My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Real Fine Place’

"Real Fine Place"After seeing massive success with “Suds In The Bucket”, one of her most traditional singles, Sara decided to record a more traditional-leaning album. At a shallow listen, the sound and production of Real Fine Place is not very different from Restless or Born To Fly. What differentiates this album from those is, however, Sara’s choice of material. The huge Diane Warren-esque ballads like “Need To Be Next To You” are mostly gone, being replaced by foot-stompers like “Coalmine” and traditional tracks like “Cheatin'”.

The aforementioned “Coalmine” is the opening track, giving off more energy than a Red Bull. The roaring fiddles really complement the lyric, and Sara sounds like she’s having a blast singing it. The lead single “Real Fine Place To Start” follows, which is glossy and infectious country-pop at its best.

“Cheatin'”, the third track, may be one of the very best songs ever about, well, cheating. Its traditional sound suits Sara’s voice perfectly, her thick Missouri drawl is in its rightful environment on the track. She sounds positively spiteful, really capturing the essence of the lyric. This is Sara Evans as she should be.

“New Hometown” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” are two power ballads, the former conjuring up beautiful scenery of Sara and her man standing in their front yard, and the latter being a touching song about parenthood and God. Both are of remarkable high quality, and Evans, being the prime vocalist she is, interprets the heck out of both.

“Supernatural” features a flurry of awkward metaphors that could seem like gibberish upon the first listens, but actually come together quite nicely after repeated listening. Β The arrangement is light and airy with great background vocals. “Roll Me Back In Time” is a song about young love and commitment that could be a real tear-jerker had the tempo been slowed down a little. It’s nevertheless very effective as it is; the electric guitar piercing the track throughout creates a very nice effect, particularly towards the surprising end of the song.

“The Secrets That We Keep” is a song about intimacy, in the same vein as Sara’s earlier single “Tonight”. The latter is however superior to “Secrets”, and portrays a more nuanced rush of emotions. “Bible Song” is a song which could only be described as “epic”. A song about small-town life, where the small-town life is not exactly romantically portrayed, as opposed to most country songs. She repeats the word “Hallelujah” close to 35 times towards the end, which could be seen as hyperbolic by some, but which this writer sees as a necessary “lid” to the song.

“Tell Me” is a nice, quiet song about honesty and being open with your significant other, which does unfortunately blend in with the other songs, seeming quite trite in comparison. It can, however, be appreciated during the quieter times of life, and the fact that it features some really pleasant steel in the background throughout the entire track doesn’t hurt. “Momma’s Night Out” is a rocking track with some awesome big-band-esque instrumentation. Sara is fed up with her couch-potato husband, and she’s finally decided to have some fun. I suppose many wives and mothers can relate to this.

The album closer “These Four Walls”Β  is a haunting ballad about the joys and fulfillment of motherhood, and how that, despite it ruining the narrator’s dreams of being a singer and actress, is the best thing that ever happened to her. The appreciation she feels from her kids and husband is one of the most satisfying feelings one could have, Sara expresses.

With Real Fine Place, Sara has crafted one of the most rock-solid albums of the 21st century so far. Her smooth, creamy, caramel-like voice is one of the best Nashville has ever seen, and with knockout songs like these, it’s bound to be an artistic success.


Listen to “Cheatin'” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” .

30 responses to “Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Real Fine Place’

  1. Leeann Ward April 4, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Nice review.

    I really enjoy this album too. My favorites are “Coal Mine”, “Cheatin'”, “Real Fine Place to Start” and “Bible Song.”

    I was a little confused by your last paragraph though, since the albums been out for a few years now.

  2. Leeann Ward April 4, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I should add that there are a couple of songs I could have lived without, like “You’ll Always Be My Baby.”

  3. Erik April 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    “Artistic success” as in the fact that I think it will be an album that will be remembered, and not forgotten like other commericial successes. It’s a success for Sara as a singer, because she really found the perfect balance between commercialism and traditionalism.
    I understand how it could be very confusing though!

  4. Chris April 4, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Lori McKenna is a great writer (She wrote and recorded “Bible Song” before Sara) -she also wrote “Fireflies” and “Stealing Kisses” by Faith Hill. She’s just a spectacular writer, and I know you love those Faith songs, Erik.

