Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
It's a match made in heaven, or at least a match possible only in a place like Nashville where songwriter Don Gibson ventured out one night to a Nashville club hear a young woman, Mandy Barnett, whose sonic voice turned the songs it touched into gold. The two became close friends, and she told Gibson that she'd one day record an album of his songs.
A decade after Gibson's death, Barnett has lined up Nashville's A-team of musicians - Harold Bradley, Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Charlie McCoy, Andy Reiss, Lloyd Green and Alison Krauss - and produced a riveting album that features her soaring country torch voice driving jaunty interpretations as well as throaty ballad phrasings of many of Gibson's familiar songs.
The album kicks off with (Yes) I'm Hurting, which features Reiss' Dick Dale-style guitar poise against dashing, urgent, strings while Barnett channels early Connie Smith or Lynn Anderson. On Look Who's Blue, Barnett delivers a rockabilly tune in the style of Wanda Jackson, replete with chicken-picked guitars on the lead break.
Although Barnett has already sung Sweet Dreams thousands of times in her role as Patsy Cline in the play "Always...Patsy Cline," she slows down the album version to a languorous, dream-like ballad. Cascading guitars reminiscent of the Everly Brothers' tunes open the song, and aching steel guitars pierce the song with their cry, and Barnett captures the sweet desire and sweet, painful regret of this "I-can't-quit-you" song. I Can't Stop Loving You is a perfect match for Barnett's torchy voice and the jazz arrangement that recalls Ray Charles' and Ella Fitzgerald's respective versions. Barnett slows Blue Blue Day down, weaving her voice under and around intricate guitar picking and McCoy's haunting harmonica, turning it into a gorgeous ballad in which she makes the blues palpable.
With her powerful and spellbinding voice, Barnett pays fitting and loving tribute to Gibson's songs, and she demonstrates once again that she's as at home in a honky tonk as she is in a jazz club.