The leap Trisha Yearwood made as an artist between her debut in 1991 and Hearts in Armor in 1993 is remarkable. It remains one of her highest achievements. In addition, this one was wrought from conflict; it was released just after her divorce and the record feels like an exorcism. As with her debut, producer Garth Fundis and Yearwood selected songs from the cream of Nashville's hit producers; "Wrong Side of Memphis," a tough, near spitting rocker tempered by honky tonk fiddles was written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, opened the disc and may have thrown fans of her ballad style. But fears would have been unfounded as "Harrison's Nearest Distant Shore" was all ballad and then some. There's the R&B-flavored "You Say You Will," by Beth Neilsen Chapman, that's sassy and tough, full of funky piano and a killer acoustic guitar solo by Billy Walker Jr. and a killer backing vocal by Raul Malo (before anyone knew who the Mavericks were). Chapman also contributes a stunning ballad to this set, "Down on My Knees," that is wrenching in its pure intent. "Walkaway Joe" features a harmony vocal by Don Henley and Dobro ace Jerry Douglass. Yearwood's telling the story she tells best, working-class love gone bad. But the finest moment on Hearts in Armor is Yearwood's cover of Emmylou Harris' "Woman Walk the Line," with Harris singing backup with Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Sam Bush on mandolin along with Yearwood's band; this is the ultimate testament about being woman cheated on who goes out to have a drink to hear some music and walk the line between marriage and dissolution. It's searing in its heartbreak and full of the tension that comes with the territory of loving someone who needs by his very nature to cheat. It's devastating, helped in part by Harris' unobtrusive but emotionally loaded backing vocal to Yearwood's open-throated wail. Henley also guests on the closer, which is the title track. If there is any speculation about whether Yearwood was airing her dirty laundry on the album, it becomes obvious in this song, that this is about her dealing with her own emotions, her own issues. Blame is useless in this ballad, there's nothing left but heartbreak and emptiness and the challenge of rebuilding a life haunted by the ghosts of another. Hearts in Armor is stunning; it's one of the best heartbreak records country music delivered in the '80s and '90s.
Hearts in Armor Review
by Thom Jurek