Walking Away a Winner is the rocked-up/pop side of Kathy Mattea. With records by Mary Chapin Carpenter gathering steam as well as those of Beth Nielsen Chapman, Lucinda Williams getting some notice, and Bonnie Raitt riding the very top of the charts over the previous two years, Mattea took a listen and apparently liked what she heard. There are layers and layers of guitars on the album, and nowhere are they borne out more than on the title track that opens the album. With producer Josh Leo and a deck of tough songs, Mattea showed a side her country audience hadn't yet seen, and one that the adult contemporary and emerging AAA formats could embrace. In other words, the album, with its tightly knit group of astonishingly well-written pop songs done in a slight country manner by a crack group of players, was a winning formula. It's a record that stands the test of time. What makes Mattea such a great singer -- besides her gift of a voice -- is her empathy. She finds herself in every song she records. On tape, there is no separation between her and her characters, whether it's the woman finally walking away from a dead relationship and seeing herself not as beaten but as free in the title track, the rambling woman relentlessly seeking that lost love no matter where the search takes her in the rollicking "Streets of Your Town," or the overworked, underappreciated wife and mother who breaks down in "Maybe She's Human." From "Clown in Your Rodeo," with its ringing electric 12-strings and hard-swinging refrain, through the final track, the haunting jazzy ballad "Who's Gonna Know," conviction and commitment are fully on display, along with an elegance that is both accessible and sophisticated. This is a winner indeed.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek