Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis, the dynamic pair of second generation legends, expand the country music canon with their loving embrace of the Nashville Sound.
Indeed, on their new covers album, Come See Me and Come Lonely, the Nashville Sound is the prism through four decades of hits and hidden gems are filtered. Morgan and Tillis are rarely included in the conversation about artists who are keepers of the country music flame, despite the fact that they are both daughters of successful country artists. Their chosen flame to tend this time around helps answer why, since the smooth sixties country style they’re carrying on here is often unfairly maligned.
But Come See Me and Come Lonely shows how timeless that sound can be, particularly when they make their case for later compositions from the 1980s being worthy of inclusion among the more obvious standards featured here. It’s a revelation to hear K.T. Oslin’s “Do Ya” in this style, divorced from the dated synthesizers that have trapped that classic hit in gaudy amber. The approach is just as affecting as they tackle Dwight Yoakam’s classic “Guitars, Cadillacs.” The original has stood the test of time because Yoakam borrowed so heavily from the competing sixties Bakersfield Sound. The fiddle and piano on their version breathe new life into a song that has been heard so many times over the past thirty years.
Morgan and Tillis are smart enough to respect their audience, and they use their awareness of which songs will be most familiar to listeners to play against expectations. “Tennessee Waltz” has one of the most famous melodies of all time, yet is truly born again through its presentation here as it is played on both the bass and the most lonesome fiddle imaginable. “Blanket On the Ground” is slowed down, and Morgan’s older, wiser vocal adds new layers to the wife’s longing for the Newlywed romance to be rekindled. The unique phrasing of Tillis, perhaps her greatest of her many gifts as a singer, infuses the classic lines of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “The End of the World” with readings so unexpected that it’s like hearing them again for the first time.
Meanwhile, their deep history with the genre allows them to spotlight compositions that deserve revisiting. Tillis revisits the last Waylon Jennings #1 single, “Rose in Paradise,” a great story song that is worthy of inclusion in that legend’s greatest work but is often overlooked. Morgan does a stunning, haunted reading of “Saunders’ Ferry Lane,” a 1971 Sammi Smith B-side. And the album closes with the gorgeous title track, a should’ve been hit from Dottie West that stands tall among the venerated classics that populate the album.
The entire album works so well because of the way Come See Me and Come Lonely pairs the two vocalists and their combined history together. Morgan, the daughter who stayed in Nashville and carried the torch from her father, hasn’t sounded this strong on record since 2004’s Show Me How. She sticks to her lower register here, and she applies it masterfully, establishing again her direct connection to great female stylists like Brenda Lee, Jeannie Seely, and Tammy Wynette.
Tillis, the prodigal daughter who dabbled in jazz, New Wave, and eighties pop before her storied homecoming, retains her ability to seamlessly integrate so many influences into her vocals that she still sounds like nobody else in any genre of music that’s come along before or since her early nineties breakthrough. She records so infrequently now that anything we get on record feels like a precious gift that’s more valuable than ever.
But Come See Me and Come Lonely is more than just a pairing of two great singers and artists, a description more befitting of their first album together, Dos Divas. That was two stars coming together on record; this is two artists coming together as one. Morgan and Tillis function here as a vocal duo, providing harmonies for each other that have been carefully honed over a decade of sharing the stage for acoustic performances. Put them up against any given year’s nominees for Vocal Duo of the Year and watch the current crop wither away in shame.
Three decades ago, while Morgan and Tillis were still working the Nashville clubs awaiting their big break that was soon to come, George Jones poignantly asked, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” Listening to the way these female artists so effortlessly weave their singular talents with the fabric of country music’s history, it may now be time to ask: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their High Heels?”
Recommended Tracks: “Saunders Ferry Lane,” “Do Ya'”, “Tennessee Waltz”