Album Review: Heidi Newfield – What Am I Waiting For?
What am I Waiting For? ought to be a great record. A talented and beautiful artist leaving the two unremarkable guitar slingers who split her earnings for the last ten years for a solo recording contract and a new degree of artistic freedom practically spells potential, and one glance at the track list suggests that Newfield wielded her newfound liberty to great effect. A Lucinda Williams cover, cuts by George Strait favorite Dean Dillon and evocative Music Row outsider Lori McKenna and numerous co-writes by Newfield, who’s no mean songstress herself, all in the hands of veteran producer Tony Brown, set a commendably high standard, even if What Am I Waiting For doesn’t quite live up to its lofty aspirations.
The first several tracks sure make it sound like Newfield is hitting her ambitious mark: “Can’t Let Go,” which was cut by the aforementioned Ms. Williams and also made a recent appearance on Ashley Monroe’s unreleased Sony debut, is dressed up with a harmonica that plays nicely against the dobro-driven melody, and Newfield lays a dynamic vocal over a steel guitar on “When Tears Fall Down.” Lead single “Johnny and June” is diminished by its association with the recent explosion of lesser name-checking songs, but sounds good against the rest of the album, while title track “What Am I Waiting For?” is anther good choice even if it’s hard to get past chuckling at the realization that Newfield’s co-writers (and former Trick Pony bandmates) Ira Dean and Keith Burns must’ve seen the writing on the wall when Newfield sang lines like “I’m five years in to a two year plan/Still standing here with the walls closing in behind this open door/What am I waiting for?”
Still, What Am I Waiting For? is not chock-full of these good choices. Take “Cry, Cry ‘Til the Sun Shines,” a puerile self-help anthem that, of all the songs on Martina McBride’s Waking Up Laughing is perhaps the least deserving of a second chance, and “Nothing Burns Like a Memory,” a vapid piece of country-funk that clashes with the tone of the project. “Knocked Up” is perfectly pleasant itself, but it’s a poor choice to end an album with lines like, “Knocked up/Shame shame/I’m a-gonna ruin my family name/Here comes what Granny’s been dreading/A belly full of baby and a shotgun wedding.” The fact that these weak songs come in succession on the second-half of the album makes What Am I Waiting For? a profoundly top-heavy project.
Even some songs that aren’t downright mistakes sound like country-lite, potentially poignant tracks that are dulled on the edge by Newfield and the responsible songwriters. “Love Her, Lose Me” is built around the quintessentially Dean Dillon hook, “what’s it like to love her and to lose me?” but when Newfield and fellow co-writer Dale Dotson come into the mix, it becomes a non-progressive collection of committee-written metaphors that chase each other like a dog chases its tail. Co-writer Lori McKenna imbues “Wreck You” with the sorrow of a woman who just can’t do right by her man, but there’s a reason that the song is on Heidi Newfield’s solo debut instead of the newest Faith Hill or Sara Evans records: it just doesn’t have the bite of those more famous cuts or the songs on McKenna’s recent major label debut.
This quality of falling just short of greatness is typical of too many of the tracks on What Am I Waiting For, almost as if Newfield is assuming the role of solo artist with slight trepidation that’s palpable throughout, as if she hasn’t quite stepped out of the shadow of Trick Pony into her own spotlight.
So, Ms. Newfield, what are you waiting for?
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