Lucky Dog reverses their usual equation (matching outsider acts with mainstream producers) by combining a proven Nashville hitmaker with rootsy producer, Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel). Their meeting ground is the rich, decade-spanning songbook of the singer's father, Mel Tillis, with results that perfectly amplify the combination of songwriter and singer.
Pam Tillis has written, recorded and produced her share of hits, but none with the emotional charge of tackling her father's songbook. The elder Tillis early success as a songwriter produced words that lend themselves to reinterpretation, and the younger Tillis, steeped in these works since childhood, makes the most of them. The twice successful "I Ain't Never" (a 1959 hit for Webb Pierce and a 1972 chart-topper for the songwriter) shows off Benson's swing influence, while the fiddle-and-steel driven, "Burning Memories" provides a brilliant Ray Price shuffle.
But it's the ballads, the homesick "Detroit City," the torchy Pasty Cline hit, "So Wrong" and the lost love of "Not Like It Was With You" that show off the depth of both Tillis' expressiveness. The album finds its emotional peak on the heart-wrenching, mandolin and autoharp-lined harmonies of "Violet and a Rose," with Dolly Parton helping wring every last tear out of the song that was Mel Tillis' first top-40 hit as a performer.
Paring down the songlist was clearly the most difficult part of this project, but the 13 selections create a broad, heartfelt set. No more apt tribute could be made to Mel Tillis' remarkable career as a songwriter, and no other songs could have drawn such stirring, personal performances from Pam Tillis.