Following 2001’s Inside Out, Trisha Yearwood took a four-year break from recording, before reuniting with longtime producer Garth Fundis for 2005’s somewhat lackluster Jasper County. Two singles were released from that collection; both failed to crack the Top 10, though the album did sell enough copies to earn gold certification. Shortly thereafter Yearwood signed with the newly-formed Big Machine Records, ending a sixteen-year stint with MCA Nashville. When an artist leaves the label where he or she scored his or her greatest achievements, it can mark the beginning of a period of renewed vigor or the beginning of declining commercial fortunes. In Trisha’s case, both are true; 2007’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is the finest album of her career, but unfortunately, it is also her least commercially successful.
The album opens with the title track and lead single, an uptempo rockabilly number with a dash of blues and gospel, reminiscent of the type of song The Judds had become known for two decades earlier. It seemed like the perfect vehicle to reestablish Yearwood at country radio, and with the heavy promotion expected for a debut single on a new label, it seemed assured to become a smash hit, but surprisingly it stalled at #19.
The album’s next single was the beautiful ballad “This Is Me You’re Talking To”, written by Tommy Lee James and Karyn Rochelle. It is my favorite song on the album and my favorite of all of Trisha’s singles. It tells the tale of a woman who runs into her ex, for whom she still has feelings, only to discover that he has moved on to a new relationship. The production is tastefully restrained throughout the verses, and slowly builds up to the soaring chorus, which allows Trisha to show off the full force of her vocal prowess. To Garth Fundis’ credit, he resists the temptation to allow the production to become bombastic and get in the way of Yearwood’s vocal performance. The record peaked at a disappointing #25.
The label chose another uptempo number to go to radio next; the Matraca Berg and Jim Collins-penned “They Call It Falling For A Reason”, on which the song’s writers share production credits with Garth Fundis. Though well-written, well performed and supposedly radio-friendly, it became one of the worst chart performances of Trisha’s career, dying at #54. Only 1996’s “On a Bus to St. Cloud” (#59) and 2000’s “You’re Where I Belong” (#71) which charted due to unsolicited airplay had performed worse. After the failure of the third single, Big Machine seemed to lose interest in promoting the album.
Usually my favorite songs from an album tend not to become singles, but in this case, I think Big Machine made all the right choices. However, I would have released “Nothin’ ‘Bout Memphis” as a fourth single. The protagonist could possibly be the same woman from “This Is Me You’re Talking To” in a new relationship, visiting The River City with her current lover, who is unaware that she has been there before with an old flame. Both songs share Tommy Lee James as a co-writer; this time he collaborates with Jessi Alexander. The horn arrangement, something I’m not generally fond of in country songs, works exceedingly well here.
On “Let The Wind Chase You”, Trisha is joined by Keith Urban, who provides the harmony vocals. This is another standout track, with an underestated production, complete with a subtle string section, which allows the vocal performances of both artists to shine. It is followed by another Matraca Berg song, “The Dreaming Fields”, which was written with Gary Harrison. The production on this number is more artsy than most of the songs on the album,with the piano front and center, backed by a string section, and a quieter than usual vocal performance from Trisha. Clearly never intended for mass consumption at radio, the overall effect is quite beautiful.
“Cowboys Are My Weakness” has a western, home-on-the-range feel to it, with prominent fiddle and steel, and harmony vocals from songwriter Karyn Rochelle. The song had been previously recorded by Holly Dunn in the nineties, but I prefer Trisha’s version. The pace picks up again with the up-tempo “Nothin’ About You Is Good For Me”, which is another song that I can easily imagine The Judds tackling with gusto. The album closes on a quiet note with Tony Arata’s and Gene Nelson’s “Sing You Back To Me”.
Over the years, Trisha Yearwood earned a reputation as an artist who consistently released solid albums with little or no filler. I haven’t always agreed with that assessment; I’ve found that while most of her albums are quite good, nearly all of them have their weaknesses. This is decidedly not the case with Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love, which is excellent from start to finish, without a single misstep. It’s unfortunate that it underperformed commercially, becoming Yearwood’s first studio album not to earn at least gold certification. Nevertheless, it is an artistic triumph and an excellent example of how to blend country and pop properly. Add it to your collection if you haven’t done so already; it is still widely available from major retailers. CD copies are somewhat pricey at Amazon, but used copies are inexpensive. It is also currently available for download for $5.