My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Restless’

The success of Sara Evans’ Born To Fly, with its contemporary pop-country sound, allowed the singer to further experiment with the formula, and the result was an album of pop-country at near perfection at times.  With Restless, she finally delivered a set of songs worthy of her vocal talent, while still viable candidates for radio airplay.  Unlike its predecessors, there’s not much on the traditional side on this disc, but that doesn’t keep it from being a quality set, full of nuance and emotion.  Upon its release in April 2003, the disc debuted at #3 on the Country Albums chart – which would be its peak.  Over the course of the next eighteen months, it would sell a million copies to be certified platinum.

There are very few flashes of anything traditional on Restless, aside from a light bluegrass undertone to ‘Feel It Comin’ On’ and the fiddles sprinkled throughout on a few tracks, though they’re deep in the mix.  Sara Evans was reaching for crossover success with all her might on this release, and overall, the album lends itself to a niche in country music somewhere between Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood.

Evans has always had a somewhat spotty relationship with country radio, with a single or two from each album missing the top 10, even during the hottest period of her career.  The first single is a syrupy tale of a young lady, leaving town on a greyhound bus to hide the ‘shame’ of her unwed pregnancy.  Verse two finds the young lady delivering the baby on the interstate, and to my ears this gives the entire song an unrealistic slant.  It’s puzzling to that it took four writers to create this story, especially since there’s essentially no happing ending.  Maybe that’s what kept it from being a major hit – that all-important act three.  The track still managed to climb to #16 on the Country Singles chart.

The next single would fare much better at radio, just barely missing the top spot at #2.  ‘Perfect’ is a clever lyric, written by Sara with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin.  A groovy guitar lick opens the song, before it becomes a fun sing-along about the joys of a regular everyday existence.  The sound, and even the melody, is akin to Evans’ own ‘I Keep Looking’, and it was clearly meant to revisit that sound.  While there’s nothing revolutionary about the production or the lyric, it’s one of my favorite Sara Evans songs, and just a bit of ear candy.

Earning her first gold-single, and her third #1 at country radio, ‘Suds In The Bucket’ is as close as Restless gets to anything traditional.  The sound is very much post-Shania neo-traditional, with the drums mixed as loud as the fiddle.  It’s undeniably country I guess, but also undeniably 21st century country.  The most charming thing about this song, with its rather bland story, is Sara’s vocal, where she finally lets loose a little of the twang we heard on her first couple albums, but is largely absent this time around.

Finally, the steamy ‘Tonight’ was released as the album’s fourth single.  This romantic tale of two potential lovers giving into to their urges stalled outside the top 40 at radio, but is my favorite from the set.  It’s a bit of a departure for Evans as the lyrics reach Conway Twitty-esque levels of risque at times.  With the combination of the soft backing track and Sara’s smooth vocals, this is backseat country at its finest.  She’s done Alabama and Conway proud.

So lay me down easy, hold on tight,
Tell me I’m the only one you see tonight
Lonely woman, lonely man,
There’s just some things only lonely understands

Two beat-driven love songs are placed together with ‘Need To Be Next To You’ and ‘To Be Happy’.  The first is a Diane Warren tune, and it’s evident from the first verse, and the title pretty much sums up the basis of the song.  ‘To Be Happy’ is another song I would classify as ear candy, with nothing substantial about it except that it just sounds good to my ears.  The production doesn’t overpower the vocal, and melody is irresistible.

Another of the album’s standouts is Sara’s collaboration with Marcus Hummon on ‘I Give In’.  The concept for this one almost a prequel to ‘Tonight’, as we again find two potential lovers on the brink of something special, but this time the narrator is questioning the consequences, before finally deciding it’s worth it and gives in.

I’m a sucker for a hard-opening in a song, especially when I think the lyric calls for it.  On ‘Big Cry’, Sara doesn’t wait for the music to start before beginning her plaintive yell, ‘Give me a sad song I can hold onto/Anything to set me free‘.  This bluesy tone allows her to really show off her pipes in a musical setting we’ve never heard her in before.  On an album full of highlights, it’s a definite standout.

There aren’t any weak moments on Restless – aside from that lead single, but that seems to be a common problem with country albums these days.   This is an album that up and coming pop-country starlets could learn from, like how to create a crossover record with quality lyrics and engaging vocal performances.  Going with a slick sound doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the quality of the music in my opinion, and Restless is as good an example of that as I’ve found.

Grade: A

Restless is available at all major CD and digital music outlets, like Amazon.

9 responses to “Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Restless’

  1. Steve from Boston December 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Nice review, J R…This is a great album. Sara’s pop-country style isn’t my favorite from her, but her “made-for-Tradition” voice, along with the quality of the material itself redeems and transcends. This is “adult-contemporary Country” done right.

    I love the title cut, also “I Give In” and “Niagra”. Vocally, much of the album is Sara at her best.

    Not sure if I’m right about this, but it seems to me that “Tonight” would have fared better with a video to boost the song. There does seem to be a symbiosis nowadays between music videos and radio sucess.

    Restless deserved to appear on some of those “decade’s end” top 100 albums lists. Not sure why it didn’t. And I totally agree with the grade A rating you gave it.

    • Steve from Boston December 23, 2009 at 9:48 am

      Oh, also, I don’t remember the exact year, but “Suds in the Bucket” made Sara the most played female artist of that particular year. (04?)

  2. Razor X December 23, 2009 at 11:47 am

    This album suffers from overproduction and is my least favorite in Sara’s catalog. “Suds In The Bucket” was great, “Perfect” was decent, and even “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” is a decent song that is bogged down by heavy-handed production. I rarely play this album all the way through.

  3. Michael December 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Nice review, J.R. Personally, I would have given it a B. I like “Tonight”, “Niagra” and “Big Cry”. Even two of the singles (“Suds” and “Perfect”) were pretty good. Happy holidays.

  4. Occasional Hope December 23, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Like Razor, this is my least favourite Sara Evans album. Even the fiddles have a pop feel.

    I like Suds In the Bucket, but I always feel sorry for the protagonist’s parents, who seem to be left no note or anything to explain what’s happen to their daughter.

  5. Nicolas December 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    My 2nd favorite album in her set, about even with Born to Fly for me

    I love everything on this album, particularily “Suds in the Bucket” and “Rockin’ Horse”, except for the song “Big Cry”… one of my least favorite songs she’s ever done

  6. Jane December 24, 2009 at 3:54 am

    My favourite album, with my favourite song from Sara: Tonight. It should have done better on the charts, but oh well. The rest of the album is, imo, strong, and Sara sounds amazing on the songs.

  7. JCH (Theoretical Country) December 26, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Also my least favourite.

    Nice piece J.R.

  8. J.R. Journey December 26, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for the feedback everybody. I agree there are a few spots where a more scaled back arrangement would have been better, but I didn’t really judge this album so much by its production as I did by the material itself and Sara’s performances. Production is always a factor, but I think it’s secondary on this release. The songs were just top-notch.

    Plus, she was obviously consciously trying to make a pop-country record, and I think she made a fine one this time out. And Real Fine Place is my least favorite Evans album – I just couldn’t get into the songs on it.

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