By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2002
rick Pony may be a group on a mission in more ways than one. For starters, the uptempo country trio of Heidi Newfield, Ira Dean and Keith Burns obviously would like to top their debut when they scored with the single "Pour Me" and avoid a sophomore slump, which could kill a career.
And they want to gain a foothold in the country marketplace with the driving, but raw sounds of their second album, "On a Mission." They perceive their music a bit different during the holiday season when folks named Tim, Faith and Shania are also releasing new albums.
But with a few hit singles under their belt, Newfield, 32, says in a telephone interview from Nashville that she was not to worried at all about falling down the second time around. "There were so many people that approached us - radio - and worried about the sophomore slump, and we'd always laugh and go 'not until you mentioned it.'"
"Really, with this album, we tried to write great songs. We tried to find great songs. We went in and worked really hard on the album. We had a great effort on all the songs...We went in and had fun."
"If there was any pressure, it was only within our own selves," says Newfield, a California native. "It was to try to be better, to improve. That's good for anybody to have. I always feel a little bit of pressure. A small amount. Not enough to be unhealthy. It keeps you on your toes. You don't take anything for granted."
"On a Mission," which is also the first single, contains a dozen songs produced once again by Chuck Howard. The trio wrote nine of the songs, one more than on their debut. Neither is exactly typical where the norm is to record songs penned by others, especially for a new act.
"It's a key part of creating your own sound," she says of writing your own songs. "When you pick up a Van Halen record or a Beatles song or an Eagles album, all songs are written by the artist, that's kind of what defined them - by writing their own material."
Once again, a river song is part of the mix. The debut contained "Big River," a song with backing vocals from the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, and the late Waylon Jennings. Trick Pony managed to get Cash because Dean had befriended Cash's son and lived for a time with Johnny. He asked him at the time about recording vocals for "Big River" should Dean ever make an album, and Cash kept his word.
This time Trick Pony tackles "Whiskey River," with Willie Nelson lending his chords. The song is a staple of concerts for Nelson, who has started his shows with the song for decades.
"I don't know what that's all about," says Newfield with a laugh of the water theme. "I think we're going to ask Bruce Springsteen next time to cut 'The River.' It certainly wasn't something we meant to do."
The inclusion of "Whiskey River" is part of a determined effort to play to the band members' roots. "We had decided what we were going to do every album that we are fortunate to put out is to find an artist who has influenced us and listened to and find a song of theirs if we can...We want to find a song that we can do justice on and ask them to come in. It's our our way of paying tribute to those people. In the second album, it was sort of a given. All three of us were talking about who we would want - Willie Nelson - without a doubt, no question."
And picking the song did not prove too difficult either.
"It's funny because with such individuals, you'd think we'd pick three different songs that Willie had recorded over his career," says Newfield. "When we were talking about songs, almost immediately and simultaneously the three of us said 'Whiskey River.' It's one of those songs that is just universal. We use it as one of our encore songs. It's just one of those songs that all three of us have loved and worn that record out since we were kids. When he came and said he'd 'love to come and record with you,' he was very gracious and sweet. He's truly one of the most down to earth, real people I've ever met."
Newfield says Nelson asked what song they wanted to record and when told "Whiskey River," "he laughed, kind of looked down at the ground and said, 'well, I know it.'"
Newfield approached Nelson at a BMI awards show a year ago and asked him to sing on the album. "At the time, I didn't even think he'd know who I was. I thought, 'Oh gosh, he's going to look over my shoulder to talk with someone far me important than this chick.' He wasn't that way at all. He was the complete opposite. He spoke with me for about 10 minutes."
"He said, 'I'm aware of what you did.' The fact that he even knew who I was, I was blown away by that."
Trick Pony has proven to be entertaining and interesting, in part because of the make-up of the group. Besides being female, Newfield owns a powerful set of vocal chords that can get down and dirty.
But her band mates also can handle vocals, offering a rarity of diversity within a band setting.