You can complain about how country isn’t country anymore. You can drone on about how all the good ones are gone. You can look on languidly as all the legendary country music greats of the past slowly give way to time, and their once superior talents slip from their grasp—sullen from the realization that country music will never be the same.
Or, you can spin Connie Smith’s latest record Cry of the Heart, and be reminded that no matter how bad stuff has become in the mainstream, we still share this mortal coil with some of the greatest music talents from the past and present, and Connie Smith still has it, and as strong as ever, even at the age of 80, and even after nearly 60 years of performing.
Bold, confident, and clear-eyed, with a voice as striking as it was when she first broke onto the scene in the 60’s, Connie Smith puts her superior and apparently timeless talents to work on eleven songs on her first album in 10 years. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the only place left to hear the classic sounds of country is in some hipster bar in east Nashville. Connie Smith is still here, and she doesn’t have to emulate or revive anyone’s sound. She just has to be herself.
Collecting compositions from songwriters such as Dallas Frazier—who Smith has collaborated with an incredible 72 times—an old Billy Walker tune from 1966 called “A Million and One,” and writing a couple of originals with her hubby Marty Stuart (“Here Comes My Baby Back Again” and “Spare Me No Truth Tonight”), Connie Smith looks to counterbalance all of the cornfield parties of today’s country by bringing back the devastating heartbreak of classic country in this new album.
Just as much as Cry of the Heart is a Connie Smith record, it’s also important to present it as a collaboration with Marty Stuart. The third such album they have recorded collaboratively, you definitely hear Stuart’s fingerprints on some of the tracks, including the guitar on “Look Out Heart.” You also hear the actual fingers of long time Connie Smith piano cohort and fellow Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins (they both were inducted together in 2012). The Hargus participation ensures that Cry of the Heart is kept cohesively within the Connie Smith catalog.
You can say that unlike many of Marty Stuart’s recent records that define the nexus between classic country reverence and retro cool, by working with so many classic tracks as Connie does here, this record does have a bit of a fuddy-duddy feel. It’s probably not the record to convert your Florida-Georgia Line-listening cousin to the classic side of country with. But that’s not what Connie Smith is aiming for anyway. Radical preservation, and keeping the flame burning is what she’s after, and accomplishes.
And with the way Connie rears back and summons such passion for these songs, it’s hard not to reciprocate that passion as an audience member. Healthy living, rooming with a spouse 17 years her junior helping to keep her young at heart, and remaining exuberant about the material results in a spirited and inspired effort throughout this album.
In 1970, an 11-year-old Marty Stuart saw Connie Smith perform at the Choctaw Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Awe struck, he tells his mother that Connie is the prettiest woman he’s ever seen, and that he will marry her someday. 27 years later, Marty Stuart did marry Connie Smith. Marty knew back then what Cry of the Heart proves now: Connie Smith is one of the ages, and will not wither without a fight.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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