Black Music Matters Festival

Claudia Church

Claudia Church – 1999 (Reprise)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

CDs by Claudia Church

Claudia Church represents the new breed of female country singers that includes Faith Hill and Shania Twain, artists stretching the boundaries of country. Church's resume includes years as an aspiring country singer before spending time in Paris as a model, and last year she married Rodney Crowell. One could do a lot worse than Crowell as a business partner, too, as Church proves on this debut. He produced and wrote 5 of the 10 songs, placing his unmistakable stamp on songs like, "This Man I Love."

Family connections aside, Church has a spunky vocal presence that recalls the early rock-oriented output of Carlene Carter above all. "What's The Matter With You Baby," the first single, is an irresistible slice of cheesy pop, and the autobiographical, "Home In My Heart (North Carolina)," sounds real enough not to be overly sentimental.

Crowell's production throughout is impeccable with plenty of mournful steel guitar, restrained string sections, crystal clear harmonies and even a sitar.If every record coming out of Nashville balanced the pop and country sound this gracefully, "Hot New Country" might not have the critical stigma it seems to have acquired.