Reviewed: Country Side of Bluegrass by Janie Fricke

Reviewed by Joe Ross

Janie Fricke has had success with various country styles, whether slower numbers, snappy hard-driving songs, or duet hits with the likes of Johnny Duncan, Charlie Rich, Merle Haggard and Moe Bandy. Like so many other country artists who have released bluegrass music projects, it only seems logical that she add that genre to her catalogue. She started her professional career as a Nashville backup vocalist in 1975. She sang on over 1,200 albums before producer Billy Sherrill launched her career as a solo artist. The two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year (1982-83) has a professional and precise vocal style, and she doesn’t try to deliver either backwoods rusticity or intense vocals that more often characterize bluegrass music of the hard-driving variety. Rather, it’s polished, smooth, and best described as pop-oriented radio-friendly bluegrass, hence the album’s title.

While we’ve heard her sing these songs before, “You Don’t Know Love,” “Tell Me a Lie,” “Don’t Worry ‘bout Me Baby,” and “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy” are given some additional tempo and acoustic flair that breathe new life into their bluegrassy renditions. Janie’s only self-penned number on the album, “Goodbye Broken Heart,” has a conservative country music formula, message and hook that have succeeded for decades. That same goes for the smooth Nashville background vocals of Chip Davis, Margie Cates and Judy Rodman. The duet with Davis on the classic “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” (In Love with You)” will surely be a crowd-pleaser.

Regardless of how you define bluegrass, this album has some enchanting repertoire with Fricke’s torchy voice always in the forefront. If your brand of bluegrass requires banjo, then focus on those eight (of 13) tracks with David Talbot’s 5-string in the mix. Songs like “She’s Single Again” and “I’ll Need Someone to Hold Me (When I Cry)” do it for me. “Don’t Worry ‘bout Me Baby” has plenty of banjo and fiddle (and a cleanly flatpicked guitar break by Johnny Hiland), but it’s tough to call it bluegrass without that alluring heartfelt simplicity that’s so prevalent in older bluegrass. The songs without banjo are infused with Randy Kohrs’ nimble-fingered Dobro. I definitely miss more of the lively sound of the mandolin that is relegated to a rather minor understated role on nine tracks, courtesy of four different Nashville session players (Luke Bulla, Andy Leftwich, Jimmy Mattingly, Glen Duncan) better known for their world-class fiddling also heard on the CD. Bob Mater’s drums provide that “chop” and “bark” which the mandolin typically play in a bluegrass band. So, this album is really acoustic country music, and perhaps it should’ve been named Janie Fricke’s “bluegrassy side of country” instead. No matter … there’s plenty for folks in both camps to enjoy. Nashville bluegrass-pop has a lot of fans, and this album provides an hour of very enjoyable listening. (Joe Ross)

http://www.janiefricke.com

Joe Ross hosts the NWBluegrass Yahoogroup, 1100-fans strong!

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