Janie Fricke,
Country Side of Bluegrass
(New Music Deals, 2012)

For a little while back in the early 1980s, Janie Fricke was one of country music's brightest, with six No. 1 singles between 1982 and 1984. Her music was always on the country pop side, smooth and mellow, so when the fashion moved on to tougher, more progressive female singers like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Susie Bogguss and Patti Loveless, Fricke was sort of left behind.

Now, like so many of the female singers who find their time on the charts has passed, she's trying to find a new shot of energy for her career with an edgier, bluegrassier sound. Country Side of Bluegrass is the result, and it is a mixed effort. Fricke has a fine voice but it isn't really a fine bluegrass voice; her time as a harmony singer (and her time previous to that, as a jingle singer) sanded the roughness out of her voice, so that she signs as smoothly and with a coating of mellow that was the standard in the '70s and '80s. It's as though she were being produced by Owen Bradley or Billy Sherrill, those pioneers of countrypolitan music, with acres of violins rather than fiddles behind her.

Often, she sounds as though she has dropped in from another, different album. When she takes on an old country standard, such as "Please Help Me, I'm Falling," the result is winning, but when she retools her early hits in bluegrass arrangements, as in "You Don't Know Love," the result is often the sort of tension she is not aiming for.

However, when she lets go of the guiding concept and grabs onto a ballad like J.D. Souther's classic, "Faithless Love" and just sings it from the heart, then she shows that by being herself and resisting the urge to try out new bottles for old wine, she still matters.

Check out Jerome Clark's review of this album here.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

28 April 2012

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