Barbara Mandrell has always been a lightning rod for criticism, weathering attacks that she wasn't pure country. This exhaustive 26-track collection from WestSide proves that she does have country credentials, even if some of it was colored by pop and soul influences (thereby pointing the way toward her pop crossover material of the late '70s). She started out in the vein of Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette but was streamlined considerably, partially due to Billy Sherrill's pop-sensitive production, but also due to her covers of hit soul singles "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," "The Letter," "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man," "Treat Her Right," and "Show Me." This was an interesting tactic, since they didn't come across as country-soul: They were country-pop, through and through, with a heavier emphasis on country. And that may be the startling thing about The Columbia/Epic Singles 1969-75 for listeners only familiar with her MCA hits: She was a credible country singer, turning out some very enjoyable sides during her stint at the label. Sure, she wasn't a purebred singer, but Sherrill's productions were sharp and skillful, skipping lightly where needed and sounding sweet yet not overloaded with strings and sap. In fact, what pushes this into saccharine are her career-making hits with David Houston, which start out strong with honky tonk heartache ballads like "After Closing Time" and "We've Got Everything but Love" but devolve into the sticky "I Love You, I Love You," "Ten Commandments of Love," and "Lovin' You Is Worth It" -- big hits, all, but not the best showcase for her strengths. It did bring her fame, however, and with it a new contract with MCA, leading her to the superstar years of the late '70s and early '80s. This chronicles a time where the fame wasn't as bright but the music was better, which makes it worthwhile not just for those who want to hear Mandrell as a pure country singer, but those who like Sherrill's productions and early-'70s country in general.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine