Album Spotlight: Sara Evans, ‘Words’
Sara Evans is swinging for the fences on her new album, Words.
The country singer hasn't exactly abandoned the approach that brought her a string of hits between 1998 and 2011, but she's certainly expanded it for Words, her first-ever release on her self-owned independent label, Born to Fly Records. The album is exceptionally diverse, offering fans traditional Evans fare but also essaying some new styles that are very different for the veteran country singer.
"Long Way Down" opens the album with a hardcore bluegrass track and an aggressive stance. This certainly isn't the first time we've heard Evans in this style, but it might not have been something fans were expecting in 2017, and opening the album with it comes off almost like a statement of purpose, reconnecting Evans with her roots and announcing that this album is going to be an unexpected ride.
"Marquee Sign" is the first single from Words, and it's the flip side, the most progressive thing Evans has yet released to country radio. Evans is expanding her sonic palette here with some shimmering production and a very modern edge, but she's not stepping so drastically outside of her fans' comfort zone as to alienate them.
Elsewhere, "Diving in Deep" brings some up-tempo acoustic pop to the mix, while "All the Love You Left Me" is a mournful piano dirge, Evans' vocal performance a study in restraint as she delivers a lyric about a woman shattered by the death of someone she loved but trying to hold it in enough to get through.
"Rain and Fire" is the album's most surprising moment, with Evans trying her hand at a reggae groove in a track that is quite a reach for a contemporary country artist. Pop-country tracks including "Like the Way You Love Me," "I Don't Trust Myself" and "Night Light" balance out more organic songs like "I Need a River," featuring acoustic guitar, slide and fiddles, and the sardonic "Make Room at the Bottom," a self-deprecating tune from Ashley Monroe and Brett James that says, "I've been kicked around so I'm coming down."
The project's title song, "Words," is a slice of Americana, with a delicate vocal performance underpinned by acoustic guitar fingerpicking and with a lyric about the power of words to heal or hurt. It's another example of a song really stretches Evans emotionally, as is "Letting You Go," a song she co-wrote about her son getting older and preparing to leave the nest that provides one of the album's most satisfying emotional moments.
Evans' signature heavy, close vibrato is the defining thread that brings these diverse songs together, but Words isn't just a showcase for a vocalist. Evans and producer Mark Bright have managed to integrate the song choices and vocal performances with a fully-realized backdrop of instrumentation from all of the musicians who played on the album, making Words an unusually rich sonic tapestry in an age where arrangements are leaning less complex in country music.
It wouldn't be quite accurate to say Sara Evans has reinvented herself with Words, but eight albums into a long career, she's certainly offered fans a surprise or two with an album that is not only satisfying to discover for the first time, but will hold up well and reveal new facets over repeat listenings.
Key Tracks: "Words," "Long Way Down," "All the Love You Left Me," "Letting You Go."
Did You Know? Evans' 14-year-old daughter Olivia sings on "Marquee Sign," and her brothers and sisters perform on "Night Light."
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