Chanteuses follow Ms. Parton’s lead of excellence.
by Gregg Shapiro
I recently saw a 1978 interview with the late Dusty Springfield, in which she called herself “the Dolly Parton of the ’60s” in regard to her piled-up blonde hair and makeup techniques; one icon acknowledging another, with respect. In the more than 30 years since that interview, Dolly Parton has surpassed her own iconic status to become a living legend, with countless accolades to her credit. The four-disc box set Dolly (RCA Nashville/Legacy) spans an impressive period of more than 40 years over the course of 99 tracks. Beloved Parton classics include “Just Because I’m a Woman,” “Down from Dover” (recently covered by Marianne Faithfull), “Coat of Many Colors,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” “The Seeker,” “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” “Here You Come Again,” “Two Doors Down,” “Baby I’m Burnin’” (her 1978 disco hit), “9 to 5,” the Kenny Rogers duet “Islands in the Stream,” other favorites, previously unreleased tracks, and much more.
Lady Antebellum (not the red-state version of Lady Gaga) travels the country pop road paved by Parton and shared by Sugarland on their second album Need You Now (Capitol Nashville). Female vocalist Hillary Scott shares vocal duties with Charles Kelley (see Dolly and Porter Wagoner), and they obviously find their influences both inside (“Perfect Day,” “American Honey,” “Something ’bout a Woman”) and outside (the title tune, “Our Kind of Love,” “Love This Pain,” “Stars Tonight”) of Nashville.
Recollection (Nonesuch), out singer/songwriter k.d. lang’s second career retrospective in less than five years, picks up where 2006’s Reintarnation left off, even going so far as to include the country numbers “Trail of Broken Hearts” from Absolute Torch and Twang and “Western Stars” from Shadowland for good measure. From there, we follow lang’s notorious transformation torch singer and pop diva through songs such as her massive hit single “Constant Craving,” “Miss Chatelaine,” “You’re OK,” “Summerfling,” her riveting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and more. The second disc in the set is as essential as the first in the way that it collects soundtrack cuts (“Barefoot” from Salmonberries, the Roy Orbison duet on “Crying” from Hiding Out, and more), tribute/VA disc tracks (“Help Me” from A Tribute to Joni Mitchell and “So in Love” from Red, Hot & Blue), a pair of Tony Bennett duets, and a couple of previously unreleased tracks, including a rerecording of “Hallelujah.”
You’ve heard of country cousins? Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer are country sisters. Really! Tears, Lies & Alibis (Everso), Lynne’s first album since her brilliant 2008 Dusty Springfield tribute disc, does a stellar job of picking up where she left off with her underrated Suit Yourself album. Raw emotion and deceptively simple arrangements combine for a delightful dose of modern country at its best. Despite its sad undercurrent, “Rains Came” (with its glorious organ and oboe) is the most joyous song about rain since “It’s Raining Men.” “Why Didn’t You Call Me” draws on Lynne’s obvious love of R&B. “Like a Fool” and “Alibi” are heartbreak at its most heart-wrenching. “Something to Be Said” celebrates Airstreams (“a rolling home made of silver”), “Loser Dreamer” conjures a dreamy atmosphere, and “Family Tree” subtly shakes the apples loose from the branches. “Old #7” is the kind of drinking song that doesn’t get written anymore, and “Home Sweet Home” could be the unofficial theme song to Up in the Air.
Lynne’s kid sister Moorer, who is married to contemporary country legend Steve Earle, returns with the cloudy and fittingly titled Crows (Rykodisc). “Darkness Lingers” (from “Goodbye to the Ground”) throughout this moody set of songs, particularly in the cases of “Should I Be Concerned,” “Just Another Fool,” “When You Wake Up Feeling Bad,” “Still This Side of Gone,” and “It’s Gonna Feel Good (When It Stops Hurting).” Some songs, including “The Broken Girl,” “Like the Rain,” and, to a lesser degree, “Early in the Summertime” and “Sorrow (Don’t Come Around),” are not quite as bleak. Have the anti-depressants and Kleenex nearby for this one.
Even when she was the front woman for the legendary L.A. punk band X, Exene Cervenka wasn’t afraid to slip a touch of twang into her songs. So, it’s not surprising that her latest solo effort, Somewhere Gone (Bloodshot), is a sort of insurgent country affair. It’s detectable in the guitar on “Trojan Horse,” the echoey harmonies on “Surface of the Sun” and “Why Is It So,” the fiddle on “The Willow Tree,” and the honky-tonk piano on “Walk Me across the Street.” Exene sounds as comfortable here as she ever did fronting X, and it’s a pleasure to be following her where she goes.
In possession of a rich and warm alto, Indiana-based Carrie Newcomer is the country voice of the Midwest. That’s Mary Chapin Carpenter joining Newcomer on “Before and After,” the opening titular cut of her new Rounder Records release. Their voices are lovely together, and the song sets the tone for the remaining dozen tunes, the best of which include “I Do Not Know Its Name,” “If Not Now,” “A Simple Change of Heart,” “Do No Harm,” and the bonus track, “A Crash of Rhinoceros.”
Shelby Lynne performs in Houston at Warehouse Live (warehouselive.com) on May 18 and in Austin at St. David’s Episcopal Church on May 19.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.