    Beyond that, I really like this album- but I have one small complaint. On “Coalmine”, the fiddles sound too much in the background, and I really hate the song “The Secrets That We Keep” with a passion.

  5. Razor X April 4, 2009 at 10:13 am

    This isn’t my favorite Sara album, but I think it was a huge step in the right direction for her. There are some encouraging signs that her next album will be even more traditional-leaning.

    I really like the title track a lot. The first time I heard it, I just immediately knew it had been written by Radney Foster. It’s not something I knew beforehand, but from the first few notes of the song, it just sounded like Radney.

  6. Occasional Hope April 4, 2009 at 10:15 am

    It was definitely a step back in the right direction after her previous two albums, which I hated, but still not as good as her first two. Personally I find it a bit patchy; I love These Four Walls (and unlike Leeann, I also really like You’ll Always Be My Baby). I like Cheatin’ too, and Coal Mine (with some reservations), but a lot of the other material hasn’t really stuck in my mind, and I actively dislike Supernatural.

    • Razor X April 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

      It is a bit patchy, and I also dislike “Supernatural”. But this is the first album since No Place That Far that I actually liked more than just two or three songs.

      The thing about the other material not sticking in your mind — that’s the problem I’ve had with her albums, particularly Born to Fly and Restless. I don’t even recognize the song titles in most cases. Three Chords and the Truth is the only album that I know inside out.

      A while back, I was beginning to think that Sara is an artist whose albums I need to stop buying and just download the songs I like — because that’s the way I listen to her music. I have a couple of playlists that are culled from her various albums that I listen to all the time. The only albums I listen to in their entirety are the first two — and the second one is not nearly as good as the first. I was a bit disappointed with the new cuts on Greatest Hits (I did download those instead of buying the entire CD), but I really liked “Low” a lot. I also liked the song “What That Drink Cost Me” which she performed on the Opry recently. That’s supposed to be on the new album, so there are some glimmers of hope. If the whole album is like “What That Drink Cost Me”, I’ll buy it. If not, I’ll just download the tracks that are worth repeated listenings.

      • Occasional Hope April 4, 2009 at 10:57 am

        Yes, I’m encouraged by What That Drink Cost Me – I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the final album looks like.

  7. Leeann Ward April 4, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I’ll also agree that it’s not Sara’s best album, but a good start back in the right direction for her, which was kind of deterred by the new tracks on her following Greatest Hits collection. I dunno, I really like the fiddle on “Coal Mine.” It’s certainly a silly song though. My problem with “You’ll Always Be My Baby” is that I’m just really bored by it.

  8. J.R. Journey April 4, 2009 at 10:45 am

    This is actually one of my least favorite Sara Evans albums. It’s the material that just doesn’t stand on its own, in my opinion. Her vocals are fine, and the production really serves the songs at times. But with just a few exceptions, I find this to be a very boring album.

    • Razor X April 4, 2009 at 11:12 am

      There are definitely some boring songs. I find all of her pop-leaning songs to be rather tedious. “Roll Me Back In Time” is probably my least favorite song on the album, along with “Supernatural.”

      I don’t know what it is about Sara, but I find I either love or hate her songs, with very little middle ground. She really shines when she sings hardcore country. There are other artists I like and I don’t mind when they occasionally do something more pop-oriented. But that type of song just doesn’t work for Sara, for some reason.

      • Erik April 4, 2009 at 11:29 am

        That’s funny Razor, because “Roll Me Back In Time” is my favorite, second only to “Cheatin'”. Shows how different we are. πŸ˜‰

        • Razor X April 4, 2009 at 11:36 am

          When you and I like the same artists, your favorite songs usually seem to be my least favorites and vice-versa. I do like “Cheatin'”, though. The songs I like on this album are, in no particular order:

          1. Cheatin’
          2. Real Fine Place To Start
          3. Coalmine (though the production is a bit slick)
          4. Tell Me
          5. These Four Walls
          6. You’ll Always Be My Baby (not as good as the others I’ve listed)
          7. Bible Song

          The rest I could live without.

