Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revising My Views On Country Music: Shania Twain Is My Next Artist Of The Month!

The Good: Good vocals, Some memorable lyrics
The Bad: Short, Instrumentals are somewhat lackluster.
The Basics: A good, but short and musically sedate, album, The Woman In Me introduces me to Shania Twain and makes me want to share her works with others!

A few days ago, I ran into quite a conundrum. I had chosen an Artist Of The Month to immerse myself in whose first album left me with such an antipathy toward their work that I could not justify spending a whole month on them. That artist was Roberta Flack and the album was Roberta and when I opted against devoting the month to her works, I found myself in a bit of a quandary as to who to spend the month on. My wife suggested I branch out a little and try some Country music (she's a fan) and she recommended Shania Twain. A quick investigation of the discography of Shania Twain revealed that she did not have a terribly extensive body of work, so for the month Co-Artists Of The Month are . . . Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow!

My first experience with a Shania Twain album - I have only heard her works previously as part of her pop music crossovers on the radio - was The Woman In Me. This is a pretty poppy Country album and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, though I do believe that the album is much more average than many reviewers find it. There is a repetitive quality to the lyrics and instrumentals that nullifies some of the impact of some of the better lines on the album. Still, for those who might not traditionally enjoy Country music, The Woman In Me is an easy album to strongly recommend.

With only a dozen songs, clocking out at 48:05, The Woman In Me is short for a compact disc, but it does seem to illustrate the artistry of Shania Twain and John Lange. Twain wrote only one song on her own on this album, as did Lange, but the pair collaborated on the other ten. As well, because Twain performs all of the vocals and Lange produced the album, it seems they have a pretty decent balance between them. Lange provides harmonizing vocals on several of the songs and Twain does as well. As for instrumental artistry, the best Twain is credited with is handclaps and footstomps. This is hardly an album that illustrates much in the way of musical talent for Twain.

And the instrumentals are not the most extraordinary ever heard or produced. Most songs have a pretty heavy and danceable percussion section, like "Any Man Of Mine" and "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" There are a few country ballads, like "The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)" and "Is There Life After Love?" and the fundamental difference between the songs on this album and traditional pop-rock tracks is the lack of keyboards and electric guitars and the presence of the pedal steel and violins. Musically, though, there are any number of bored, predictable runs that sound like other artists. So, for example, the pianos and closing to "The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)" sounds remarkably like the Bonnie Raitt song "I Can't Make You Love Me." In fact, despite the quality of many of the lyrics, most of the instrumental accompaniments to Twain's vocals are lackluster and unmemorable. I've listened to the album over a dozen times now and I can't recall the tune to "No One Need To Know," for example.

Similarly, songs like "If It Don't Take Two," with the prevalence of fiddles and Country twang infused into the vocals sound exactly like what one would expect a Country song to sound like based upon rumor and hearsay.

As for the vocals, Twain is a mezzo-soprano and this album illustrates the quality of her voice, if not an extensive range. Shania Twain can sing and she does it with beautifully sultry tones on "Is There Life After Love?" and a happy energy on "You Win My Love." In fact, more than any other artist I've listened to in the recent past, Twain actually sounds like she enjoys what she is singing. Her tones often sound like she is smiling as she sings, there is such a vibrancy to her vocals.

Most of the songs on The Woman In Me are pretty wholesome Country ballads musing on the nature of love and relationships. Songs like "Any Man Of Mine" illustrate an uncommon sense of musical humor with lines like "Any man of mine'll say it fits just right / When last year's dress is just a little too tight / And anything I do or say better be okay / When I have a bad hair day." Shania Twain performs with clear, articulate vocals that enunciate all of the right words and keep her lyrics at the forefront of the listener's ears. There is no easy way to qualify Twain's musical protagonists; she is clearly presenting the image of a strong, independent (Western) woman but with little asides that have her characters seeking a man's approval (very Country). There is a reinforcement in her lines of traditional gender roles, but she presents her lyrics with a forthright strength that is anything but traditional feminine.

I think the strong woman wins out on this album. The Woman In Me is more about empowering women to take charge of their circumstances. Twain does this by being the dominant voice on "You Win My Love," where she determines the conditions of a partnership. And on "Leaving Is The Only Way Out," she plaintively sings "When late nights and long lies came knockin' / You just invited them in / And our voices got too loud for talkin' / Then my heart hit the floor / But your feet just kept walkin' / And if cryin' is the only way you hear me hurtin' / For the lovin' that I can't live without / And if lovin' ain't the only way into your heart / Then leavin' is the only way out" and has a strength to her that is both powerful and feminine.

And for fans of pop-rock, there is little intimidating on The Woman In Me. Sure, there are a few very County Western references, like the sensibilities that come with "I know I'm not the only / Girl you run to / I know about Lolita / Your little Spanish flame / I've seen you around with Rita / The redhead down the lane / Whose bed have your boots been under? / And whose heart did you steal I wonder" ("Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?") but largely the references are more universal than esoteric to the genre. For the most part, anyone who likes a strong female vocalist will find a lot to enjoy on The Woman In Me, a love album filled with anthems for strong women finding their voices.

The best track is "Is There Life After Love?" and the low point is "No One Needs To Know."

For other Country music reviews, please visit my takes on:
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire
Something To Talk About (single) - Bonnie Raitt
Little Bit Of Everything - Billy Currington


For other music reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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