My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘No Place That Far’

After the traditional sound of Three Chords And The Truth had failed to break Sara at radio, there was some modification and a slightly smoother, glossier sound for her second album in 1998, but without breaking away completely from her traditional roots by any means. The production chair passed from Pete Anderson to Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon, a partnership with experience on both pure country and pop-country sides of the fence and a track record creating hits.

Leadoff single, the insistent mid-tempo Jamie O’Hara song ‘Cryin’ Game’, did no better than its predecessors, but it is a good pop-country song with a fine vocal as Sara tells a lover he’d better treat her right or she’ll be gone. I think Jamie (formerly half of the O’Kanes duo in the late 80s) sings backing vocals here. The long-awaited breakthrough came for Sara when the title track, an impressive ballad co-written by Sara herself with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin, was selected as the next single. It was a #1 smash hit. A delicately subdued opening leads to a big chorus, with Vince Gill prominent on harmony.

Disappointingly, the third and last single, Sara’s last release of the 90s, ‘Fool, I’m A Woman’, which she wrote with Matraca Berg, was less successful, failing to reach the top 30.  It is another contemporary-sounding song, but an engagingly peppy one about a woman’s prerogative to change her mind about love, addressed to a boyfriend treating her badly.  I think this is the track featuring Martina McBride on backing vocals, although Martina is very low in the mix and is basically indistinguishable.

Altogether, Sara co-wrote almost half the material on this album, including the very traditional country gospel ‘There’s Only One’, which she wrote with the brilliant Leslie Satcher.  Closely banked female harmonies (possibly from Sara’s sisters) help this track close the set on a high as she declares God’s love is the only thing that matters.  Although the song itself is not as memorable, I also love the traditional sound of the lost-love ‘These Days’, which Sara wrote with Billy Yates, and on which Alison Krauss sings prominent harmony.

Of the outside material, the dramatic ‘The Knot Comes Untried’ also has a strongly traditional flavor, and is my favorite track on the album. Written by Sam Hogin, Ron Harbin and Ed Hill, it tells the story of a young woman driving away from New Orleans and her husband, in what might be a sequel or alternative ending for the protagonist of ‘Three Chords And The Truth’, and has one of Sara’s finest ever vocal performances:

She throws her last picture out the window near the Louisiana line
She’s somewhere between dreaming and leaving old feelings behind
As the knot comes untied

Her heart is running scared
She says a silent prayer
“Lord I’m countin’ on you
To help me get through this night”
There’s memories like mountains
And each one gets harder to climb
As the knot comes untied

On one hand she wonders if what she is doing is wrong
Cause it sure is a long stretch of highway between going and gone
She’s been down this road a thousand times in her mind
But what’s done is done
She won’t turn around this time
As the knot comes untied

Another of my favorites is the beautiful Beth Nielsen Chapman/Harlan Howard song ‘Time Won’t Tell’, a delicately delivered lament for the end of a long-gone relationship, and regrets for the path not taken. It sounds like something Trisha Yearwood might have recorded, but Sara does it full justice, tackling the lyric with subtlety:

Time won’t tell me how it might have been
Time won’t make what’s wrong all right
It can only take me back again
Leaving all those memories in black and white

I watch us kiss goodbye that day
Here’s where you turn around and walk away
What were the words that would have made you stay
But time won’t tell

Never see the road you didn’t take
You’ll never feel the love you failed to make
But to never know might be the worst mistake
And time won’t tell
Time won’t tell

On this album, Sara seems torn as to the value of love. In the charmingly anthropomorphic Bill and Mary Sharon Rice song ‘Love, Don’t Be A Stranger’, Sara sings winningly about needing love in her life, even if it does sometimes end in tears. She is disenchanted with love in the playful uptempo complaint to ‘Cupid’, the Roman god of love, written by Keith Gattis and Kostas, which features none other than George Jones (who Cannon and Wilson were producing at the time) on harmony:

True love I saw and finally found that I’m better off just doing without
Oh it’s a real cold shock, it’s a deadly curse
That goes from good love to bad love to heartache at its worst

So tell Cupid not to point that thing at me
One more hole in my poor heart is just what I don’t need
Well, I’ve been teased by fate and burned by love and left by destiny
So for my heart’s sake tell Cupid wait and don’t point that thing at me!

I am less fond of ‘I Thought I’d See Your Face Again’, another of the contemporary ballads, this one written by Marv Green and Rick Orozco, which while well sung, is just not that interesting. The brightly optimistic up-tempo opener ‘The Great Unknown’ (written by Sara with Phil Barnhart and James House), with its lyrical nod to the Eagles and poppy fiddle which sounds like something on a Shania Twain record, is my least favorite track, with Sara really not sounding at her best vocally and some rather bizarre interjected yeahs which sound like hiccups.

I actually like No Place That Far almost as much as Three Chords And The Truth, although she was certainly compromising her original sound to some degree in order to make that commercial breakthrough. She also seems at times to be trying to emulate some of the more successful female singers of the day, like Yearwood and Twain. The balance worked on this album, although she was to go too far across the country/pop line for my tastes in subsequent releases. The album is well worth checking out (or at least downloading selected tracks), whether your tastes lean traditional or more contemporary, and is readily available at reasonable prices. Thanks to the one big hit single, it sold reasonably well, and has been certified gold.

