Album Review: Terri Clark – The Long Way Home
In the mid-‘90s, she was the rare female hat act among a sea of young studs in Stetsons. Now, Grand Ole Opry member Terri Clark is standing out once again with The Long Way Home, her first self-released disc since leaving Mercury late last year. Unable to fit onto country radio’s rigid playlists (four American singles failed to crack the top twenty since her sole #1 hit, 2004’s “Girls Lie, Too”), Clark has returned to her native Canada and explored a more-organic sound that supports some of her most candid writing. Passing up the polished songcraft south of the border, Clark exceeds expectations on this tight-knit, yet diverse set.
For the first time, it’s hat’s off: Clark’s ready to let her roots (a dark-auburn color, by the way) show on the album cover, and the contents here are just as revealing. Clark’s seventh studio album shows a newfound wisdom and focus as the singer enters her 40s with new challenges in her career and home life. Musically, the album isn’t far removed from Nashville product; it’s the weighty material that lifts it a cut above Clark’s major label albums. As the sole producer, Clark laces these ten tuneful tracks with mournful moments of fiddle and steel that echo her recent turmoil. The corny novelty of “What Happens in Vegas (Follows You Home)” is the one weak link on a disc that deliberates her major-label departure, her mother’s battle with cancer and a recent divorce; these songs ring with a pure, vulnerable heartache.
Clark’s singing is stout, cocksure and, when necessary, it shines with a poignant intimacy that adds gravity even to lighter fare such as the gently-chugging “If You Want Fire” and the groovy “Poor Girl’s Dream.”
From a girl dropping her hard-earned cash on laundry detergent (“Poor Girl’s Dream”) to an older woman at the bedside of her dying best friend (“If I Could Be You”), Clark instills her characters with the understanding and compassion that come from her own experience. The most telling ballad is “A Million Ways to Run,” with a woman recounting days “at the bottom of a bottle, getting numb with every swallow.” Perennial harmony partner Vince Gill lends his sweet tenor on the stripped-down “The One You Love,” where Clark admits “When someone’s slippin’ away right before your eyes/How useless we are is a painful surprise,” seemingly haunted by her own helplessness.
She’s still got her feisty, fearless spirit, though, steering her twangy alto towards hope and even humor when the blues arrive. That winsome wit’s most evident on first single “Gypsy Boots,” a sultry, playful midtempo that shows she’s built of restless stuff. “I’m a country song, the kind that makes you cry,” she admits to a would-be mate. After all these years, she knows those are the ones you remember long after the last note. Likewise, The Long Way Home, the album of Clark’s career, is one for the memory banks.
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