September  2002

Heather Myles - Sweet Talk & Good Lies
Rounder 11661-3179-2
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on DVD]For most audiophiles, Heather Myles’ new CD, Sweet Talk & Good Lies, is about as far off the beaten track as it gets. It’s country, you see --real, hardcore, original, twangy country. It all but treads on the heels of country giants Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn. You won’t be hearing music like this on your local country-music radio station anymore; radio's too busy playing Garth Brooks and Shania Twain to bother with real country any longer (ratings, don’t you know?).

Myles (who looks startlingly like Sandra Locke's Lynn Halsey-Taylor in Clint Eastwood's Every Which Way But Loose movies) wrote all but two of the songs here. She uses all the traditional country-music instruments: pedal steel, electric and acoustic guitars, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bass, and drums, as well as trumpet, percussion, and some tasteful string arrangements. Her music, while not innovative, is nonetheless strong and original and is chock full of nods to country’s glory days. And Myles’ voice is an amalgam of all those country divas of yesteryear, with excellent range, pitch and power.

Her songwriting goes well past that of traditional country, however. She digs deeply into the human condition. A case in point is the song "Homewrecker Blues," where the jilted wife, still in love with her ex, exclaims, "I hope it was worth what you put the family through/I’d like to know what it is she did I couldn’t do/I hope your little homewrecker’s crazy bout you."

She’s not afraid to bite the hand that feeds her, either. "Nashville’s Gone Hollywood" airs her thoughts on present-day country music. But she can also hew closely to tradition too: "One Man Woman Again," "Never Had A Broken Heart" and "The Love You Left Behind" bear ample witness that she knows her country-music history.

However, that doesn't mean she isn't willing to go outside the genre when appropriate, as the south-of-the-border influences in "Little Chapel" (a duet with Dwight Yoakam) and her pop ode to Detroit in "Big Cars" clearly prove.

The sound on Sweet Talk & Good Lies is typical Nashville; that is, a mixture of the good with the not-so-good. The instruments are spread out across the soundstage, but there is little depth evident. While it’s easy to identify the individual instruments, there is a nebulous quality to the sound that smears it all together in a wall-of-sound effect as opposed to that of separate musicians playing together. Dynamics are compressed, as befits music intended for radio airplay, and the album is mixed at a much higher level than normal. Myles' voice, though, comes through clearly.

Before I listened to Sweet Talk & Good Lies, I was not in any way, shape, or form a fan of country music. And even though I still won't list country as a preferred musical style, I found this CD a pleasure. With its intelligent lyrics, updated classic country sound, and, above all, Myles’ voice, it transcends the genre. It's an excellent starting place for grown-up audiophiles willing to explore the hinterlands of the music universe.