Older is Wiser

Terri Clark continues her fabulous run with 'Life,' while Gretchen Wilson succumbs to a stereotypical sophomore slump

by Tim Swoape
Published on December 15, 2005, 12:00am | Comments

On the heels of last year's Greatest Hits 1994-2004, country tomboy Terri Clark wastes no time in releasing the aptly-titled Life Goes On. Consisting primarily of up-tempo neo-traditional contemporary country coated in a slick Nashville veneer, Clark's sixth studio album takes on life and all its unexpected turns head-on.

Similar to that of fellow country singer and former tour mate George Strait, there's nothing showy or affected about Clark's delivery. Like good country cookin', Clark serves up a batch of tunes that aren't extravagant, just tasty and filling.

The album kicks off with the title track, a galloping radio-ready stomper about the impetus of life. Life Goes On barrels ahead into the vigorous drumming and infectious chorus of ''Damn Right,'' a relationship-gone-wrong song on which Clark matter-of-factly declares ''after all the fairy tales that didn't quite come true…you're damn right I'm gonna miss you.'' The momentum of the music seems at odds with the subject matter, but it works for Clark. After all, she's best known for applying her twangy alto to no-nonsense numbers that put men in their place.

Also sharing the ethos of the album's title are the lead single ''She Didn't Have Time,'' a powerful story-song ballad about the never-ending responsibilities of a single mother, and ''Everybody's Gotta Go Sometime,'' a mid-tempo song about the transitional moments in life -- from leaving home for the first time to ending a relationship. ''All we really know for sure is nothing stays the same/Don't be frightened by the winds of change,'' Clark sings on the latter.

Clark does allow her softer side to show on a few tracks, though it's sometimes paired with a sense of humor. On ''Not Enough Tequila,'' she sings ''between the sandy beaches and the margaritas/thought I'd find a way to let you go/but there's not enough tequila in Mexico.'' On ''I Wish I'd Been Drinkin' Whiskey,'' a sobering tale of a relationship's demise, the chorus continues ''when he told me he didn't love me.'' The peaceful piano intro of ''Travelin' Soul'' makes way for gentle steel guitar and mandolin as Clark sings about the demands of a life on the road and the stability provided by having someone to come home to. While not written by Clark, it does bring to mind her recent marriage to her tour manager.

And speaking of writing, Clark was featured prominently as a writer or co-writer on her early albums, but Life Goes On, like its immediate predecessor Pain to Kill, finds her contributions relegated to the second half of the album. Usually a strong writer, Clark delivers the weakest track this time around: ''Slow News Day,'' an acoustic ballad lamenting the media's obsession with pop culture and its focus on the negative aspects of life. It's one of her rare forays into politics and ultimately one of the few weak links on an otherwise solid album.

While Clark was releasing a ten-year retrospective of hits in 2004, newcomer Gretchen Wilson was making a huge splash with her multi-platinum debut album -- the biggest thing to happen to country music in 2004. In fact, it was the top-selling album by a debut artist in any genre last year. Along with flag-waving bad boy Toby Keith, Wilson brought spunk and personality to an all-too-whitewashed country music industry.

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Gretchen Wilson: All Jacked Up

Trisha Yearwood: Jasper Country

Terri Clark: Life Goes On

With a benchmark that high, Wilson was destined to disappoint with her sophomore effort, All Jacked Up. While her first album sounded like she had something to prove, All Jacked Up shows her coasting along on less than mediocre material. This insipid collection of trailer park anthems comes across as little more than a quickly recorded attempt to cash in on her current buzz.

Wilson's strong voice is done a great disservice by her poor choice of material, and the album's polished production diminishes any glimmer of authenticity. She has become a caricature of herself, brash and boozy down at the local honky tonk. The album's title track, an ode to Jack Daniel's whiskey, is the only song that comes close to matching the party power of Wilson's previous efforts.

The majority of the songs on All Jacked Up pander to Wilson's red state audience. ''California Girls,'' a dreadful response to the Beach Boys' song of the same name, compares California girls with their fake tans and tiny waists to ''real'' women and asks the question, ''ain't you glad we ain't all California girls?'' ''Full Time Job'' chronicles the demands of being a wife and mother, and ''Skoal Ring'' celebrates the blue collar man with a dip of tobacco tucked behind his lips. ''One Bud Wiser,'' a horrible pun of a song with a spoken introduction by John Rich of country duo Big & Rich (he co-wrote the song and co-produced the album), is yet another rehash of the standard ''tear in your beer'' tale.

By far the most calculated song on the album is ''Politically Uncorrect,'' a duet with Merle Haggard. Grammar obviously isn't Wilson's forte. ''And I'm for the Bible and I'm for the flag/and I'm for the workin' man, me and ol' Hag/I'm just one of many/who can't get no respect/politically uncorrect,'' she sings.

While Terri Clark and Gretchen Wilson may share a common tough woman persona, that's where the similarities end. If Wilson hopes to be releasing a greatest hits collection ten years from now, she would be wise to take a few pointers from Clark.