My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review – Sara Evans – ‘Slow Me Down’

SaraEvansSlowDownAlbumWhen Sara Evans appeared on Opry Backstage with Bill Anderson in the late 90s, she commented on her voice, saying no matter what she sings it’ll always come out country. That logic may’ve been true at the time, but with producer Mark Bright at the helm and a 2014 mentality to uphold, Evans is as far from her country roots as one can be and still associate with country music.

If you’ve studied the careers of the 80s and 90s country women as closely as I have over the years, you know they show their true colors when their commercial prospects begin to fade. Do they go the Reba or Faith Hill route and squeeze out every last hit, with little regard for quality? Or do they take the Kathy Mattea and Patty Loveless route and seamlessly transition into a legacy career marked by adventurous and risk taking records that display the innate artistry that made them too smart for country radio in the first place?

With Slow Me Down Evans fits squarely into the former category with an album that exposes a hidden truth of her career – that she was never that artistic at all, just a trend follower who happened to come of age at a time when good quality songs were still the mainstay of mainstream Nashville. With that era firmly in the rearview mirror, we’re left with a singer resorting to whatever she can to find a platform, and the results are more than a little desperate.

When the title track was released late September, the press behind it made “Slow Me Down” out to be the best thing Evans had ever recorded, a record akin to the 80s crossover hits that came between the Urban Cowboy era and the new traditionalist movement. In reality it’s a terrible song, shoddily written by Merv Green, Heather Morgan, and Jimmy Robbins. The verses are stunted and repetitive and the chorus, while strong, becomes too breathy when Evans morphs into a pop diva by the end.

The rest of the album follows suit, with Evans turning out one generic ‘bright pop’ moment after another with little regard to singing anything that actually has something to say. Bright’s use of drums and electric guitars is far too generic for Evans, and any uniqueness in her voice is suppressed in favor of exploiting the lowest common denominator. Even her trademark covers of mainstream hits have taken a beating, with her take on Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” maintaining far too much of his original, down to inviting him in for a guest vocal.

When I reviewed Stronger three years ago, I said one of that project’s shortcomings was the lack of Evans’ trademark sweeping story songs (‘I Learned That From You’ and ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’) and her distinctive honky-tonkers (‘Born To Fly’ and ‘Suds In The Bucket’). Those problems exist here, too, but after three years of such songs going the way of VCRs and Landline telephones, it’s hardly a surprise. Evans does try and maintain the last ounce of her country credibility with “Better Off,” a fiddle-heavy tune featuring Vince Gill, but the production is still far too loud, with drums and noise marring the purer elements.

If it’s any consolation, there’s a lyrical consistency on Slow Me Down that elevates the album above Stronger, which had too may juvenile lyrical couplets. But that’s hardly a cause for celebration, as the music here is far too weak, generic, and bland for a singer of Evans’ caliber. I’m not overly disappointed, though, as I kind of expected this, and in the context of mainstream country, this is one of the less irritating releases to come so far this year.

Grade: C-

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7 responses to “Album Review – Sara Evans – ‘Slow Me Down’

  1. Razor X March 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    “With Slow Me Down Evans fits squarely into the former category with an album that exposes a hidden truth of her career – that she was never that artistic at all, just a trend follower who happened to come of age at a time when good quality songs were still the mainstay of mainstream Nashville. ”

    You hit the nail on the head. When she first arrived in the scene in 1997 I thought she would be the one to bring country back to its roots, but all she was really doing was following the lead of a talented producer. In less able hands, her shortcomings are all too apparent. I haven’t actually listened to this album but I was not impressed with the samples on iTunes. As a pop album it may not be too bad, but country it is not.

    • Jonathan Pappalardo March 28, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      Thanks! I’m a huge fan of Sara’s music so that realization came with a bit of sadness. Her shortcomings certainly aren’t as a vocalist, I saw her live in 2011 and she was incredible. A little arrogant, but a stunning singer.

  2. AndyTheDrifter March 28, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Spot-on review.

  3. Ben Foster March 29, 2014 at 12:06 am

    There’s definitely no dressing up how poor this album is, but I think it might be selling Evans short to say that even her quality output from the late 90s/early 00s was nothing but a result of following trends.

  4. Paul W Dennis March 29, 2014 at 10:31 am

    It’s a sad commentary on the state of things when “less irritating” seems like high praise for a “country” recording made in 2014

    Ugh

    • Paul W Dennis March 30, 2014 at 10:56 am

      I saw Sarah perform live twice early in her career – both times I thought her records sounded much better. The first time she performed she had a cold and I dismissed it as an off night. The second time around,her voice was strong and clear but she went frequently off pitch and out of key, I realized then that her success was largely a function of studio tricks and her obvious sex appeal

      There were still good records to come, but no reason to waste money on seeing her live .

  5. Pingback: Omnivore to Release Hank Williams' Garden Spot Programs; Juno Award Winners Announced; New Music Videos - Engine 145

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