A Diva Digs Deep

Faith Hill

Faith Hill is a country music diva with Mississippi grace and charm. But, of course, she’s not just a country singer anymore. Critiquing Hill at this stage of her career requires honesty because if her latest project were assessed strictly as a “country” album, it would evoke only head-scratching or anger.

Producers Byron Gallimore, Dann Huff and Hill herself seem to have pushed her voice closer to the front of the mix, making her appealing rasp and depth more vivid than it was on her smash CD Breathe. “Free” has an electronic oomph. The title track is the initial single, and it aims at radio’s soft spot with discouraging predictability. The best track here almost without question is “Stronger,” a ballad about a relationship crisis. Hill proves how moving she can be singing intimate passages, and the gospel choir peaks are justified by the quality of the song. You won’t cry when you hear this CD.
Grade: A-

On A Mission
Trick Pony

Heidi Newfield, Ira Dean and Keith Burns have made a name for themselves with a unique sound, and this sophomore disc reveals a band with good writing chops and a sometimes-compelling, up-tempo sound.

“Leavin’ Seems to Be the Going Thing” overcomes its classic rock guitar with a nifty chorus. The title track is rather rollicking, and its stereo mix is a treat for headphone listeners. “Love Is a Ball” finds Dean and Burns playing with words to clever effect (“Wrapped around my ankle/ I drag it down the hall/ People let me tell you that love is a ball”). “The Devil and Me” is a detail-rich depiction of a man on the way down. The group also does an admirable remake of Willie’s “Whiskey River.”
Grade: B

Rascal Flatts

As a good ole boy, you’re not supposed to like Rascal Flatts. R.F. is a boy band whose members sing a bit poppish. They have styled and gelled hair and two of three members are Yankees. So, it may surprise you that these boys are rightfully the hottest trio in country music these days.

What has kept the group going is dynamic and well-crafted songs. Citing Restless Heart and Shenandoah as influences, Rascal Flatts makes quite an impression on this second project. With “Shine On” (co-written by the three band members), these rascals even show fleeting innovation. “My Worst Fear” is also a gem. Other top notch songs: “Love You Out Loud” and “These Days.” Worth owning for most pop-country fans