Trisha Yearwood

Jasper County

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Trisha Yearwood took an unprecedented four years between her eighth album, 2001's Inside Out, and its 2005 follow-up, Jasper County. There was a variety of reasons for the extended hiatus -- it was one part creative, one part personal, as Yearwood weathered the storm of going public with her relationship with Garth Brooks (as of the release of Jasper County, the couple was engaged to be married) -- but the long wait proved worthwhile since Jasper County is one of her very best records, an album that stretches further musically than most of her albums while being more cohesive than most of her records as well. Reuniting with longtime producer Garth Fundis, with whom she's done most of her best work (he did not helm Inside Out), Yearwood's picked a set of 11 songs that aren't just uniformly strong, but are quite diverse. While there's a strong bluesy undercurrent here, highlighted by the slow-churning opener "Who Invented the Wheel" and the Bobbie Gentry-styled Southern country-soul of "Sweet Love," this is firmly a country album, with few concessions to pop crossover. The tracks that do have a lush, slick surface do tend to be the big ballads, such as "Standing out in a Crowd," but those do tend to be grounded with acoustic guitars and Yearwood's impassioned delivery. Plus, even those sweeping slow tunes are offset by such excellent ballads as the heartbroken "Trying to Love You" and the epic "Georgia Rain," which are pure country and lend the overall album a sweet, reflective quality. Even if the album does tend toward relaxed, meditative tunes, Jasper County works because instead of maintaining that introspective vibe throughout the album, Yearwood and Fundis bring in not just those bluesy, soulful songs for balance, but they find two rip-roaring Al Anderson songs -- the white-hot "Pistol" and the old-fashioned honky tonk anthem "It's Alright" -- to give this more country grit than has been heard on any Yearwood album in a long time. At a mere 38 minutes, the album moves along briskly, not just because of the short running time, but because the album is paced well, moving gracefully between ballads, blues like "River of You," and rollicking up-tempo tunes. The end result is an album that's not just one of Yearwood's most entertaining albums, but one of her richest records, in both musical and emotional terms as well.

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