Janie Fricke becomes the most recent country performer to enter the bluegrass field. To that end, she has recast in a bluegrass setting her country hits from the 1980s. Of her seven songs that charted to number one, “Don’t Worry ’Bout Me Baby,” “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” “He’s A Heartache,” and “Tell Me A Lie” appear here. They stand alongside “She’s Single Again” and “Down To My Last Broken Heart,” both of which reached number two, and several that climbed to number four. Also here is her first big hit “Please Help Me I’m Falling.”
Banjoist David Talbot, bassist Mark Fain, reso-guitarist Randy Kohrs, and fiddlers Andy Leftwich, Jimmy Mattingly, and Glen Duncan were enlisted to provide the bluegrass support. They join guitarist Johnny Hiland (best known for his electric country and rockabilly), fiddler Luke Bulla and drummer Bob Mater. Even with those players, the songs sound like what they are: country tunes of the 1980s overlayed with bluegrass instrumentation. On the majority, the banjo or mandolin matter little or are left out entirely. The drums, though tastefully played with brushes and mixed low, still give most tracks a decided two-beat country rhythm and others a chugging train rhythm. Moreover, the harmony singing, as best exemplified on “Faithless Love,” is at times overdone.
In an era in which contemporary bluegrass continues embracing country and pop, those comments should not suggest that this recording is weak or lacking in interest. Janie Fricke still has a wonderful, flexible voice that can slide from growling to twangy to sultry to pop, and there are a number of good tracks. “Please Help Me…” is one. It translates well. So too does “Down To My Last Broken Heart” and the ballad-style “It Ain’t Easy…” What this critique should suggest is that you come to this well-played album with open bluegrass ears.
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