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Country Music Magazine - January 2002
Oh Sister, Where Art Thou?
by James Hunter

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A HUGE Thanks to Rtc for typing up the article and sending in the scan! :)

"We're sorry, Shania. Come back, we need you. She's been away for three years now, blissfully hiding out with her husband, the supernaturally capable producer/songwriter Robert John "Mutt" Lange, in their 19th-century chateau in La
Tour-de-Peilz Vaud, Switzerland. At one time they promised they'd release an albumby.......well, by now. Then Shania got pregnant, and all plans were scrapped. 

Well, the baby arrived last summer, yet still there's no word of new music. It can leave a Shania fan downright melancholy. Of course, Shania knows melancholy. She and Lange pungently evoked that emotion on "Home Ain't Where His Heart Is (Anymore)," the opening tune on 1995's The Woman In Me, the record that started it all. Ah, the fluid, acoustic-toned, lovingly crafted sound of that song, in which a woman cries in her beer- except the tears are newly mascara-stained, and the beverage of choice is probably white wine. 

A million country singers have sung a similar lyric, where a husband or wife longs for the one who has up and left. But Shania and Lange overhauled the honky-tonk weeper into something contemporary. She sounded wracked-up, but in a wholly modern way.With that record, we made our initial Shania mistake: We underrated her and the sly way she performed that song. Shania stripped away the regional manerisms and dialect that had made female country vocalists like Tammy Wynette so great. Shania didn't rely on such vocal quirks,just as she didn't don the floppy sun hats that Tammy used to wear. 

After all, it was the 90's, not the 60's, and country music stars didn't look or sound like they once did. They sang differently, too- and Shania was the most different of them all. Instead of vocal sobs and breaks, she presented streamlined phrases, finely oiled transitions and unapologetically poppish vocal maneuvers. But where 90's female country stars like Trisha and Martina relied on pure power to light up their modern songs, Shania offered attitude, a vibe, a wink that could turn lightning-fast into a passionate embrace. 

When Shania remembered kissing her bonehead boyfriend from Arkansas to Rome, good Lord, the vibe pulsed through her understated alto like nothing country music had ever heard. And "Home Ain't Where His Heart Is (Anymore)" was just a sad ballad. When Shania and Lange decided to really mix things up on "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" people flipped. Shania and Lange moved contemporary country beyond lame pop retreads toward a new adventure completely of its own imagining. 

In no time at all, Shania exploded into a modern country icon, Nashville's- and, significantly,VH1's- first down-home video babe. Shania's full-on embrace by Top 40 radio and VH1 spread her music throughout the pop world. She sold more than 30 million albums, appeared in cosmetic commercials and hosted her own network TV specials. Suddenly her music was everywhere- and everything. 

Nashville tried desperately to Xerox her. You had strained approximations of the musical vibe, several hundred newly flaunted bellybuttons, and young women turning their attentions to contempo-sounding songs, or even just flat-out pop songs. But no would-be Shania inheritor ever actually got it right, not the way she and Lange did. That was because their objective was in fact the reverse: To copy no one. To be themselves. 

That set up a tough gig: Who adapted her influence well? Well, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks, for two, neither of whose music sounds anything like Shania's. Come On Over, the couples second record together and the last we've heard from them, illustrated this definitively; it's one of the deepest albums ever made in a pure-fun mode. Come On Over encompassed it all: a break-out symphony of 60's-toned synth riffs in "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" that's like a sonic declaration of independence; shockingly new hoedowns and fiddle extravaganzas like "I'm Holdin' On To Love (To Save My Life)" and "Love Gets Me Every Time"; a plain old great song, "You're Still The One," whose fragrant melodic allure proves exactly why people still crave plain old great songs; and the clever "That Don't Impress Me
Much," so perfectly and naturally done that it's only after the ten-thousandth enjoyable radio listen that you realize the song updates country humility. 

So, Shania, as you're bouncing your baby in the Alps, don't forget about us, Ok? You showed how a country singer can reinvent things from the ground up.You said: Of course the old forms were sublime- so strong, in fact, that you can build on them, that country fans needn't be like classical music nuts, religiously dusting off the same old recordings of the same old Beethoven symphonies, dutifully trudging out to concerts that allow only imitations of same.

 You said: Country can vibe all over the world. And you were dead right. The Switzerland thing, we understand; it's cool. And the baby thing- it's what life is all about. But come (back) on over, at least eventually. Vibe for us some more."
 


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