Pam Tillis: Rhinestoned

There has never been any question as to whether Pam Tillis, daughter of country singer Mel Tillis, deserves her place in country music royalty. From her debut on The Grand Ole Opry at eight years old, she went on to recieve critical acclaim as a songwriter, having cuts by Conway Twitty, Chaka Khan, Suzy Bogguss, Dan Seals,Juice Newton, and TRIO collaborators Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The former CMA female vocalist of the year started out on Warner Bros., had a series of top ten hits with Arista in the nineties and drooped off radar the past five years only to emerge with a new CD released by her own label, Stellar Cat Records.

Rhinestoned is, by far, Tillis’ best record to date. Within seconds, you recognize her unmistakable twanged inflections, her voice has just improved with the clarity one achieves in coming to their own truths. It is obvious being in creative control agrees with Tillis. From the first track, “Something Burning Out,” (Tammy Wynette will come immediately to mind), her painful yet direct delivery brings to country music what it has been missing – Reality. This record dances from country heartaches to bluesy jaunts and the production is a wonderful landscape for smart lyics and solid vocal performances that stand solid throughout the entire collection. The ballads are the best efforts including “Someone, Somewhere Tonight, ” which showcases Tillis’ depth and sincerity. She proves her instincts are dead on as to what reveals her at her best, finally getting to record this song after years of being vetoed out by record executives.

“The Hard Way,” co-written with her brother, is another strong ballad. One can feel the years of rebellion mixed with vulerabilty coming through and resulting in a peace with self-acceptance. “Train Without a Whistle,” a warning about a man who will leave a wreckage behind, is another standout track. “Band in the Window,” the first single , delights the listener with tales of Broadway (the main drag in Nashville) in an honest country style that proves Tillis has kept her roots strongwhile growing in new directions.

Rhinestoned is a welcome surprise. With the growing list of emotionally vacant female contentenders, Pam Tillis restores my faith that there are still First Ladies in country music.

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 ~Wade Phillips
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