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GAC Album Review: Janie Fricke’s Country Side of Bluegrass

Janie Fricke

Photo courtesy of Webster & Associates.

Between 1982 and 1986, Janie Fricke reeled off seven No. 1 singles as country music fans got to know her as more than a backing vocalist and in-demand duet partner (she also scored No. 1 hits with Charlie Rich and Merle Haggard in 1978 and 1985, respectively). Her run in the US alone through the 1980s consisted of 16 Top 10 singles with a brand of country/pop that paid homage to classic country.

Janie’s now honoring the pickin’ tradition while reworking 12 of her own hits on the new studio album, Country Side of Bluegrass. Backed by a group of seasoned players, including dobro player extraordinaire Randy Kohrs (Hal Ketchum; Hank Williams III) and fiddler Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett; Jerry Douglas Band), Janie offers up stirring renditions of chart-toppers like “He’s A Heartache” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby” with a bluegrass twist.

Amidst standard bluegrass instrumentation, songs like the speedy “Do Me With Love” nail the elements of controlled chaos and precision found in the genre. Add in quintessential country double-meanings like, Words are cheap and ‘I love yous aren’t free/ So unless you mean it, well, don’t spend ‘em on me, and it’s clear that the combination can be entertaining and exciting. Hard-hitting classic country lyrics are all over the record, like on standout track “Tell Me A Lie,” where Janie’s voice pours out the emotion of a desperate woman while singing, Tell me a lie, tell me you’re not a married man, in her Indiana twang. Janie cranked up the tempo on the new version of “Tell Me A Lie,” a song that was originally done as a ballad.

Traditional country influence is heard throughout the record. On the steady-paced “Please Help Me, I’m Falling (In Love With You),” Janie’s voice rises and falls with aching honky tonk melodies as a fiddle yearns in the background. The slow dobro/acoustic guitar intro of the classic “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy” makes way for a smooth chorus full of textured harmonies as the song’s loneliness seeps through the speakers.

The album is indeed full of lonesome songs. One of the best is “I’ll Need Someone to Hold Me (When I Cry).” Over quick dobro and banjo, Janie sings deliberately, So sit down here beside me after you say goodbye / ‘Cause I’ll need someone to hold me when I cry, seeking tenderness from the one who’s headed for the taxi outside.

Country Side of Bluegrass stays true to its title, using lush arrangements to combine bluegrass and country, giving Janie’s most well-known songs a new and different sound. While fans of Janie’s original chart-toppers should love the new renditions, her timeless voice is sure to attract new ones.

Key tracks – “Do Me With Love,” Please Help Me, I’m Falling (In Love With You),” “Tell Me A Lie,” “I’ll Need Someone To Hold Me (When I Cry)”

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