Album Review: Mandy Barnett — I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson
Mandy Barnett’s decision to record an album of Don Gibson songs wasn’t necessarily her idea. It was something that the Hall of Fame songwriter himself suggested, as the two struck up a friendship in the last years of Gibson’s life. However the project came about, listeners should be glad that it happened, as I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson succeeds as both a labor of love and as a lovely album of country classics.
Barnett, of course, is no stranger to Golden Era country music, so she knows how to handle these songs. The band includes Harold Bradley on guitar, Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano and Charlie McCoy on harmonica, all of whom played on some of Gibson’s original recordings, further adding to the old-school feel. The end result, though, doesn’t come across as a direct re-hash of 50-year old songs, thanks to Barnett’s vocal performance. Take her version of “Sweet Dreams,” a song she has undoubtedly sung thousands of times before during her time as the star of Always… Patsy Cline. Replicating Cline’s exact performance would be second nature to her, and though Barnett doesn’t stray too far into left field, she adds her own vocal flourishes to make the song all her own without taking anything away from the song.
Gibson’s best-known compositions, like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Oh Lonesome Me,” are represented. Barnett also takes on songs that aren’t as well known today, such as the rockabilly-ish “(Yes) I’m Hurting,” which sounds close to Roy Orbison’s version. “Blue Blue Day” gets a more mournful arrangement that fits the song well. Only “Oh Lonesome Me” suffers in comparison to the original, as the new jazzy arrangement Barnett and her band give it doesn’t quite fit.
Much like Jamey Johnson and his tribute to Hank Cochran from 2012, Barnett is helping to preserve part of country’s past by keeping the work of a great songwriter from being forgotten. The important thing, though, is that she did it with style. I Can’t Stop Loving You is an excellent reminder of Gibson’s genius, but it’s also a really fine album, too.
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