My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Three Chords and the Truth’

Had Three Chords and the Truth been released about a decade earlier, it would have been a monster hit for Sara Evans. All of the tracks on this very traditional-sounding album would have been right at home on country radio in the late 80s, alongside the hits of Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Reba McEntire and The Judds. But by the mid-1990s, the New Traditionalist movement had run out of steam and country music began once again to drift toward a more pop-leaning sound. Someone at RCA Records apparently felt that the time was right for traditionalism to make a comeback and thought that Sara Evans was the one to spearhead the movement. Unfortunately, country radio wasn’t interested in a traditionalist revival and gave the album little support. As such, it sold poorly, despite being one of the most solid debut efforts by any artist of any era. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Pete Anderson, who was best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam. Together he and Sara Evans crafted a retro-sounding collection that makes no attempt to tone down the twang in Sara’s voice. It is part Bakersfield, part Nashville Sound, and 100% country.

Sara shared co-writing credits on seven of the album’s tracks, including ‘True Lies’ which was released as her first single in advance of the album. It stalled at #59 on the Billboard country singles chart. The follow-up single, the excellent title track, fared slightly better, peaking just outside the Top 40 at #44. It was accompanied by Sara’s first music video, which, in keeping with the song’s retro theme, depicted her driving a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible and wearing vintage 1960s clothing. RCA made one final attempt to pitch this album to radio, with the release of a third single, ‘Shame About That’, which like its predecessors, failed to crack the Top 40, peaking at #48.

Three of the album’s eleven songs were covers: ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ written by Harlan Howard and Buck Owens, ‘Imagine That’, a Justin Tubb composition that had reached #21 in 1962 for Patsy Cline, and ‘Walk Out Backwards’ which had been written by Bill Anderson, and had also been recorded by Connie Smith. The influences of all of these legends is apparent on these tracks, and throughout the album. The Bakersfield sound is represented with ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’. This was the song that Sara had recorded as a demo, which so impressed Harlan Howard that he helped her to secure her record deal with RCA. ‘Imagine That’ allowed her to show off her ability to sing a torch song, while “Walk Out Backwards” is pure, unadulterated, vintage country.

‘If You Ever Want My Lovin’ was written by Sara along with Billy Yates and Melba Montgomery. Sara’s raw vocal style on this track is very reminiscent of Montgomery’s sound on her many duets with George Jones throughout the 1960s. ‘Unopened’ is the only original track on the album in which Sara did not have a hand in writing. It was composed by Leslie Satcher, who was responsible for hit songs that had been recorded by George Strait, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, and Martina McBride, among others.

The closing track, ‘The Week That The River Raged’, is somewhat of an anomaly on this album. It is the only track to include a full string section (though ‘Imagine That’ does have a more subtle string arrangement), and it is the only time throughout the album where the production gets a bit heavy-handed. As such, it is the weakest track on the album and my least favorite.

Although it was a commercial failure, Three Chords and the Truth was praised by critics and made many “best of the year” lists. That it was ignored by radio is nothing short of criminal. Had it performed better at radio and retail, Three Chords and the Truth might have been the album that sparked a second New Traditionalist movement, but unfortunately, the tepid response it received in the marketplace ensured that country music would remain mired down by pop influences for the foreseeable future. It also resulted in Sara herself moving away from traditional country, beginning with her next project. Nevertheless, I consider this to be one of the best albums in my sizable collection and one that I would include on my short list of CDs to have with me if I were stranded on that proverbial desert island.

Grade: A+

Surprisingly, it is still in print in CD form and can be purchased at Amazon. Digital copies can be purchased at Amazon or iTunes.

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22 responses to “Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Three Chords and the Truth’

  1. plain_jo December 3, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Finally got the album earlier this year. Good Stuff! I love her voice. I found her earliest albums to be the best, something about the rawness of her voice. Its still good but more polished.

  2. Steve from Boston December 3, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Excellent review of an excellent album Razor, and you’re right about the influences and the sounds Sara weaves into the project.

    The only thing I would add is something Sara told a British magazine around that time, and she indicated that there are three main stylings to her sound: that she has a Loretta Lynn “hillbilly’ style, as “Tiger by the Tail”, also a more sophisticated Patsy Cline stlye as in “Imagine That”, as well as a “mountainy” Patty Loveless style as in the title cut, “Three Chord’s and the Truth”.