        • Erik April 4, 2009 at 11:41 am

          My “Top 7” would be:

          1. Cheatin’
          2. Roll Me Back In Time
          3. Bible Song
          4. Momma’s Night Out
          5. You’ll Always Be My Baby
          6. Real Fine Place To Start
          7. Supernatural

          Yeah, we do gravitate towards many of the same artists, but usually to very different songs!

  9. Leeann Ward April 4, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I think it’s her voice that makes it not work for her. She does not sound like she’s in her element when she goes outside of country. With that said, I do enjoy a few songs from “No Place That Far.” I usually pull various songs from her albums when I listen to Evans too rather than listen to entire albums of hers. Like Razor, I don’t always recognize an Evans song by its title when people mention them, because while I own all of her albums I mostly just listen to the individual songs that I nitially like. So, I’m not even sure what “Supernatural” is. I’ll have to go back and listen to it.

    • Razor X April 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

      The one exception to the rule is “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus”. While it’s not very country, I do like that song a lot. But the string-laden power ballads really don’t work for Sara at all.

  10. Leeann Ward April 4, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I don’t have any idea what “Roll Me Back in Time” is either.

  11. Michael April 4, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I don’t mind this album but if I’m in the mood for Sara Evans I usually just grab the hits compilation. Like Leann, I found “You’ll Always Be My Baby” to be pretty unremarkable and boring. Loved “Cheatin'” though.

  12. Jane April 4, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Like others, this album is not my favourite one from Sara. I much perfer “Restless” as I feel that is a less patchy, and more together album. I did however love “Coalmine”, “New Hometown”, “The Secrets that we keep”, and “Roll me in back time”. But the other songs didn’t really live up to my expectations. Good review though! πŸ™‚

  13. Steve from Boston April 5, 2009 at 12:59 am

    Awesome review Erik, of an awesome album. , although I would have given it a B+. because of a few weak links on the album, but overall, it is fantastic.

    This is my second favorite Sara Evans album, tied with No Place That Far, (Three Chords and the Truth is my favorite). I think these three are Sara’s most Country albums, with a capitol “C”. And I agree with the concensus, that RFP represents a turn back to Sara’s authentic Country roots, and therefore a step in the right direction.

    And I am also encouraged after hearing Sara’s “What That Drink Cost Me”…I saw a clip they have posted at Sara’s fan club, where she does a stipped down acoutic version, I’d like to hear the song with full country instrumentation, but it does sound like promising, pure Country to me. Another encouraging sign for Sara’s new album is that (word has it) she will be including her awesome rendition of Bill Monroe’s IN THE PINES, a crowd favorite for sure.

    Anyway, I have lived with Real FIne Place since it first came out, and have seen Sara perform many of these songs in concert many times. I hope she retains a lot of RFP songs for her new setlist, Sara and her sisters do especially amazing things with Coalmine…If you have the chance to see Sara in concert, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity.

    My favorites from RFP would be,

    A Real Fine Place to Start
    New Hometown
    Bible Song
    Tell Me..

    I was really pulling for New Hometown to be released as a single, but they chose You’ll Always Be My Baby instead. Nice, heartfelt song, with awesome vocals from Sara, but a little too Pop and too schmaltzy for my tastes.

    The few other weak links by my reckoning would be The Secrets that we Keep, and These Four Walls…again, too shmaltzy…And I think this is where I think Sara strays, when she gets overly sentimental.

    I think Tell Me is one of the best songs on the album, and is an example of how Sara can channel sincere emotion without getting shmaltzy, this one works much better for me than YABMB..”Tell Me” is pure Country, and really demonstrates Sara’s songwriting skills, (as does New Hometown, which she wrote with her brother Matt.)

    And I guess I have a minority opinion here about Supernatural, LOVE this song..Sara’s velvet voice builds smoothly and soars in the chorus, and I love the Celtic rhythmn, and the punchy, syncopated, SKYNYRD-like guitar solo,,,,this song is unique, kinda like a Celtic-Country-Rock song.

    Leeann, Roll Me Back is that Sheryl Crow sounding song near the middle of the album, Sheryl wrote that one.

