Here’s another guest contribution from our long-time friend, and frequent collaborator Michael Allan.
Released shortly after the title cut became her fourth #1 hit, Sara Evans’ Real Fine Place debuted atop the Billboard Country Albums Chart (and at #3 on the all-genre Billboard 200) in October of 2005. It is her most recent studio effort and contains four Top 40 singles, including her last Top Ten hit to date.
The album opens with its third single, ‘Coalmine’, which, due to some unfortunate timing, peaked at #37. (It was released right around the same time as the Sago coal mine disaster in West Virginia.) It’s a shame more people weren’t able to hear the song because, thanks to its fiddles and sly lyrics, it paints a better portrait of small town life and serves as a better ode to hard working, blue collar men than anything on country radio in 2009. No offense, Justin Moore, Billy Currington, Jason Aldean, Jason Michael Carroll, et al.
The album’s second track and lead single is the title cut. Written by Radney Foster, it serves as a strong example of pop country done right. The song’s bouncy vibe makes you want to turn up the volume, put down the top and go for a cruise – sing along with the breeze in your hair and then… press repeat.
Second single and third track is the deliciously scathing ‘Cheatin’. It’s a humorous ( without venturing into novelty territory) lesson that living well is the best revenge… even better than taking a baseball bat to a cheating boyfriend’s car headlights. This fun song would have been right at home on a country radio playlist in the early 90s.
‘New Hometown’, a plea to the protagonist’s lover to give up the city life for something a little more rural, ironically doesn’t sound very country at all. However, Evans voice is in fine form and her tone is clear.
‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’ was the final single and peaked at #13 on the charts. It is one of my least favorite songs on the album. The three arc story song is so predictable, uninspired and generic that it sounds like it was assembled in a factory somewhere in Nashville. Despite having served as a co-writer on this song, Evans deserves better material than this.
‘Supernatural’ gets points for taking a risk and trying something different with its Celtic sound, but unfortunately falls flat thanks to silly lyrics and a boring chorus. It certainly doesn’t warrant the grand treatment and almost choir like sounding background vocals that appear toward the end of the song. The words “heavy production” showed up numerous times in my notes for this ablum review, including during this number.
The album’s seventh track, ‘Roll Me Back In Time’, written by pop star Sheryl Crow, is a story song with a fairly common theme and has a wistful quality to it. Track 8 is ‘The Secrets That We Keep’, a sexy love song. Evans, of course, sounds great, but this is another instance of her need for stronger material.
If ‘The Secrets That We Keep’ is an example of Evans selecting weak material, then ‘Bible Song’, written by the great Lori McKenna, is an example of what can happen when a great singer does find the right song. Once again McKenna has come through with a dark, powerful song filled with sad lyrics about how life isn’t always perfect in those so called idealistic small towns.
Following the unremarkable ‘Tell Me’ is ‘Missing Missouri’. An almost autobiographical sounding piece about missing home, it paints a vivid picture of life on the road. Anyone who’s moved far away from home knows what it’s like to get a little homesick. You can often be surprised at what you miss and what can trigger a memory when you least expect it.
‘Momma’s Night Out’ is a strong, attitude filled number. This single song’s sound goes from blues to gospel to soul and, thanks to some prominent horns, even retro.
The last track on the album is the reflective song of gratitude, ‘These Four Walls’. It’s a song about being thankful for the simple things that God has given us. Evans comes close, but I’m not quite sure she convincingly sells the lines about not being famous, rich or beautiful the way a stronger vocalist like Trisha Yearwood has proven capable of doing in the past.
This is an album I listened to only a few times when I purchased it upon its release. I have, unfortunately, been missing out for the last four years. Although not without its faults (a few tracks are best left skipped), it is an excellent example of a pop country balance that few of today’s artists seem to fully understand.
Real Fine Place is still in print, and is available very reasonably at Amazon.