Monday, July 02, 2007

Get Your Country Comfort Where You Find It!

Two entries by two women steeped in country tradition; one very good and one encouraging, sort of.

Miranda Lambert: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Sony/BMG Nashville, 2007).
My disdain for country music goes back almost twenty-five years, and with good reason. With the exception of Rosanne Cash, John Anderson, Willie Nelson and a couple of Rosie Flores albums, the genre simply hasn’t lived up to its historical traditions. Somewhere, I suspect, Hank Williams is turning over in his grave at what has happened to this once proud and rich music. While this latest entry by this self-proclaimed Garth Brooks fan is unlikely to repair the damage of the last three decades, it does, if nothing else, offer up an olive branch. Lambert is no stranger to success; her debut Kerosene made her the darling of the country charts in 2005. This album builds off of that and with an edge that is very reminiscent of Flores, circa 1992, which means it’s also part Dwight Yoakam, circa mid 1980s. In other words, Lambert leans more toward Honky Tonk than the traditional El Lay that passes for country these days, and at only a mere twenty-three – a babe even in country – she has more to say than women ten years her senior. While her writing has grown a notch since her debut, the real breakthrough here are the covers: “Dry Town” Gillian Welch, “Easy From Now On” Carlene Carter, and “Getting Ready” Patty Griffin. Not quite Lucinda Williams, but far enough from Brooks and Dunn to bring hope. Quite possibly the country album of the year! A-

Elizabeth Cook: Balls (31 Tigers, 2007).
The title track – actually it’s called “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman” – will impress the boys at the bar, the Velvet Underground cover will have her contemporaries wondering if she has her priorities in order, and "Rest Your Weary Mind" is pure Alison Krauss and Union Station. But while everyone in Nashville seems convinced that she’s the next Loretta Lynn, I still have my doubts. True, Rodney Crowell’s production talents help a lot - the last time Crowell got this close to a country star he wrecked his marriage; the guess here is that Cook isn’t nearly that fragile. And, yes, I do like the songs, all of which she managed to write herself! Cook’s main problem is not her writing, tough though it may be. She’s a little too “cute” for my tastes. In other words she’s more Faith Hill than Shania Twain, which probably means she has a long way to go before she gets to Loretta Lynn. B+

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