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Big Love In a Small Town

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Reseña de álbum

Sarah Johns is a country singer/songwriter whose debut album, Big Love in a Small Town, is a thoroughly contemporary country record that is also steeped deeply in the tradition that begat Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn — and to a lesser extent the middle period of Tanya Tucker — but whose attitude is drenched in the kind of freedom swagger that Gretchen Wilson brought back to country (on the other side of the "rowdy-and-wild-as-the-boys" fence). Produced by Joe Scaife, Big Love in a Small Town is exclusively made up of tunes co-written by Johns. These are hard country songs, devoid of the kind of pop trappings so common in Nashville (though '70s-styled Southern rock makes its voice heard in places here). These 11 tracks are drenched in fiddle, pedal steel, and Dobro, more so than any mainstream country record since the late '80s, but its production values are contemporary country down the pipe. This set has as huge a sound as one by Keith Urban or Martina McBride, though its instrumentation, arrangements, and filigree are decidedly more roots than pop. The tunes walk a line between hardcore, modern honky tonk heartbreak tunes ("A Lot to Let Go Of") and two-steppers like "When Do I Just Get to Be a Woman." While she seems to aspire to "traditional" feminine values, she spits them out with enough nastiness to make a man lower his eyes. Johns' voice is pure country. She's not particularly gifted as a singer, but doesn't need to be because she has the power and the sincerity to pull off her songs convincingly. Take a listen to "If You Could Hold Your Woman (Like You Hold Your Whiskey)," and you'll get the modern country-rock equivalent of Lynn's "Don't Come Home a Drinkin' with Lovin' on Your Mind."

What is at the heart of the set is offered in the album's title: Love. This is, despite its effervescent trappings, a record about longing, about the desire for lasting love, in mind, body, and soul. Check "Baby My Heart," which is a fine contemporary country love song (a protagonist living on the edge of a very sharp blade balances her large independent streak in life). That's because in her idea of love there is fragility, vulnerability, and the kind of want that is almost scary, and it's revealed in the aching grain of Johns' voice. The title track is a stomping, near-Cajun bluegrass tune; one of few throwaways with its utterly clichéd lyrics. Johns redeems herself in the sultry, sensual, "Touch Me." This cut, a midtempo ballad, drips with sincerity. Johns' projection borders on desperation for a demonstration by a beloved who is either distracted, clueless, or worse: "Don't talk, just turn out the lights/Do the things that only you can do right, baby/You've fallen apart/Let's fall back in/I wanna make love again/Touch me baby/Touch me/Kiss every inch of my body/ Love me, like you love me/Whisper words I ain't heard lately/I want to feel like I used to/Back when you used to/Touch me...." The strings and piano swell like the old countrypolitan records, but they are compressed to sound so enormous that they feel rawer, more like a wall of fiddles in overdrive with only the upright piano to hold them in place.

The rocked-up honky tonker "One in the Middle" is the set's first single and sums up Johns' and Scaife's obsession with Big & Rich's production style. The male chorus is almost silly, but the sheer attitude of "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" — underscored by a B-3, again fiddles, rockabilly Telecasters, and popping snares — takes it right past the novelty zone: "I would have given you the finger on my left hand/The one that you use for a wedding band but/Now I'm giving you the one in the middle/The one that's just a little bit longer/And I got another one on my other hand/So I can say it even stronger...." Still, as the album continues with "That's Just Me Getting Over You," "He Hates Me," and the closer, "It's Hard to Be a Girl (In a Young Man's World)," it becomes obvious that in these songs, no matter what kind of veneer exists on the surfaces of Johns' protagonists, at the center is brokenness and loneliness. This is the other side of a singer like Wilson, who walks on her side of the fence, clear and strong; her complexity is there but it's clear and embodied in one character. Johns' view is harder to pin down; it's strange yet somehow very familiar. This is a very clever recording; one that offers a truckload of raw emotion dressed in the costumes of mainly two-step, line dance, and rowdy honky tonk tunes, instead of as teary beer weepers. This record isn't all the way there, but it's well on the way and might blow up the charts anyway. Big Love in a Small Town is an auspicious debut by a young talent.


Nacido(a): Pollard, KY

Género: Country

Años de actividad: '00s, '10s

Sarah Johns grew up in Pollard, KY, and spent much of her youth singing in her church choir. Forbidden by her parents to listen to secular music, Johns began sneaking home Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette cassettes, which later helped inform her songwriting. After her church soundman encouraged her, she began performing shows outside of the church, recorded a demo, and shopped it around Nashville to no avail. While Johns was attending the University of Kentucky, she performed regularly at a local restaurant,...
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Big Love In a Small Town, Sarah Johns
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