Honoring Her Daddy's Legacy

It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis
Pam Tillis

Growing up the daughter of a legendary singer wasn’t always easy. For 30 years, Mel Tillis was a country music mainstay, a model singer and songwriter who rendered complex emotional situations within simple structures. The stuttering genius’ talents are under-acknowledged today, so his daughter’s decision to dip into his catalog doesn’t come a moment too soon.

Pam, whose own career hasn’t been too shabby (winning the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year some six years ago), shows off her rowdy side on “So Wrong” and the classic “Detroit City,” which were Daddy’s compositions orignally recorded by other artists. On Mel’s own hits, “Heart Over Mind,” “Unmitigated Gall” and “Goodbye Wheeling,” Pam creates something that doesn’t sound like a tribute album at all – it’s more like a childhood memoir of the melodies that she grew up with. A treasure for the big rig!
Grade: B+

Golden Road
Keith Urban

This guy grew up idolizing Steve Wariner – and anybody who craves country’s music renaissance man is a friend of mine. The Australian guitar-slinger has packed Nashville honky-tonks and watering holes, electrifying crowds with hot licks and hard-pounding, sweaty country rock for more than a decade. With his first self-titled solo disc, Urban burst onto the charts with hits like “But For the Grace of God” and “Where the Blacktop Ends,” written by Wariner.

Now with his sophomore effort, Keith has already climbed to the top of the chart with the leadoff single, “Somebody Like You,” which he co-wrote. “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” is one of several songs featuring some of Urban’s fun guitar work, a rollicking affirmation that leaves out the bravado that you may have thought would be there. “You Look Good in My Shirt” is a fun look at reconnecting with an old flame. Overall, a little less oomph than his debut, but still worth a listen.
Grade: B-

Strong Enough
Travis Tritt

Travis Tritt is versatile. The guy can sing clean, sweet bluegrass, he can sing whiskeyed-up, hard-core country ballads, he can sing sprightly up-tempo stuff and he can growl sandy-throated, Allman Brothers-inspired Southern rock with the best of ’em.

The virtuoso ain’t a bad picker, either. This CD, Tritt’s second for Sony Music, is a good sampling of Tritt’s vocal skills, and there are some excellent songs here. “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” stares down life’s choices with wizened eyes and a little smirk, “Country Ain’t Country” bemoans the loss of rural pleasures and “Doesn’t Anyone Hurt Anymore” is a well-written reflection on the lack of gritty reality on today’s country airwaves. Travis ain’t afraid to tell it like it is – a real rebel.
Grade: A

Kelly Willis

A decade ago, Kelly Willis was on the brink of becoming a major force in the Nashville country music scene – even garnering attention as one of the sexiest people in the country by a popular magazine. Then – like so many others before her – the hype did not live up to expectations. Not to be outdone, the sultry redhead has subsequently independently released her own music, and the evolution has been fun to watch.

Easy is a 10-song smorgasboard that highlights Willis’ acoustic coolness and down-home warmth. The opening track, “If I Left You,” is a dynamo. “Reason to Believe” is a romantic smash written by Kelly. Those two cuts are among the finest of the Willis solo-written material here. The other song she wrote alone is the title track, a simple country ditty that’s even sadder than it sounds. Willis lives in Austin with husband Bruce Robison (the performing songwriter responsible for Tim McGraw’s No. 1 hit “Angry All the Time”) and their 22-month old son, Deral Otis. The couple are expecting twins in April. Here’s also hoping for the birth – albeit rebirth – of a great singer in modern country music.
Grade: A-