Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Connie Smith and Wanda Jackson

Connie Smith – The Cry of the Heart

Connie appeared on Bob Harris Country with her husband Marty Stuart. Connie has five kids, eight grandkids and one great-grandchild, so she doesn’t need to be mucking around making new music. However, like Willie Nelson, she is still offering fans new tunes, here 31 short, sweet minutes.

‘How many teardrops have I cried over you?’ is the set’s opening line, with the song’s title as the answer, ‘A Million and One’. Accompanied by the Fabulous Superlatives, who were sensational when I saw them at Country2Country when Marty came over, Connie puts her timeless voice to good use.

There are ballads aplenty on the collection, each accompanied by strings and the band. All The Time has a tremendous arrangement and a fleshed-out sound that I hope comes back to country radio (but won’t because young people aren’t the target of this sort of country music). Pedal steel matches the morose lyric of I Just Don’t Believe Me Anymore, and it’s in the background as Connie sings of ‘drowning in a sea of endless heartbreak’ on I’m Not Over You.

Connie and Marty wrote two numbers. There is heartbreak in every syllable and ghostly backing vocalised ‘ooh’ of Spare Me No Truth (‘my heart’s heard it all before’), and Here Comes My Baby Back Again, which recalls the Phil Spector sound and is majestic in every way, especially with the real strings.

The peppy tracks include To Pieces, in opposition to its mournful lyric (‘To pieces is the only place to go’) and Look Out Heart (‘here we go again!’). The latter was written by Marty’s drummer Harry Stinson and evokes the old sound of 60s country, which was beloved in the 90s much as the 90s are beloved today. Staying with the theme, the waltz Heart We Did All That We Could is the result of hurting it all over again.

There’s a chugging beat to Three Sides (‘to every story: your side and mine and the truth’) which evokes the best Loretta Lynn tunes and lets Marty loose on the guitar. The old Merle Haggard song Jesus Take A Hold is refreshed for the new era – indeed, Connie recorded it 50 years ago – but things haven’t changed and we still need some Messianic guidance to prevent ‘the mighty roar of gunfire’ and the noise of ‘angry men’ who make ‘destruction…the current trend’. In 50 years’ time, someone will still be recording this song, which sounds completely timeless coming from Miss Connie Smith.

Give the album 30 minutes of your time.

Wanda Jackson – Encore

The Rockabilly Queen returns with Joan Jett at the controls. What a pairing and a recognition that rock’n’roll-loving Joan emerged from Wanda’s fine rockabilly music which made black music popular in the 1950s. With the death of Don Everly, only Jerry Lee Lewis remains of the original Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame class of 1986; Wanda is in as an Early Influence who turns 84 in October whose first country hit came in 1954. She didn’t really get going until Let’s Have a Party in 1960, then had a decent run of hits in the 1960s including Tears Will Be The Chaser for your Wine.

We’re gifted eight tracks, several credited to the Blackhearts as well. When it comes to writers, the great Sonia Leigh was in the room for Treat Me Like A Lady, where Wanda begs to be kissed ‘softly every morning’ over stately organ. Luke Laird and Lori McKenna wrote That’s What Love Is, which as you would expect is a sweet tune about how ‘every day’s a gift’ and the world is a little better. It actually sounds like something Paul Williams would write for Kermit the Frog, which could apply to so many of Lori’s tunes.

Big Baby is a fun way to kick off the set, with a rocking arrangement, while a swampy riff opens You Drive Me Wild, which is brilliant to hear from an octogenarian mouth. The country-rocker We Gotta Stop is full of vim and passion, as is Two Shots, which features vocals from Elle King. The mighty pair of Candie Carpenter and Angaleena Presley can be heard adding some responsive backing vocals to Good Girl Down.

Conversely we get a weepie, It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’, that proves Wanda is not just a one-trick pony. It would be fun to hear Connie Smith and Wanda join forces but if this is an encore, it’s a lovely gift that passes the torch on from Wanda to Joan to Elle and Angaleena.

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