Amber Digby has earned herself a reputation as one of the finest young singers of traditional country music. Her fourth album is produced by the artist herself with husband Randy Lindley and Justin Trevino, like last year’s excellent Passion, Pride And What Might Have Been, with the same reliable production values reminiscent of the best 1960s country with lashings of fiddle and steel and a song selection policy majoring in heartbreak.
This record marks a departure of sorts in that hitherto, Amber has recorded almost exclusively revivals of older songs. Now for the first time she includes three songs she has co-written herself, but they remain firmly in the honky tonk tradition. The best of these is ‘After It Breaks’, which she wrote with Dan Powers, a classic-sounding emotional sad song with a genuinely affecting vocal performance:
With you I dealt with heartache at every turn
I witnessed true love all but crash and burn
Maybe now my soul will find the time
To get rest and find some peace of mind
Since you don’t come around here anymore
Cause I’ve cried over you just long enough
To wash away the pain no one can touch
Now gettin’ over you should be easy to take
Cause a heart don’t hurt as much after it breaks
This lovely song is the highlight of the album. Had it been written in 1965, it might now be regarded as a country classic.
Producer Justin Trevino helped her to write the very good ‘Lie to Him’; in which Amber appeals to her feelings (aching arms, memories, heartaches, etc) to help her play an on-again-off-again boyfriend at his own game:
We’ve had enough
It’s time we call his bluff
Lie to him
Make him think this is the end
Hide the pain we’re really in
Cause we can’t let him win
Lie to him
Find the courage to pretend
We won’t take him back again
Heartaches, lie to him
‘Soul Survivor’, written with Amber’s uncle Dennis McCall (a former bassist for Barbara Mandrell), is a story song about a young single mother “doing what it takes to stay alive”, and this is probably the most contemporary song here lyrically with its basically optimistic outlook, although musically it leans to a more traditional lonesome sound:
She had a baby when she was 20 by a man she couldn’t stand
And to stay there in that hell wasn’t in her plan
All that hateful talking and getting rough took its toll
He may have broke her heart but not her soul
Amber revives a song written by her stepfather Dickie Overbey (who also plays steel guitar in her band and on the record), which was recorded by George Jones in the 1960s. In this intense, agonised post-breakup song, the protagonist keeps calling her ex just to hear his voice, but he puts the phone down each time and tells his friends her call is just a ‘Wrong Number’ – “that’s the second time today”. This is another highlight of the album, with a sublime vocal performance.
In the liner notes, Amber says all the songs selected are among her favorites, but the one she singles out is ‘I’m Not Your Kind Of Girl’, originally written by Glenn Sutton and Red Steagall for the young Reba McEntire in the late 1970s. Reba’s demo was apparently what got her signed to her first record label, Mercury, and was the B-side of her debut single ‘(I Don’t Want to Be A ) One Night Stand’, although it never appeared on an album. Sutton submitted the song to Amber, who naturally jumped at the chance of recording it, and she really brings the story to life. It is a woman’s polite rebuttal to a man trying to hit on her in a bar – not ungrateful for the attention, but definitely not interested in reciprocating:
There’s nothing you can say that will impress me
Or change my shattered outlook on the world
So don’t think I’m just another easy lady
Can’t you see I’m not your kind of girl
But it’s nice to know you think that I’m appealing
I appreciate the drinks you want to buy
But I’m here tonight to feed an empty feeling
And I’ve heard a bar’s the perfect place to cry
Right now I couldn’t stand another heartache
I’m still pickin’ up the pieces of my world
So don’t waste your time on me cause I’m not buyin’
Can’t you see I’m not your kind of girl
The remaining material comprises Amber’s trademark selection of mostly fairly obscure but always very high quality older songs, almost all on the topic of lost love. The best known is the much recorded ‘Just Someone I Used To Know’, and I admit that although Amber does a very nice version, with some piercing fiddle adding to the pained effect, it isn’t my favorite version of the song. The pleasant-voiced Randy Lindley, who sings harmony throughout the album and is particularly prominent on this track, gets a few solo lines at the end. The couple also offer a full-scale duet on the sweet ‘Please Be My Love’, the only truly happy song on the set, with bluegrassy picking which calls to mind previous versions by both George Jones and Melba Montgomery, and bluegrass duo Jim and Jesse.
The title track, ‘There Must Be Another Way to Live’ is an excellent Mel Tillis lost-love lament originally recorded by Kitty Wells, in which the protagonist is unable to stop thinking about the man who has left her, for his first love – apparently not another woman, but a life trawling the honky tonks. There is a charming country version of the Osborne Brothers’ bluegrass classic ‘This Heart Of Mine (Can Never Say Goodbye)’.
Amber’s phrasing is reminiscent of Willie Nelson on Nelson’s ‘One Step Beyond’, although her vocal is better, and much as I love her voice and her taste in music, this does bring to the surface a small nagging doubt about her imagination as an interpreter. However, she offers a delicate interpretation of Johnny Bush’s ‘The Sound Of A Heartache’, another picture of a woman hopelessly lost in her thoughts of her ex.
The album closes with a beautifully understated cover of the downbeat ‘Silent Night (After The Fight)’ about the aftermath of a row which culminated in the husband walking out and his wife engulfed in misery alone (a Ronnie Milsap album track/single B-side from 1980, written by John Schweers).
This is another thoroughly enjoyable album from Amber, and although I slightly prefer Passion, Pride And What Might Have Been, if it had arrived a little earlier it would probably have made my top ten of the year. Boasting fine singing, great songs, and great production, this is a worthwhile purchase for any fan of real country music, especially as it was in the 1960s. I hope its release date doesn’t result in it getting overloooked in the Christmas rush.
While it’s not yet available in CD form from Amazon or any other major retailer, you can order the CD from the label website. And it’s also available digitally from iTunes.