Some artists need a track by track assessment & others not so much. Florida-born award-winning, Grammy-nominated icon & trailblazer Pam Tillis’ first solo release in some 12 years: Looking For A Feeling, on her own label (Stellar Cat Records – April 24) is such an LP.
For the uninitiated, Pam is the daughter of Hall of Famer country singer Mel Tillis, but her signature style is all Pam Tillis. Several previous LPs blurred the lines between genres – country, rock, soul & covered serious subjects. A resident of East Nashville (2016) Pam draws varied influence from singers such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Neil Young, the Allman Brothers & surprisingly Led Zeppelin. She has an acute retro sensibility but never sounds antiquated. Vocally, Pam Tillis’ is not a minor league player.
Pam is in good company with singers such as Allison Moorer, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith & Carrie Newcomer (an amazing award-winning Michigan country, folk-singer). I favor female vocalists with a smokey sound. The Reba McIntyre feistiness, Bobbie Gentry delta swamp, the deep Jody Miller power.
Pam has that tradition & drops in the sweet sincerity of near-forgotten female greats as Sandy Posey, Skeeter Davis & Gale Garnett. Evidenced on Pam’s melodically energetic “Karma” with sharp snaps of a snare drum. Great voices all. Pam gives it all back to us, those who remember.
The 12-track features multiple musicians & producers clearly detailed: East Side Band (5-tracks produced by Joe Pisapia – guitars & bass with 10 add’l musicians); a West Side Band (4-tracks produced by Jimmy Ritchey with 12-add’l musicians) & No Side Band (2-tracks produced by Matt Spicher – guitar & 14-add’l musicians). Some outlined musicians: Pat Buchanan (guitar), Jim Moose Brown (keys), Dan Dugmore (steel guitar), & Glenn Whorf (bass).
“Looking for a Feeling,” is sung in a saloon-like slur. Brilliantly rocky & potent. Guitars jut in & out with soulful Stax Records’ type notes. Track 2 is the Matraca Berg-Garry Harrison “Demolition Angel,” — a country-rocker with grit & sinew with dynamic drums & guitars. A great listen.
Slowing down for the Joe Pisapia ballad “Better Friends,” Pam paces her LP well. The only misstep is “Dolly 1969,” a good but definite novelty song. It doesn’t fit with the quality of the other tunes. Should’ve been a flipside of a single or bonus cut. “Last Summer’s Wine,” would’ve followed “Better Friends,” in sequence & been stronger. Another ballad, same mood, but it’s an early morning rose – a full bloom beauty.
A great Pam vocal slides around a deep bass, crisp acoustic guitar & Kenny Sears fiddle that pours in atmospherically on “Burning Star.”
You can have your aggrieved pop confection country singers & music cut on a commercial lathe – I prefer the burlap & assertiveness of a Pam Tillis. She’s the black coffee espresso in the anisette of country – not that sugar sweet foamy latte that passes off as java.
The 46-minute CD ends with an instrumental “Better Friends Reprise,” & available at Amazon. Website: http://pamtillis.com/