Released in 2003, after the relatively disappointing commercial performance of Fearless, Pain To Kill marked a change in producer for Terri, with the recruitment of Byron Gallimore, perhaps the leading commercial country producer of the day. It looks as though the label was hedging its bets with regards to the direction of the album, with Gallimore working on half the album, and old standby Keith Stegall being brought back in for the remainder of the material. Byron Gallimore applied a fairly sophisticated pop-country sound to mainly outside songs, and successfully balances Terri’s voice with a radio-friendly sheen.
Keith Stegall, meanwhile, tackled the bulk of Terri’s own songs, with a sound more in keeping with her past work. Gallimore’s tracks front load the set listing (and provided all three of the singles), with most of the Stegall tracks relegated to the second half of the set. Throughout the album, Terri’s vocals sound great and very committed to the material, and there is an overarching theme of relationship troubles and moving on which helps give a cohesive feel to the set as a whole.
The contemporary sounding lead single, ‘I Just Wanna Be Mad’, written by Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller, made a good start with radio, peaking at #2 in 2002. It is my favorite of the single choices from this album with its convincing and mature lyric about a couple married for seven years (when “some days it feels like 21”) and squabbling over the little things, while affirming the underlying strength of their relationship:
I think I’m right
I think you’re wrong
I’ll probably give in before long
Please don’t make me smile
I just wanna be mad for a while
The woman-on-the-verge-of-leaving whose story is conveyed in ‘Three Mississippi is less successful. While well sung, it’s a rather pop-leaning song written by Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges and Angelo, whose rather uninteresting tune and overdone production drains the emotion from the lyric. It was closer to a flop, only just making the top 30. The life-affirming ‘I Wanna Do It All’ is better, if not very memorable. It took Terri back to the upper reaches of the charts, peaking at #3.
The title track is a radio-friendly mid-tempo number written by Tom Shapiro and Steve Bogard, with a cheery approach to partying away the troubles of life. The very contemporary Matraca Berg/Randy Scruggs song ‘Working Girl’ (comparing an ordinary working woman’s life to glossy media images) was previously recorded by Loretta Lynn. It suits Terri better than it did Loretta, but is still one of my least favorite Terri Clark recordings.
Pain To Kill saw Terri’s songwriting taking a back seat, with only a few of the songs credited to her, and those mainly relegated to the less commercial half of the record. However, the standout track is a song Terri wrote with Gary Burr, and which is Gallimore’s most effective production. In this emotionally powerful song about being unable to help ‘The One You Love’, two stories are told. The first verse conveys the sense of powerlessness of loving an alcoholic who doesn’t want to change, the second about a dying young girl in a coma with her family waiting helplessly by:
You wanna scream, you wanna cry
You want someone to tell you why
All the hope that’s in your heart is not enough
You hit your knees, you shake your fist
Its the deepest wound there is
When you can’t help the one you love
Terri obviously felt this song never got the attention it deserved, as she was to revive it on her most recent studio album, 2009′s The Long Way Home.
Other than this track, though, I generally prefer the Stegall half of the record. My second favorite is the most hard country track, the kissoff song ‘Better Than You’ (written by Terri with Rory Lee). The stoic protagonist declares to her unsatisfactory date,
It ain’t easy to see but take it from me
There’s no hell I haven’t walked through
And I won’t cross that line
Cause this heart of mine’s
Been broken by better than you
The singer-songwriter Leslie Satcher provides backing vocals on a number of tracks; on this one she is joined by Vince Gill, and this combination adds an extra flavor to the chorus.
Terri wrote the melodic ‘The First To Fall’ with Georgia Middleman and Pat Bunch. This delicate approach of the awkward first stages of falling in love is another highlight, with a very fine vocal interpretation. The album closes with the quietly philosophical ‘God And Me’, written by Terri with Carol Brown.
I quite liked ‘Almost Gone’, another leaving song with a positive feel and a bit of harmonica enlivening it, and the mellow ‘Not A Bad Thing’ (about coping with newly single life and finding it’s not that bad after all), which was later covered by Trisha Yearwood. However, I preferred the optimistic ‘I Just Called To Say Goodbye’, written by Connie Harrington and Julie Adkison, whose protagonist is seen packing up and leaving the man she doesnt really love, because
We just can’t keep using each other as a safety net
This is a pretty good album in a broadly contemporary vein, with some good songs, and excellent vocals throughout, and I like it better than Fearless. However, despite a couple of substantial hit singles, it continued Terri’s commercial decline, and was her first album to fail to reach gold status.