Recent news of a release by Janie Fricke, titled Country Side of Bluegrass, intrigued me, as one of those who remember her star status as one of the premier female vocalists in country music in the early 1980’s. Getting started doing vocals for national advertising jingle (Red Lobster, United Airlines, Coca-Cola), and providing background vocals for numerous country stars (Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Duncan, Ronnie Milsap, Mel Tillis), Janie Fricke later climbed to the top of country music as a solo artist, winning back-to-back CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards in 1982 and 1983.
Her new CD is actually a re-release of a 2004 recording originally issued under the title The Bluegrass Sessions. It received limited promotion and marketing support, and is being re-released with a new title and packaging, and a new marketing campaign. Also different this time is touring support for the project. She is out regularly with The Roys, who open the show with their music, and then serve as Fricke’s backup band.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and under either title this is an interesting bluegrass adaptation of some of Fricke’s greatest country hits (Please Help Me I’m Falling, Do Me With Love, She’s Single Again, You Don’t Know Love, It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy). Produced, recorded and mixed by Bil VornDick, the instrumental and vocal backup is outstanding, as you would expect with the following roster: Mark Fain (bass); David Talbot (banjo); Randy Kohrs (dobro); Bob Mater (drums); Luke Bulla, Glen Duncan, Andy Leftwich, and Jimmy Mattingly (all contributing both mandolin and fiddle); Johnny Hiland (guitar); and Margie Cates, Chip Davis, and Judy Rodman (background vocals).
Asked in an interview for Bluegrass Today what lead to her interest in bluegrass, Janie said it started many years ago through her friendship with Jim Lauderdale, who would regularly pass bluegrass CDs on to her. While doing bluegrass versions of her country hits was a natural bridge to the bluegrass world, she hopes to do a future bluegrass project comprised of new, and original material.
With a voice like Janie Fricke’s, which sounds just like I remember it from the albums my wife bought and wore out thirty years ago, she could sing the phonebook and sound good. However, her voice is unlike the “mountain twang” found in other recent country female vocalists on bluegrass projects, such as Patty Loveless and Dolly Parton.
If you’re a fan of Fricke’s country music, or you want to hear a great and unique voice singing with bluegrass accompaniment, check this project out. The Country Side of Bluegrass is set to release on January 24, 2012.