Gretchen Wilson may not be one of country music's top female vocalists any longer. No, she's transcended the genre, in a way Alison Krauss did hers years ago. Except Wilson's not getting any of the recognition, until maybe now. 'One Good Friend' is a brilliant ballad about the meaning of friendship. However, it's perhaps too professional to fit between the stars on modern country radio -- a problem Krauss, and more recently Vince Gill, know very well. 

To be honest, it doesn't sound like Wilson is aiming for mainstream country any longer, a move that will cost her commercially but earn her respect artistically. Last year's ballad 'I'd Love to Be Your Last' was nominated for a Grammy while barely cracking the Top 50. 'One Good Friend' is a soul song, one an artist like Bettye LeVette somehow missed.

"One good friend / I remember when / All the others said / You'd be lucky if you had one good friend / Who will let you be hateful / Stop you and knock some sense in your head," Wilson sings, showing maturity and patience, as the song begins. She builds over a delicate electric guitar and organ, finally climaxing at the chorus.

"One good friend / Like a shadow, like a willow standing by me / Strong enough to bend / Never breaking, never telling all my secrets / Are safe in your heart / As well as in your hands / And I just wanna say in my life I had / One good friend."

The 'Redneck Woman' singer seems to be less angry these days than she was when she fell from country's graces in the late 2000s. There's no lack of passion, however. Her words are soaked in sincerity, like she's saying thank you to a lifelong companion on his or her deathbed. The urgency of the message is balanced by the patience of her delivery.

One of the benefits of ending a contract with a major record label is that it opens an artist up to explore songs that fit who they are, not who fans expect them to be. Wilson looks to be flourishing in this environment. A new album that pushes the edges further could very well be one of the best projects of the year.

5 Stars

Listen to Gretchen Wilson, 'One Good Friend'

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