Album Review

Heather Myles - Highways and Honky Tonks

Heather Myles - Highways and Honky Tonks

After recording a couple of critically acclaimed albums for HighTone (along with a live import release), this Southern California country singer shows no sign of losing steam on her first studio album in over three years. In fact, it may very well turn out to be one of the year's finest hard country albums. Myles wrote ten of the album's 12 songs -- the other two being spirited covers of the Charley Pride hit "Kiss An Angel Good Morning" and Ray Price's "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)" -- and nearly every one of them's a winner. Many of Myles' songs are instantly memorable, tackling classic country themes with a natural ease and infusing them with emotional complexity. Highlights include the R&B-influenced honky-tonk ballad "Broken Heart For Sale", the bluesy country-rock of "Mr. Lonesome", the Tex-Mex flavored "Who Did You Call Darlin'", the energetic barroom shuffle "Playin' Every Honky Tonk In Town", and the supple twang of the album opener, "You're Gonna Love Me One Day". Unfortunately, the lyrically uninspired duet with Merle Haggard doesn't quite gel, but it's the album's only real weak moment. Myles is a full-throated vocalist who's still fully capable of subtle inflections, and her powerful vocal instrument wouldn't sound out of place alongside the best voices of today's country divas. In fact, catchy, pop-flavored songs such as "True Love" and "Love Me A Little Bit Longer" sound like natural singles for country radio. Accompanied by her own band the Cadillac Cowboys (along with members of Dwight Yoakam's band), Myles has created an album of soul and substance that masterfully updates and energizes hard country traditions. From the classic Capitol productions of the late '40s and early '50s through the '60s heyday of the Bakersfield Sound and up to the rockin' honky-tonk of Dwight Yoakam, the West Coast has helped revitalize country music time and again. With Nashville once again engaged in a shortsighted chase for the crossover pop audience, maybe it's time for another West Coast hard country renaissance.