"Patsy taught me emotion," Reba McEntire says of Patsy Cline. "I sure wish I could have known her." Cline was the kind of singer who seemed to leave no emotional distance between her and the listener -- we feel as if we really did know her. The details of her life, made widely known through the film Sweet Dreams, reinforced for many the sense that she lived the songs she sang. Her big voice could be alternately brassy and caressing, as country as a cornfield or as uptown as a Cadillac.
Cline combined absolute emotional honesty with technical polish. She arrived at her complete command of her voice through hard work; she began singing at age 13 on a local radio station in her hometown. By the time of her first recording session in 1954, she was 22 and a seasoned veteran. She was able to express complex emotions because she had lived them. She helped support her family from age 15, when her father left the family, and she married at age 20. With the help of a sympathetic producer, Owen Bradley, she learned precisely how to use her gifts. I wont make the argument that Cline was the same kind of singer as Aretha Franklin, but her voice had the same force, the same sense of tremendous power held it in reserve for the right moment, that Franklins Atlantic-era records had.
MCA Nashville released two discs to commemorate Clines 71st birthday, a remaster of her greatest-hits collection and Remembering Patsy Cline, a tribute disc of those same songs interpreted by 12 current female singers. Nearly everyone has heard at least a couple of tracks from Patsy Clines Greatest Hits, which has sold 10 million copies worldwide since its 1967 release. Bob Ludwig remastered the set, and its been issued in its original cover art. The remaster is a powerful illustration of how much digital technology has improved. The glassiness of the 1988 CD has been replaced by an analogue-like smoothness, and subtle details -- brush strokes on the drums, the texture of the guitar tones -- are more sharply focused. I hope Ludwig soon remasters other Patsy Cline titles.
Remembering Patsy Cline includes contributions from country, pop, and jazz singers and, therefore, its even more fragmented in character than most tribute discs. Natalie Coles version of "I Fall to Pieces" is perfectly fine and Id enjoy hearing it on one of her own discs, but it underscores how good the song is rather than telling us anything about Patsy Clines influence on Cole. The overblown arrangement on Terri Clarks "Walking After Midnight" demonstrates how much better Clines producer, Owen Bradley, understood the importance of space and a well-placed guitar or piano line.
The best moments belong to Patty Griffin, whose combination of beauty, power, and restraint on "Faded Love" recalls Clines, and Jessi Alexander, who does the vocal catches on "So Wrong" just right. Diana Kralls version of "Crazy" is underpowered, but Norah Joness "Why Cant He Be You" sneaks up on you subtly, in much the way her popular CD does. Michelle Branch surprises with "Strange" (a little too girlish, perhaps), while k.d. lang disappoints by choosing to sing "Leavin on Your Mind" in her current sophisticated pop style rather than in the Cline-influenced manner of her early recordings.
I have no idea what point Rebecca Lynn Howard or Martina McBride (accompanied by Take 6) were trying to make with their tracks, but Amy Grants "Back in Babys Arms" is done in a terrific Western swing style. Grant seems a little lightweight at first, but by the end of the song she had me convinced. Still, as much as I enjoyed a number of tracks on Remembering Patsy Cline, at $18.98 list youd be better advised to plunk down $11.98 for the new Patsy Clines Greatest Hits and enjoy the genuine article in perhaps the best sound ever.
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