not Loving You”, “Maybe We Should Learn to Tango”, and the title track). The set is rounded out by new takes on her underrated early nineties single “New Way Home” and the wry “She Don’t Talk Like Us No More”, an unreleased album cut from her 1988 platinum-certified ACM Album of the Year This Woman.
Simply opens with the new Al Anderson co-write “Do You Think About Me”, Oslin’s first writing effort in years. The song begins on a melancholy note with Oslin singing against bare piano chords. As the song progresses, the arrangement gradually fills out while the lyrics and performance take on added warmth. By the time it concludes, Oslin sounds less like she’s pining for her old love and more like she’s relishing the memories of it while taking pleasure in the thought that her former partner might be thinking of her as well.
All of the tracks are given updated, yet simplified arrangements (accounting for the album’s title). Gone are the sterile keyboards and synths which, by Oslin’s own acknowledgement, have often threatened to date much of her RCA work. Her voice, which remains supple at age 74, holds the center of attention throughout (Oslin told Country Weekly that she even took vocal lessons for the first time to help prepare for her return to the spotlight). The gentle production arrangements come across as thoughtful, but never over-analyzed, and the result is that the vitality and timelessness of Oslin’s songwriting has never been more evident.
The real treat of the album is the new recording of Oslin’s Grammy-winning breakout hit “80s Ladies”, which consists solely of Oslin singing her heart out against a lone piano. It’s a fitting high note on which to close the set, as perhaps no other song can be said to so beautifully exemplify a country music career truly like no other. The new version is a revelation.
The album is over far too soon after nine tracks and 35 minutes, but considering its driving concept is one of keeping things simple, one would hardly expect it to overstay its welcome. While “Do You Think About Me” is our only taste of new Oslin songwriting for now, Simply is nonetheless a worthwhile acquisition for its success in making the old feel new again.
Recommended tracks: “Do You Think About Me”, “I Can’t Remember Not Loving You”, “80s Ladies”