Tammy Wynette

Inspiration

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At the turn of the 1960s, when everything felt like it was coming apart at the seams in the United States, it seemed like a natural thing for the reigning queen of country music to record an album that brought everything back to its basics -- at least in her perception. And it sounds like it was the right thing to do as well. Inspiration is an album of spirituals and gospel tunes from the age-old canon of Protestant Christianity and one or two that could be. There are 11 tracks on an album that begins with "You'll Never Walk Alone." Hearing it once is enough to make you take the record off just to be able to absorb its power. It transcends the element of a hymn and becomes a killer country song that transcends country music and becomes a universal anthem. But it gets better. While Tammy Wynette's versions of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," "I Believe," and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" are fine and stirring, they pale in comparison to the opener. However, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "How Great Thou Art" are awe-inspiring as well -- enough (almost) to make a Buddhist reconsider. Most of these songs are not done straight. They are contemporized (courtesy of the great Billy Sherrill in the producer's chair) for a modern country-pop audience with plenty of pedal steels, fiddles, and honky tonk upright pianos, but they are no less reverent for their rearrangements. Quite the contrary; they are in fact more relevant to the day, perhaps in the same way -- during that same year -- that Jimi Hendrix's playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock reinterpreted the old anthem for an entirely new generation that was ready to forsake it. This album may not appeal to everyone, but for those willing to consider it on its own terms, it's a gem.

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