Mary Sarah - Bridges
Record Label: 144 Entertainment
Release Date: July 8, 2014
It is one thing to record a disc at the age of 18, but it’s another thing entirely to record that disc with a host of country music’s biggest names (Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price). That very script is the backbone for Bridges, the debut record from country music newcomer Mary Sarah. Yeah, okay, so maybe her stage name is pretty weak, but this disc is power packed with some of the genre’s most well-worn singles.
Bridges opens with Dolly Parton’s ubiquitous “Jolene,” featuring Parton herself. The song itself has more of a snarl and punch than Parton’s original version. More often than not, the song is covered on reality singing competitions and gets watered down and absolutely butchered. On the contrary, Mary Sarah knows the importance of the song and the weight and absolutely slays it from the very start. Ditto for her rendition of Willie Nelson’s chart-topper “Crazy.” Not that dissimilar from LeeAnn Rimes’ rendition from her album Blue, Mary Sarah’s version is just one of a handful of examples that this veritable newcomer indeed has a bright future ahead of her.
The album’s most inspired cuts are the traditional country efforts and first of those is the violin-laden “Heartaches by the Number,” featuring the late, great Ray Price. Being that it’s one of the last recordings done by Price before his death in 2013, the song is an absolute treasure and possesses the kind of magic that automatically transports the listener to a 1960s Texas saloon.
Arguably the strongest vocal effort from Mary Sarah is Merle Haggard’s classic “Fightin’ Side of Me,” which bristles and drips with authenticity, flair and lots of sass. Though Haggard’s tenacity is long since gone, Mary Sarah more than compensates for his lack of vigor. Perhaps most importantly, the song sounds relevant, topical and necessary, as if it was written just a few years ago and not in 1970. Equally as strong as “Fightin’ Side of Me,” is the burly ballad “Go Rest High On That Mountain,”
Two of the album’s most traditional country songs on the disc are “You’re My Great Escape” a song that features vocals from John Rich of Big and Rich and the pedal-steel-driven “Texas When I Die.” Arguably the album’s most current and accessible effort, “You’re My Great Escape” definitely deserves to be pushed to wider audiences, while “Texas When I Die,” deserves to be added to jukeboxes across the continent.
Bridges concludes with an intimate, fingerpicked version of “All I Want To Do Is Sing My Song” and an unnecessary version of Brenda Lee’s 1960 smash “I’m Sorry.” Though Mary Sarah and her team might have felt the song fit well within the album’s theme of resurrecting classic country hits, it never really works and feels superfluous, stuffy and overdone.
The inclusion of “I’m Sorry” is one of a few flaws that bog down Bridges from being as sterling as it could. “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life,” “Where the Boys Are” and “Dream On,” all comes across as pageant-y and karaoke and just never work. Similarly, “Rose Garden” sounds dated, lukewarm and just never finds that sweet spot that many of its predecessors do. These error are not uncommon for a young teenage singer and can be corrected further down the line.
Given the recent trend of country becoming such a crossover genre and melding far more rock and pop influences, a disc like Bridges is quite a treat. That in and of itself should not be overlooked. Unlike most of her contemporaries, this teenager appreciates and cherishes country’s days of yore and is not afraid to revisit them. That’s a trait that should serve her well going forward.