Kinleys

II

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In 1998, the Kinleys were back in the country Top 20 with "Somebody's Out There Watching," from the Touched By an Angel television soundtrack. In the summer of 1999, they put out the single "My Heart Is Still Beating," which was intended to be the curtain raiser on their second album. But it fizzled, dropping off the charts after two weeks. Epic decided to go back to the drawing board, bringing in new producer Radney Foster to replace Tony Haselden and Russ Zavitson, who had shepherded the Kinleys for their entire career. The result, a full year later, is The Kinleys II, which is really two half-albums, its first six songs handled by Foster and the next six by Haselden and Zavitson, with "Somebody's Out There Watching" following as the conclusion. Like his own modestly successful solo albums, Foster's half consists of craftsmanlike country-pop with blues tendencies. The tempos are restrained, the material well put together but dull, and the sisters are given a lot of solo singing. Foster seems to conceive of the Kinleys as potential successors to the Judds, but with both singers playing the earthy Wynonna role. Yet anyone who leaves the album playing until the seventh track (the first Haselden/Zavitson track) is in for a surprise -- suddenly, the record comes into focus as a lively, driving country disc. Maybe it's just that Epic cherry-picked from a scrapped earlier version of this album, but its second half is a vast improvement over its first. The Haselden/Zavitson numbers are honky tonk harmony performances in which the Kinleys sound much more involved than they do with Foster; it's clear that the Kinleys' first producers have a much better sense of their real strengths than the hired gun brought in to save the release. You can't help wondering what would have happened if the whole album were as good as the second half -- since a successful country album now has the same sales potential as a pop release, the second effort for an act that had good but not great sales the first time around is crucial to its success.

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