Suzy Bogguss is not one of the names usually associated with the “Class of ’89”, as it was another couple of years before she really broke through commercially, but her debut album Somewhere Between was one of my personal favorite releases of 1989.
The best adjective I can find to describe Suzy’s voice is pure – it is sweet without ever sounding saccharine. Further, she knows how to convey convincing emotion without overacting. In the liner notes to that debut, the legendary Chet Atkins is quoted raving about Suzy, and he says “her voice sparkles like crystal water”. They were later to collaborate on an album together.
One of the things that really distinguishes this album is Suzy’s penchant for western songs and yodeling. Her delightful cover of Patsy Montana’s ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’ (which sold a million records in the 1930s) must be the most unlikely revival of the period, and was actually the first single released from the album. Unfortunately, even though the neotraditional movement was in full swing in 1989, this was just a little too retro for radio. Suzy also yodels tastefully on the final track, the wistful cowboy song ‘Night Rider’s Lament’, a song with a theme similar to ‘Someday Soon’, which was a hit for Suzy a few years later, once radio had accepted her. ‘Night Rider’s Lament’ itself was later recorded by Garth Brooks. Suzy and her husband Doug Crider co-wrote the charmingly old-fashioned mid-tempo ‘I’m At Home On The Range’ with Verlon Thompson, as Suzy extols the life of an itinerant singer traveling among the cowboys, roughnecks and loggers, singing at small bars, ‘from Billings down to Laramie the cowboys take good care of me‘. This is autobiographical, as before she got her record deal, Suzy had traveled all over the country performing, accompanied only by her dog and cat.
Surprisingly, three of the four singles released from Somewhere Between were covers, even though there were some good new songs on the album. This may say something about the direction the label was trying. The title track is a beautiful interpretation of one of Merle Haggard’s lesser-known songs, a sad waltz about a troubled relationship, which is possibly the best track on this very fine album, and really should be better known. The other choice was Hank Williams’ ‘My Sweet Love Ain’t Around’, which has a high lonesome feel. Sadly, neither of these superb traditional-sounding recordings made the least chart impact, although they were marginally more successful than ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’.
The one hit single to emerge from the album was the slightly more contemporary (though still sad) ballad, ‘Cross My Broken Heart’, written by Verlon Thompson and Kye Fleming, which reached #14. Ironically, it is probably my least favorite on the album. In much the same vein, but a much better and more interesting song, is ‘Guilty As They Come’, written by Susanna Clark and Rodney Crowell (the hook is, ‘if it’s a sin to feel lonesome, then I’m as guilty as they come’, as the narrator haunts the bars). I also really like the tender and melodic ‘Take It Like A Man’, which Suzy wrote with Gary Scruggs, asking, ‘if I give my love to you like a woman can, will you take it like a man?’
My favorite song after ‘Somewhere Between’ is probably the gorgeous Doug Crider song, ‘Hopeless Romantic’, which has a lovely tune and one of those obvious but perfect payoffs: ‘I’m a hopeless romantic, in a hopeless romance‘. This song is really an overlooked classic; perhaps someone should revive it. ‘Handyman’s Dream’, is a fun little song with a western swing feel and some neatly observed metaphors as the protagonist compares her need for a man to mend her broken heart with fixing up an old house, written by Pam Tillis (soon to break through as an artist herself) and Gary Nicholson.
The album was produced by Wendy Waldman, one of the few women to be a successful country music producer, and she does a good job allowing Suzy’s voice to shine (or sparkle as Chet puts it). Vince Gill is one of the backing singers, although his presence is not really discernible.
It is regrettable that the album was not an immediate success, because it certainly deserved to be. The label clearly took notes from the relative chart performances of the selected singles, and Suzy’s subsequent work was much more in the contemporary vein, with no yodeling. It paid off for her, as she was to become a genuine star for a period in the 1990s. However, Somewhere Between is still my favorite of her albums. The CD has been out of print for some time, but it was made available digitally last year.
Buy the album from Amazon.