When Asylum Records released Mandy Barnett’s eponymous album Mandy Barnett in 1996, I hoped I was hearing the first in a long string of albums for this excellent vocalist. Mandy was not unknown to me, having made television appearances in conjunction with her role in the play Always … Patsy Cline, starting around 1994 or 1995. Unfortunately, the market shifted away from anything resembling real country music so while Mandy remains active, her solo recordings remain few and far between.
Mandy Barnett would prove to be Mandy’s only successful chart album in terms of singles, but the contents were strong, the voice is terrific and her artistic integrity has been maintained through the years. The album would reach #60 on the country charts (it reached #28 on the Canadian country charts)
The album opens with “Planet of Love”, a song written by the much underappreciated Jim Lauderdale. The song was never a big hit for anyone, but it has been recorded quite a few times. Mandy’s bluesy take reveals a song that Patsy Cline could have done as well as, but not better than, Mandy herself.
I’ve found a new planet that only I can see
Just came back to get you let’s leave this misery
Nothing can reach us so far from harm’s way
Only sunshine and rainbows every day
We’ve got to get back there hurry up and get your things
The countdown has started go ahead try on these wings
Don’t need no spaceship for what I’m thinking of
Didn’t I tell you that I’d take you to the planet of love
I should mention that this album was produced by Bill Schnee and Kyle Lehing, but clearly, both understood what Owen Bradley accomplished with Patsy Cline and at times have created an updated version of that sound.
Next up is “Maybe”, a then-contemporary song aimed at getting Mandy some radio airplay. The son was the second single and peaked at #65. Written by Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, and John Leventhal, the song should have been a hit but perhaps it was too similar to some other songs currently floating about at the time (I could mentally hear Patty Loveless doing this song)
I know how the story ends where everything works out
I get the feelin’ once again that I can’t shake your doubt
Instead of hidin’ from romance
You’re gonna have to take a chance
Baby, don’t say Maybe
There’ll be no comin’ back tomorrow, Baby
“Rainy Days” is a gentle ballad sung to perfection. The song, written by Kostas and Pamela Brown Hayes, is filler but of a high grade.
“Three Days”, from the pen of Willie Nelson, is also filler. The song was a top ten hit for the great Faron Young back in 1962, and k.d. lang took it to #9 on the Canadian country charts in 1990. This is one of my favorite Willie compositions, and while Mandy does an excellent job with the song, the song seems a little more believable from the male perspective. I love the endless time loop perspective of the song – if this isn’t the definition of depression, I don’t know what would qualify
Three days I dread to see arrive
Three days I hate to be alive
Three days filled with tears and sorrow
Yesterday today and tomorrow
There are three days I know that I’ll be blue
Three days that I’ll always dream of you
And it does no good to wish these days would end
‘Cause the same three days start over again
“Baby Don’t You Know” was written by Jamie O’Hara has that traditional vibe, accentuated by the walking bass line and I think that I would have tried this as a single as this is just an excellent track. The song has a great sing-along chorus
Baby don’t you know I still love you
Baby don’t you know I still miss you
Baby don’t you know you’re breaking my heart
Oh, oh, oh
Baby don’t you know I still want you
Baby don’t you know I still need you
Baby don’t you know you’re tearing me apart
Kostas and Tony Perez penned “Now That’s All Right with Me”, the first and most successful single released on from the album. This is a very then-contemporary sounding song with late 90s-early 00s country instrumentation including some steel guitar in the background. The song peaked at #43. I don’t recall the song getting much of a promotional push but perhaps my memory is wrong. I only heard the song a few times on the radio.
Karen Brooks and Randy Sharp wrote “A Simple I Love You”, the last and least successful single released from the album. Mandy sings it well, but the song itself is a rather bland string-laden ballad, the only track on the album to heavily feature strings. The song died at #72.
Two more Kostas songs follow, “I’ll Just Pretend” and “What’s Good For You” (with Kelly Willis as co-writer). The former is a gentle and wistful medium slow ballad; the latter is a bit more up-tempo and a bit more of a downer. Both are excellent songs and well sung.
“Wayfaring Stranger” is one of the great folk/gospel classics, that first appeared in the early to mid-1800s. I’ve heard many versions of the song with many and varied verses. Below is a “standard” version of the lyrics (insofar as any version can be called standard) that is pretty similar to Mandy’s version. This song features very sparse instrumentation
I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through a world of woe
But there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that fair land to which I go
I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over home
I know dark clouds will gather round me
I know my way is rough and steep
But beautiful fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their vigils keep
I’m going home to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home
I’m just a going over home
It is clear that the producers of this album were trying for radio success with this album. The singles are all good – worth about a B+ but the tracks where the producers let Mandy follow her own inclinations are excellent – an easy A+. I would give this album an A and I still pull it out occasionally and listen to it.
The album is available as a digital download. If you want an actual CD, a later Warner Brothers release titled Many Barnett: The Platinum Collection contains nine of the ten songs on this album and eleven of the twelve songs on her second album I’ve Got A Right To Cry.