Connie Smith

Connie Smith [1998]

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Connie Smith is a bona fide country and gospel music legend; she is quite literally the only person who deserves to share a reputation with Patsy Cline -- Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn notwithstanding. Considering that this album is her first in four years and only her second in 20, there were no stakes other than her own expectations. Her husband, Marty Stuart, and Justin Neibank were enlisted as co-producers. (Neibank, who also produced Stuart, is one of the finest engineers and sound-mix technicians in the business, having worked on 25 Top Ten records in one capacity or another.) There's a slew of her own newly written material with Stuart, Harlan Howard, and others; Smith co-wrote nine of the album's ten tracks. Stylistically, this is tough traditional honky tonk music with an edge that makes it very attractive as a rock & roll record. Neibank understands how important the balance of electric, pedal steel, and acoustic guitars is to counterbalance the vocal and fiddles. The ballads, such as "Looking for a Reason," feature Smith's lyrics as end-of-the-road desperation in seeking a truth that is elusive as the steels whine in the foreground and the acoustic guitars and electrics wind around one another and a lonesome fiddle slides around as a backdrop. "You Can't Take Back a Teardrop" has an opening similar to "Crazy Arms," but it's on the far honky tonk edge, with Stuart leading the band in a driving, rollicking shuffle where fiddles drive a pedal steel ever toward the center of the pathos in the center of the bridge.

The shimmering country-rock foreground of "Lonesome" is deceptive in that it opens out onto a bluegrass ghost song about love in the ether. "How Long" takes Smith's and Ray Price's models for the honky tonk song and stitches them together so tightly that there isn't any place but the barroom dancefloor for them to go. "Just Let Me Know" is similar, but it's pure Smith -- she keeps her vocal focused on enunciating those lyrics of hers and keeping the vibe focused on the heartache that strolls along the dancehall floor looking for relief. "When It Comes to You" is a bad-ass country tune led by a rockabilly mandolin played by Stuart; fiddles cover the middle and Smith rocks it up with a blue yodel worthy of Jimmie Rodgers. There are a couple of questionable cuts, but nothing to complain about; they're pleasant enough but just don't feel like they fit -- the Celtic-flavored closer "A Tale from Tahrarrie" being one. In all, this is not only a solid effort; it stands head and shoulders over most of the stuff that's come out of Nash Vegas in over a decade. Even if it doesn't sell a copy, it's a triumphant return for Smith. She hasn't lost a whit of her gift as a singer or as a writer.

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