My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Mandy Barnett – ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson’

mandybarnettThe late Don Gibson is not as well remembered as he ought to be. A successful recording artist who racked up 22 Top 10 hits between 1956 and 1974, he is primarily remembered for his songwriting. “Oh Lonesome Me”, “Sea of Heartbreak”, “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are just a few of the timeless classics that he penned. Mandy Barnett’s new album, featuring twelve classic Gibson songs, is a worthy tribute that every fan of classic country music should enjoy.

With I Can’t Stop Loving You, which was jointly released by Rounder Records and Cracker Barrel, Barnett breathes new life into these timeless classics. The obvious crowd pleasers are all represented, along with a handful of of Gibson’s lesser known tunes that will be unfamiliar enough to seem new to many fans — myself included. The opening track “(Yes) I’m Hurting” is one such example. I wasn’t previously familiar with this one and although the string arrangement seems a bit heavy-handed, it is appropriate for a song originally released during the Nashville Sound era. “Too Soon To Know” is another new one for me. Originally included on Gibson’s 1972 album Woman, Sensuous Woman, it was never released as a single, but one can imagine Patsy Cline having a huge hit with this one.

Most of the other titles will be familiar most listeners. My favorite is “Sweet Dreams”, a song that will forever be associated with Patsy Cline, and one that I expected would sound like something from the soundtrack of Always … Patsy Cline, in which Barnett played the lead role in the mid-90s. Instead, she puts her own stamp on the song and proves that she’s more than a Cline sound-alike. The lush string arrangement is eschewed in favor of the steel guitar and Mandy’s version is more reminiscent of the version that Emmylou Harris took to #1 in 1977. “Just One Time” peaked at #2 for Connie Smith in 1971. Barnett’s version is more polished, but I prefer the more raw and uptempo original. Mandy likewise slows down the tempo on “Blue Blue Day”, but it is surprisingly effective on this track, which features harmony vocals by Alison Krauss. The title track is a fairly faithful interpretation of the 1962 Ray Charles version, considered by most to be the definitive recording of the song. I was never much of a Ray Charles fan, and as such this is my least favorite song on the album.

There have been no shortage of tribute albums in recent years, but this one really puts a fresh spin on a somewhat cliched concept by allowing one singer to concentrate on the work of a sole songwriter. Barnett proves that she is more than up the challenge of tackling the classic material. Somehow I missed this album when it was released back in November. Had I been aware of it, it would most certainly have earned a spot on my best albums of the year list.

Grade: A

3 responses to “Album Review: Mandy Barnett – ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson’

  1. Paul W Dennis January 31, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I am a Don Gibson fan from way back, so I was familiar with all of these songs. I do agree that Don is not that well remembered as a singer, but part of that may be because his vocals were somewhat outside the norm – odd cadences and, at times, R&B phrasing compared to the Ray Price / Carl Smith norm. The albums COUNTRY SOUL and especially MORE COUNTY SOUL are great examples of what I mean

    I think Mandy does a nice job reinterpreting the Don Gibson songbook, although I think she would havebeen better off modelling the title song after the first charted version by Kitty Wells. I think my favorite track on the album is “Blue Blue Day”

    I would like to commend Cracker Barrel for providing exposure for artists like Mandy Barnett. Radio won’t play anything from this album, but millions will see this album for sale and perhaps hear tracks from it in Cracker Barrels around the country.

  2. Ken Johnson February 1, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Barnett is an artist that truly has the goods. Probably very few things that she could not pull off vocally. I look forward to checking this one out. Thanks for the tip Razor X.

    Couple of additions to the review. “Sea Of Heartbreak” was penned by Hal David & Paul Hampton not Don. “Too Soon To Know” was the “B” side of Don’s 1973 hit “Touch The Morning” which likely gave it some jukebox spins back in the day. Also, “(Yes) I’m Hurting'” was released during the “Nashville Sound” era (#6/1966) but Don’s version featured a frantic twangy lead guitar and an intense rhythm section but no strings. Perhaps Mandy based her recording on the version that Roy Orbison cut for his 1966 MGM album “Roy Orbison sing Don Gibson” that featured a Bill McElhiney string arrangement.

  3. Fred Arnold February 17, 2014 at 8:32 am

    I think this is a quite brilliant album by one of the great country voices of all time. My particular favourite is ‘Legend in my Time’, with its call-and-response chorus. The only version that matches it is by Timi Yuro from her Make the world go away album. Otherwise I was slightly surprised by Mandy’s take on Sweet Dreams, changing the tune slightly to put her own slant on the song, but I think it works really well after listening a few times. A lovely traditional country album with not a hope of country radio airplay. Shame

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