Thanksgiving has come and gone for my American friends this weekend, which means that the holiday travel/shopping season is officially underway. I avoided that whole crazy Black Friday mess by venturing south of the border to Erie, Pennsylvania to kick start my Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago. It was at the local Cracker Barrel that I happened upon this wonderful album by one of the most unique voices in country music.
Mandy Barnett may be the best female vocalist that you've never heard of. Or at least, not heard about for a little while. Tasked early on in her career with playing the title role of Patsy Cline in the stage production of "Always ... Patsy Cline", Barnett has done an excellent job of keeping the extensive classic country music sound alive and relevant for many years. She continues this journey with her latest album released on Rounder/Cracker Barrel Records with a tribute album to her friend Don Gibson. Mr. Gibson was the voice and pen behind some of the most important songs in the history of country music. Indeed, if there were a definition of those who founded the term singer-songwriter, you would have to include Hank Williams, Sr, Roger Miller and Don Gibson in the same sentence. Here, Mandy Barnett gives new life and new vision in to some of Mr. Gibson's finest works.
This album represents a great cross section of Don Gibson's hits. The biggest hits, what one would call his signature songs (as a performer), like "Oh Lonesome Me" and "Lonesome Number One" are present and given a fresh, new interpretation by Barnett. Lesser known tracks from Mr. Gibson's catalogue are front and center on this album, such as "Oh Such a Stranger", one of the rare Gibson single's that is beautifully written but did not chart on its original release in 1964, but only peaked at number 61 in 1978. Mandy Barnett turns in a beautiful rendition of the Gibson-penned "Legend In My Time", a number one hit for Ronnie Milsap in 1977, a real highlight of the album.
However, it must be said that the two cornerstones of the album are Mandy's performance of Mr. Gibson's two signature hits as a songwriter, the oft-recorded "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Sweet Dreams." The former made famous by such vocalists as varied as Ray Charles, Conway Twitty and Roy Clark, the latter made famous by the incomparable Patsy Cline. These two songs are classics in the great American songbook lexicon. There are not too many vocalists who are capable to record either of these songs. One must possess a special talent to be able to capture the essence and emotion of the two songs. Comparison's to the original versions are inevitable. It is here where Mandy Barnett truly shines. She is one of the very few who can reach the levels required to make these songs her own, and she does it in spades.
When piecing together a tribute album for an artist as legendary as Don Gibson, only the best musicians will do. Barnett succeeds in this area as well, as she assembles A-list legends in the studio to take this project to the highest level. Country Music Hall of Fame Members Harold Bradley (guitars) and Charlie McCoy (harmonica), the incomparable Lloyd Green (steel guitar) and Hargus "Pig" Robbins (piano) are among the cast of outstanding studio musicians that contributed to this album.
The liner notes tell Mandy's story of her brief but fruitful friendship with Mr. Gibson. The impact on her life is clear, and this album represents her love and tribute to her friend. What a wonderful tribute it is. If you are travelling around the United States this season, stop in to one of the many Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores and pick up this album to hear one of the greatest female vocalists of our time perform the best works of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time.