    And BIBLE SONG…I think this is sorta like Sara’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” type song…Thematically similar, with the gritty realities of rural life vividly and unflinchingly portrayed in both songs. Lori McKenna is a brilliant singer songwriter, and we are very proud of her up here. In some ways, I like to think of her as kind of a Northeastern version of Patty Loveless. In Bible Song, Sara, (and Lori) portrays a New England working-class mill town in similar fashion as Darrell Scott wrote, and Patty Loveless portrays an eastern Kentucky mining town in “Harlan”…Great gritty stuff, and I wish Sara would do more like this…She really shines here.

    And Lori’s latest album “Unglamorous” is fantastic, check it out! Lori’s version of Bible Song is on a previous album, however, “Bittertown” I believe..

    Erik, I think your concluding remarks are especially spot on…that Sara’s “…smooth, creamy, caramel-like voice is one of the best that Nashville has ever seen,”..I totally agree. I think Sara’s voice is one of the warmest, most expressive, rich and resonant in the Country music world. Kimberly Williams Paisley once stated that Sara has “one of the purest voices in Country music,” and in that regard, I would rank Sara second only to Patty Loveless for having that pure and authentic Country sound.

    I cannot wait to see what she does next!

  14. Steve from Boston April 5, 2009 at 1:14 am

    And Chris, I’m with ya on Lori McKenna, she is amazing.

    And I agree, the fiddles in Coalmine should be more prominent…along with mandolin, and dobro,.. this song would be even better if they ‘grassed-it-up’ a bit more! πŸ˜‰

    Razor, was Sara’s Opry performance of “What That Drink Cost Me” on GAC’s Opry live? Or is it on YouTube now?

    If I missed a Sara Evans Opry performance, I just may have to start kicking myself in the hind-end! That’ll teach me not to check GAC’s listings every week!

  15. Leeann Ward April 5, 2009 at 1:25 am

    After rooting around in my SaraEvans collection, I’ve determined that No Place That Far is my favorite of her albums, followed by Three Chords. I just like the songs better from No Place, but appreciate Three Chords for sure.

    • Steve from Boston April 5, 2009 at 9:48 am

      I think “No Place” was unfairly blasted by the critics for being too Pop or too “California Country Rock”…but with the exceptions of the awesome title cut and the catchy Cryin’ Game, there is a lot of great Traditional sounding Country on this album, songs like “Love Don’t be A Stranger” or “I Don’t Wanna See the Light” for example. πŸ™‚

      But the way I look at it, Sara has two mastepieces..
      “Three Chords and the Truth” for pure Country, and Restless for high quality country Pop. The latter I can
      appreciate for it’s quality and Sara’s soaring and subtle vocal performances, though it is not one of my favorites because of the predominate pop style of the material..

      I do think Real FIne Place is a work of artistry, but not as solid as 3C&TT, NPTF, and Restless. Born to Fly, as an album, is probably my least favorite from Sara, though I love the title cut.

      • Razor X April 5, 2009 at 9:49 am

        “I Don’t Wanna See The Light” is from Three Chords and the Truth.

        • Steve from Boston April 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm

          I stand corrected…but that’s just another reason to love 3C&TT! πŸ˜‰

          I think I was thinking of Time Wont Tell, even I get these great songs confused sometime, not because they are not memorable, but rather because of my feeble memory!

          And there’s also The Knot Comes Untied, These Days, and as Leeann points out, Cupid that have a real Country sound. Yeah, I think NPTF is also a real Country album, especially when compared to what’s out there today.

  16. Leeann Ward April 5, 2009 at 10:16 am

    One of my favorites is “Cupid” from NPTF, which is pretty country with George Jones, no less.

    • Steve from Boston April 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm

      Great example Leeann! Sara once said she had three basic styles in her vocal persona (this was in her early years, I think she has added a Pop Faith Hill style since then)

      A torchy sophisticated Patsy Cline style, like in Imagine That..

      A Hillbilly Loretta Lynn style as in Tiger By The Tail,

      and a Mountainy Patty Loveless style as in Three Chords and the Truth…

      I think Cupid also falls into that Hillbilly Loretta Lynn style of hers, along with “Tiger by the Tail. πŸ™‚

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