Grade: A

13 responses to “Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘No Place That Far’

  1. J.R. Journey December 7, 2009 at 9:27 am

    ‘The Knot Comes Untied’ and ‘I Thought I’d See Your Face Again’ are my favorites from this album. Overall, I always thought this was the most uneven set she’s released, as it seems a bit schizophrenic. But I guess that’s natural for an artist who was still trying to find her commercial niche.

    Definitely agree this is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection, and the number of good songs do outnumber the mediocre.

  2. Razor X December 7, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I don’t like this one as much as Three Chords and the Truth but it’s easily the second best album in Sara’s catalog. Yes, she compromised her sound a bit, but it was a compromise I could live with — unlike some of her later releases where she went too far into pop.

  3. Steve from Boston December 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Brilliant review Lisa, as always, I’m so glad you picked up on the complexity of the album, as a mix of pop and traditional country. Some critics point to this album as Sara’s “sell out pop record” but that WAY oversimplifies things. There is some really great pure- Country on this album as well. “Love Don’t Be a Stranger” for instance is just an incredible Country song.

    But I think I disagree on some points, the emulation of Trisha and Shania parts. That never occured to me as I listened to either of those songs, but you may be right. I know for sure Sara used to emulate Patty, and has even said so (in connection with Three Chords and the Truth especially)..but I think she may have used Faith and Martina for her Pop template as the years progressed.

    I wish they would have credited the individual songs in the liner notes so we could tell for sure who sings harmony on which tracks. I think Alison Krauss is one of the singers on “There’s Only One”, not sure which tracks Sara’s sisters Lesley and Ashley sing on, but they are incredible harmony singers, and Lesley especially is a great lead singer in her own right…(I’ve heard her take the lead on Jolene for a few verses at Sara’s concerts, and if you look away, you would think it was Sara herself!)

    If Sara has to record Pop, the title cut NPTF and Cryin’ Game are the way to go. No Place That Far made me a Sara Evans fan..very high quality stuff. I think the Restless album was Sara’s pop-country masterpiece, and I don’t understand why her pop offerings have gone so far downhill since. But that decline of quality too may be in keeping with industry standards nowadays.

  4. Michael December 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I have to agree with J.R.. The quality level on this transition record is all over the place. That being said, I still adore the title cut and the minor singles also get some play on my iPod once in awhile.

  5. Leeann Ward December 7, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    This is one of my favorite Evans albums, just above Real Fine Place. It’s pop country done right. I wish she’d go back to that.

    • Leeann Ward December 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm

      It has my favorite Evans song, “Cupid.”

      • Steve from Boston December 8, 2009 at 12:22 am

        An interesting favorite. This song reminds me of Sara’s groundbreaking cover (for her) Tiger By the Tail. I think Sara would call both these songs her hillbilly “Loretta Lynn” style.

    • Razor X December 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      I agree. Ideally, I’d like another Three Chords and the Truth but that is not going to happen in the current environment. If she would go back to the kind of music on this album, that’s a compromise I could live with.

    • Steve from Boston December 8, 2009 at 12:19 am

      Yeah, HALF of it is pop country done right, and the other half is pure country done right..

      Taken as a whole the album is a little schizo, as J R indicates, but schizo in a good way. 😉

      But I think each individual song has it’s own intrinsic pop or country indentity.

      And I agree, if Sara wants to return to her roots again, something like this would be “a real fine place to start”.

  6. Jane December 8, 2009 at 4:58 am

    Hmmm, not one of my favourite albums from Sara. I do love “Great Unknown”, “The Knot comes untied”, and “Time won’t tell”, but overall, it’s just not an album I listen to a lot.

  7. Nicolas December 10, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I love all her albums =) So, I think this one is really great

    My favorites are “Love, Don’t Be a Stranger”, “Cupid”, and “The Great Unknown” ❤

  8. Joe December 28, 2009 at 1:43 am

    It took me a long time to break down and buy this CD and I’m glad I finally did.

    I completely fell for “Cryin’ Game” when it was new, as well as an added track on the retail single called “Wait a Minute” and the single “Fool, I’m A Woman.” Once I finally purchased the album, I flipped over “Love, Don’t Be A Stranger,” though I knew I’d heard it somewhere else; on the Kris Tyler CD, “What a Woman Knows” (though the Evans version kicks a LOT harder).

    It’s clear she was disappointed by the lack of recognition “Three Chords and the Truth” received and intentionally “pop”d this album up a bit, and then, when even these songs didn’t hit (except for the title track), I recall she flat-out announced she’d be pushing a mainstream country album next … and we got “Born to Fly” and pap like “I Could Not Ask for More.”

    A textbook case of “how to become a country star” they should be teaching in all those Music Business programs today … include that hot mess of a career-killing divorce in that course too.

    • Razor X December 28, 2009 at 8:59 am

      I recall yet another interview after the success of Born to Fly where she said that she was willing to delve even further into pop if that’s what it took to be successful. I knew then we were in trouble. And of course, the next album we got was Restless which was a lot more pop-oriented.

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