There’s life in ‘old Nashville’ yet.
David Shephard 2007-05-09
A scion of the Tillis country music dynasty, with a clutch of number ones and a brace of Grammies to her name, Pam Tillis is certified Nashville gentry. Five years since her last album and with her fiftieth birthday imminent, her hallmarks remain wry toe-tappers and tender, heartbroken guitar ballads from the Lucinda Williams school - all of it offering a spit and sawdust rebuttal to the narcissism and glitz of contemporary ‘catwalk country’.
Tillis, who actually began her career singing and writing pop material before inevitably drifting back to the family business, cites the ‘hippie country’ of Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings as key influences and there’s certainly a Parsons-like yearning to her new album’s opener, "Something Burning Out". Written by sister Tennessee chanteuse Leslie Satcher, its lovelorn lyrics ('The sight of ashes breaks my heart') allude elliptically to one of Gram and Emmylou Harris’s most poignant duets, "We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning", while its atmospheric tremolo guitar and mournful pedal steel wreath a Tillis vocal that practically defines the word ‘aching’.
Curiously for a women who has penned hits for the great and good of Nashville (not to mention non-country beneficiaries such as Gloira Gaynor and Chaka Khan) Tillis leaves much of the writing on Rhinestoned to others, though her predilection for lyrics of university-of-life sagacity (Leslie Satcher and Bruce Robinson’s "That Was A Heartache" and Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison’s "Crazy By Myself" are the most accomplished examples here) chime perfectly with Tillis’s own time-will-show-the-wiser philosophising on the feisty, ''The Hard Way''. She also co-pens Life Has Sure Turned Us Around, a warm if ruefully nostalgic duet with the baleful-voiced John Anderson.
The album’s highlight, however, is Walt Wilkins and Davis Raines’ carpe diem ballad, "Someone Somewhere Tonight", which Tillis makes all her own, managing to sound both vulnerable and stoical as the song ratchets up from subtle introspection to a chorus of almost Roy Orbison-like melodrama. There’s even, gulp, a fuzztone guitar solo, just in case you thought Ms Tillis was getting ready for the rocking chair. There’s life in ‘old Nashville’ yet.