    I’d say that’s a pretty fair self-evaluation on Sara’s part.

    Great, great stuff.

  3. Thomas December 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

    …if someone asked me to play something country – this album would be among the first ones that i’d pick.

  4. Occasional Hope December 3, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    This is a great record.

  5. 3chordsaday December 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I’m fortunate enough to have an LP of this great album. Don’t remember how I got it — maybe from the RCA record club, or from Collectors Choice Music. But, I’ve spun it just once. You’ve inspired me to play it one last time, to record it onto CD.

    Sara’s too recent to show up on my 3 Chords a Day blog. But I might have to make an exception to my older-than-20-years rule. (Next month, 1990 becomes eligible. There’s some good stuff to be sampled from that year.)

  6. Steve from Boston December 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Oh and picking up on Razor’s statement that Sara’s “Three Chords and The Truth” was amoung the finest debut albums by any artist of any genre, I think Vince Gill would agree with that.

    Vince once stated that Sara’s debut album was “so good it’s scary” while his own debut was “merely scary”..Gotta love it!

  7. J.R. Journey December 3, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    This ranks pretty high in my own collection as well. But it has been a while since I gave the full album a spin – I had to replay some of them to remember if they were up-tempo or not.

    This is definitely a five-star effort though, A+ indeed. I would really like to see Sara record more albums like this, and now that radio has seemed to cool toward her, the timing might be right too.

    • Steve from Boston December 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm

      That would be awesome J.R. I am hoping for that too, Sara returning to these stellar roots of hers.

      Also, Razor, I just want to point out that Leslie Satcher (“Unopened” author) also co-wrote a song on Patty’s Mountain Soul…”Sorrowful Angels” I don’t know if Leslie wrote the lyrics or the music or had a hand in both, but whoever wrote the lryics to this incredible song is an absolute poet.

    • Razor X December 3, 2009 at 9:12 pm

      I would love to see her do another album like this one, but I don’t think it will happen unless Sony drops her and she signs with an independent label. They don’t seem to be too interested in trying to market non-radio friendly material.

  8. DC December 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    How did I miss the video for “Three Chords and the Truth”? I’d never seen it before until I followed the link in this article. Either I wasn’t paying attention to CMT at the time it was on or they didn’t play it much.

  9. Paul W Dennis December 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    This was a great album, her best actually

  10. highwayman3 December 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Those remakes are great, tiger by the tail especially. I also recently discovered her version of ‘Ones On The Way’ its pretty good.

    • Razor X December 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm

      I’ve been wanting to hear her version of “One’s On The Way” but it’s not available for individual download, and there’s no way I’m buying the entire Desperate Housewives soundtrack.

  11. Razor X December 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Now you’re talking heresy, Steve.

    • Steve from Boston December 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm

      I know, and so be it…it’s true (at least to my ears) ;)

      This is one of my consistent heresies that I will not renounce, even under pain of torture. That some of these new (er) artists outshine even the originators of the classics.

      But the fact remains that Sara excels at these classic covers. Few can touch her in this regard…”Imagine That”, “Muleskinner Blues,” “You Take Me for Granted”, “Crackers”, ….She should so make a Classic covers album, and join the ranks of Martina, Patty, Tanya, Roseanne, and now Lorrie (?)….(and I’m sure there’s a dozen others)…But Sara’s, (like Patty’s) would be bound to be one of the best.

  12. highwayman3 December 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    I found it on Limewire, I first went to Itunes but didnt wanna buy the entire soundtrack as well. Its worth seeking out

  13. Nicolas December 4, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    I love this album a lot, but its still my least favorite out of her collection =)

    She’s my favorite artist so everything is golden for me

    PS: “The Week the River Raged” is not the weakest track =P In fact, its one of the best… n should’ve been a single instead of “Shame About That”

  14. Blake Boldt December 8, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I’m not sure I’d hand it an A+ (A or A-, probably), but I’d agree this is Sara’s best album. She and Lee Ann Womack arrived the same year and have had to make commercial concessions ever since to be played on country radio, if they’re played at radio at all. I wasn’t a huge fan of “River Raged” either because it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the disc production-wise. Both J.R. and Razor said it right: now that her career seems to be cooling off, at least in the mainstream, it’s time for her to follow her muse without chasing the latest trends.

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