The short version: Trisha Yearwood remains an exceptional talent, vocally, but the material on ‘Every Girl’ is often bland and forgettable.
- Favorite tracks: “Find A Way,” “Workin’ On Whiskey,” “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know (feat. Kelly Clarkson)”
- Least favorite track: “Drink Up”
- Rating: 6/10
The long version: I think I’ve opened more reviews discussing ‘90s country music than I have modern country music this year.
Granted, between the mainstream shifting back toward that era’s sound and veterans like Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire and George Strait bringing themselves back into the fold (and yes, McEntire and Strait are ‘80s artists first, but they certainly had strong commercial relevance in the ‘90s too), it’s certainly a relevant discussion piece.
This summer, Trisha Yearwood joined the conversation as well, releasing her first single from her first album in over 12 years, “Every Girl In This Town.” And while that song wasn’t particularly memorable, it did evoke the other side of the ‘90s country discussion that stretches beyond the pure sound of that era – the representation. The ‘90s were, after all, the decade that saw an enormous amount of debut singles and albums (or, even if they debuted in the late ‘80s, undeniable rises to stardom, at the very least) from women who dominated the era, including Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and, of course, Yearwood herself.
And saying that women in country music today are being underrepresented is like saying water is wet, not helped by the fact that support for this cause sometimes falls on deaf ears. But while “Every Girl In This Town” did opt for that anthemic swell in its scope, it ended up feeling poorly written and way too broad to work effectively, thus being an especially disappointing song for one that lists Caitlyn Smith and Erik Dylan in the writing credits. Plus, while it was nice to see Yearwood stick with Garth Fundis on production duties as she always has, if there’s any criticism to be made about her work, it’s that it can feel too polished and sleepy to bring out the best in her.
On that note, Every Girl, despite coming after such a long break from the spotlight, sounds right at home in Yearwood’s catalog. But that also means that, aside from a few decent cuts, it’s an album that’s rarely exciting or memorable. Fans who have been waiting this long for new Yearwood music will surely find a lot to love here, but from an objective standpoint, this doesn’t scream as something that was worth this long of a wait.
It’s not that Every Girl doesn’t have good intentions, though. The female empowerment that came through on the lead single is essentially the core of this album, if a little more broadly sketched and generic. But that core also shows itself more in the construction of the album rather than the content itself. After all, there’s covers of songs from Bonnie Raitt, Gretchen Peters, Ashley McBryde and Lucie Silvas here, and Patty Loveless and Kelly Clarkson show up for a duet on “Bible and a .44” and “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” respectively.
As for the original content, it’s not bad, but the general feeling with Every Girl is that every track here adopts a generic framework that’s simply been done better by other artists and songwriters, an especially confusing mark against the album considering the strength of the writers here. But the wide array of covers as well a lack of a thematic arc also can make the album feel oddly disjointed. The album spans everything from empowerment anthems in the lead single, “I’ll Carry You Home” and “Love You Anyway” to alcohol-infused post-breakup tracks in “Workin’ On Whiskey,” “When Lonely Calls” and an oddly placed hookup track in “What Gave Me Away” with Garth Brooks. The details are never lacking or bad, but again, it’s an album that can feel conventional and lacking any real stakes to be more effective. This has more to do with the production than anything else, but a lack of real energy can make several tracks feel stagnant. “Drink Up” has an incredibly boring lead to begin with by being a checklist song about drinking before shifting toward the metaphor of drinking up life in “whatever you got in your cup,” and “I’ll Carry You Home” is the kind of overwrought motivational track more suited for a Hallmark movie than anything else. Even when comparing other tracks here to one another, there’s songs that outshine others going for the same concept. “Love You Anyway” isn’t that interesting either, but at least it acknowledges the downsides that come with everlasting love unlike “I’ll Carry You Home.” And of the two tracks here opting for cutting emotional nuance, I’ll take the more gripping “Workin’ On Whiskey” over “When Lonely Calls,” which feels like little more than a decent ‘90s throwback.
Of course, “‘90s throwback” is another core of this album given the producer, yet while that was nice in another time and place, here, it just makes much of Every Girl sound stale and dated. The only time the album differs, sonically, is on the cover tracks; otherwise the album is overloaded with piano ballads that aren’t striking or memorable. The album starts off strong with “Workin’ On Whiskey,” which adopts smokier textures in the electric guitars and restrained pedal steel and bass for added blues warmth, and “Find A Way,” which takes the Lucie Silvas track into disco territory and surprisingly pulls itself off well. After that, “Home” essentially sets the mawkish tone of the album. Even if I’m not wild about the sour electric guitars driving the momentum of the title track, at least it has a pulse to it.
Granted, it’s not like the production doesn’t often compliment Yearwood on those ballads, vocally, but there’s other points where she sounds utterly unconvincing – the slicker guitar and organ combination on “What Gave Me Away” that tries to go for the same sound as “Workin’ On Whiskey,” yet doesn’t lean into the sound enough to be anything more than boring, the saloon piano driving the barn-burning honky tonk of “Something Kinda Like It” which Yearwood delivers with little-to-no enthusiasm, or the choppy, fragmented piano and guitar line of “Drink It Up” that zaps any inspirational energy it was trying to conjure up – the album simply sounds one-dimensional.
On the other hand, those are critiques of Yearwood’s charisma, which isn’t lacking at all on the ballads, despite none of them standing up as her best work. In terms of pure power and scope, it’s hard to say Yearwood has lost any of her edge; a lack of energy is certainly what hinders this album, but she really leans into “Find A Way” in a way that makes it sound like she’s having fun, and it’s certainly a better attempt at disco than “Can’t Take Back Goodbye.” And even if “Home,” “When Lonely Calls,” “I’ll Carry You Home” and “Love You Anyway” aren’t particularly interesting songs, there’s no doubt that Yearwood is pouring every bit of herself into those performances and sounding better than ever.
I can’t, however, say the same for her numerous guest stars here, who play glorified backing vocalists more than anything else. Granted, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” is an exceptional song in its own right, leaning into the melodrama to craft an honest reaction to when people try and console us in times of need when Yearwood simply states she wants to be left alone until that healing comes. But it’s also a shame to hear Kelly Clarkson’s efforts feel barely noticeable on that track, and when she teams up with Garth Brooks on the hookup track, “What Gave Me Away,” it’s one instance that would be very easy to showcase both sides of that situation and be somewhat fun, yet doesn’t. Really, if these artists weren’t credited at all, you’d never suspect a thing. And that comment extends further toward Don Henley and Patty Loveless on “Love You Anyway” and “Bible And A .44,” respectively. Even if Yearwood nails the covers, too, on a technical level, it’s hard to say that Gretchen Peters doesn’t sing “The Matador” in a more haunting manner or that “Bible And A .44” can be anything but Ashley McBryde’s song. Again, “fine” is the most appropriate descriptor for this album.
And for as negative as I’ve been toward Every Girl, it’s only because it feels like a wasted opportunity in some regards. The covers are fine, but don’t match the originals, and the guest stars on display are amazing, but rarely get to shine. And when you couple that with writing that’s OK, but conventional, and production that makes this album feel like it’s running longer than it actually is, Every Girl is an alright album, but little more than that. The album is not, however, bad, and part of why that is extends toward Yearwood’s vocal power and an excellent choice of cover songs that are great on a foundational level, but it’s a case where a lack of outright bad elements doesn’t automatically lead to an abundance of good ones.