Artist: Pam Tillis
Album: Looking for a Feeling
Label: Stellar Cat
Release Date: 4.24.2020
Pam Tillis is one of the few CMA top stars who have traded in the glitz for something a bit more rootsy. Looking For A Feeling, Tillis’ 11th studio releases, is both introspective and retrospective, as Tillis says, a bit of a “leap of faith.” The Grammy-nominated and CMA Vocalist of the Year has earned the right to deliver her mix of country, soul, and rock—the kind of music they make in her new home, East Nashville, as opposed to the other side of the river.
The title track sounds like a cross between Dusty Springfield’s Memphis and Bonnie Bramblett’s Muscle Shoals. She delivers the chugging roots rocker “Demolition Angel” like one fronting a rock band before then caressing the yearning “Better Friends” like a late night torch singer. Tillis recorded in three different studios, used three different bands and three different producers for this wide array of material, which, though uneven, somehow remains cohesive enough. She started the project recording using analog tape at the Welcome to 1979 studio with a stellar backing cast: guitarist Pat Buchanan, keyboard man Jim Moose Brown, steel legend Dan Dugmore, and Mark Knopfler alum Glenn Worf joined hit songwriter and producer Jimmy Ritchey for the sessions. Matt Spicher produced two tracks and Tillis finished the project with Joe Pisapia (Guster and kd lang).
Her half-spoken/half-sung “Dolly 1969,” is punctuated with blues. She laughs, remembering, “I met Dolly as a little girl, and you could see that drive; the legends I grew up around taught me that it takes nothing less than a fire to make it in this business. Even if that fire causes a little collateral damage along the way, you know nothing’s going to stop that burning to create music.”
Tillis can bring the nuance or gut-wrenching fury, depending on what the song calls for. The “Last Summer’s Wine” has a retrospective dose of earned wisdom that may echo Matraca Berg’s CMA Song of the Year “Strawberry Wine.” Laughing, Tillis says of the note-dangling jewel, “It’s the distant cousin of ‘Maybe It Was Memphis.’ Older, wiser, wine and wistfulness.” Speaking of Berg, she is one of several writers that include Waylon Payne, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Tia Sillers, Mark Selby and Bob Regan. Tillis is the co-writer on six of the dozen.
“Lady Music” evokes Marty Robbins while “My Kind of Medicine” goes down so smoothly, that one can’t help but feel better. Of course, she takes a classic country turn with these ace players as evidenced by the honky-tonk rave-up “Dark Turn of Mind” and the southern soul, pedal steel infused “Scheme of Things,” in which her slow burn delivery is chill inducing. There’s some Beatles-like psychedelia in “Karma,” a bit of a disappointment coming off the two most country tracks, but a reflection of her risk taking that’s redeemed by her soaring vocal.
Tillis poured plenty into this effort. What it lacks in consistency is more than compensated by many magical musical moments and several stellar songs.