Sara Evans titled the first album she released on her own Born to Fly Records Words because that's where she wants the listener to focus -- the stories these songs tell, not the melodies that sell the narrative. That's not the full extent of her ambitions for her eighth collection of new material, either. All of the 14 songs on Words were written by a female songwriter, an act that feels like rebellion in an era when female singers struggle to crack the Billboard Top Ten. Words likely won't crack the country Top Ten either -- it is proudly the work of a veteran who is opening the third decade of her career -- but that doesn't make it any less vital. What gives Words its strength is how it never flaunts its diversity; instead, its eclecticism is casual, with Evans sliding from stripped-back country-folk to breezy modern pop with ease. On the whole, Evans favors the latter -- she's been verging on adult contemporary since the mid-'90s -- but where she seemed a little anxious for a hit on the glossy 2014 set Slow Me Down, there's a measured assurance to her performances that lends the album warmth. Her cool confidence, sometimes tempered by impressive flaunting of her range, does lead the listener to lean into the lyrics of these 14 songs, and while the stories are compelling, the tale the non-verbal elements of Words tell is equally absorbing. By taking its time, concentrating on a cozy interplay to buttress the singer, Words offers a sharp and welcome contrast to the bustling digital era.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine