Album Review: Mandy Barnett — I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson

Sam Gazdziak | January 6th, 2014

mandybgibsonMandy 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.

4 Stars

Preview or purchase I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson

  1. Rick
    January 6, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    I’ll have to give this one a listen to see if Mandy keeps her recent tendencies of mangling songs by over-stylizing her vocals in check. When Mandy sings songs in a straightforward manner, she’s hard to beat. I’ve listened to her version of “Blue, Blue Day” and don’t care for the arrangement at all so hopefully that is an aberration.

    I consider Mandy’s self titled debut album from the mid 1990′s to be one of the best country albums I’ve ever heard. It’s just a shame she never earned the recognition or level of success she deserved. Oh well…

  2. John Rumph
    January 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Mandy is simply one of the best…if not the best female vocalist in Nashville today. This is a well produced thought out masterpiece in all aspects. I’ve not been disappointed with anything Mandy has done, and this is no exception. Don Gibson would be very proud!

  3. Luckyoldsun
    January 8, 2014 at 1:43 am

    I don’t know her work. I’m not inclined to buy a tribute album from an unknown artist singing a bunch of iconic, well-covered songs. There are so many great versions of these songs, already.

    I did buy Laura Cantrell’s “Kitty Wells Dresses” album. I thought that was a great choice for a tribute because while Kitty Wells was famous, her songs had not been covered and were not all that familiar, so it was like hearing new material.

  4. Art
    January 8, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Read Sam Gazdziak’s review here. This is no random tribute album. Mandy and Don Gibson were friends and he wanted her to record his songs because he thought she was an incredible vocalist and song interpreter. Reviewers have called Mandy’s album “lovely” (Sam), “wonderful,” and “riveting,” among other superlatives. Mandy is awesome. She makes songs shine. When Mandy sings, you really listen to the lyrics and think about what they mean. She’s the real deal. Mandy produced this album, and her deep appreciation and love for the material comes through. Agree with John — this album is a masterpiece! Somewhere, Don Gibson is smiling…

  5. WENDY B
    January 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Mandy’s inspired rendition of “Blue Blue Day” on this album is a revelation. Her stunning lead vocals blend flawlessly with Alison Krauss’ harmonies, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy’s harmonica solos are simply gorgeous. By re-working this song as a ballad, Mandy has created an exquisite gem. Truly, a terrific track from a terrific album!

  6. Ann G
    January 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Mandy Barnett has a superb vocal instrument. She is a song’s best friend. Her loving tribute to Don Gibson is the best true country album of 2013.

  7. Todd
    January 18, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Wow! What an incredible album and what a stunning voice! Mandy Barnett, simply put, is the best! And I just heard her new duet with Ronnie Milsap — “Make Up.” This woman can sing anything — a rare talent.

  8. ALLISON M
    January 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Mandy Barnett is nothing short of amazing. Her version of “Blue Blue Day” with Alison Krauss on harmonies just knocked me over. And “Too Soon To Know” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are also outstanding cuts from Mandy’s Don Gibson tribute album. That whole album is a knock-out! I can’t wait to get Ronnie Milsap’s new album with the 2 Ronnie-Mandy duets on it.

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