Sara Evans – “A Little Bit Stronger”

Blake Boldt | September 7th, 2010

Sara EvansSongwriters: Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey and Hillary Scott

Sara Evans’ last studio album, 2005’s Real Fine Place, seemed to be the final push to plant her firmly among the superstar females in the genre. After its release, she was named ACM Top Female Vocalist for the first time and landed a high-profile gig on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

But her burgeoning career almost collapsed when news broke of her nasty split from husband and politician Craig Schelske in late 2006. Evans spoke publicly about her disappointment over the divorce, and then largely retreated from the spotlight, returning only for brief periods in the last four years.

On “A Little Bit Stronger,” her latest single after a few false starts at country radio, Evans hints of the discontent she felt in the aftermath. “Woke up late today,” she sighs, “and I still felt the sting of the pain.” When she first arrived on the scene, Evans’ music put new twists on old-school arrangements, accenting the Missouri drawl in her rich, throaty alto. While her forthcoming album might include more traditional offerings, “Stronger,” produced by Tony Brown, is a country-pop power ballad that would sound at home on a Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift album.

With its flourishes of steel and piano, “Stronger” draws out an authentic, organic vocal from Evans, who offers an emotionally engaging effort that proves why she’s been sorely missed on country radio. Her voice is a warm Southern comfort, and scads of women (and men, for that matter) will relate to the scarred character she portrays. Evans carries this single, even through the unnecessary percussion that builds as she approaches each chorus. Still, the ebbs and flows of this arrangement echo her conflict–she delivers quiet reflections one moment, and then confident declarations the next–and hold your interest for the whole four minutes.

As Evans recounts the details of her daily routine, she sings, calmly but curtly, “I get a little bit stronger.” By merely repeating that phrase throughout the song, it seems, maybe her hopes will come to life. Just when a rush of electric guitars threatens to rob the song of all its emotion during the final act, Evans deftly handles the third chorus: “I’m done thinkin’ that you’ll ever change,” she insists, perhaps believing it for the first time.

The rest of “Stronger” resorts to a few boring phrases that add little flavor to the performance, but the performance alone earns high marks. All in all, this is a qualified success for a woman who’s worthy of a second act on the airwaves.

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  1. [...] Tuesday, Blake reviewed Sara Evans’ new single “A Little Bit Stronger,” sparking a debate about some of the songwriters responsible for many of country music’s [...]
  1. Paul W Dennis
    September 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Strange that this song would get a “thumbs up” from you

  2. Leeann
    September 7, 2010 at 7:42 am

    I typically agree with you, but it seems that we’re listening to two different songs this time. I like this better than most of what I’ve heard from her in the last five years, but I still don’t like it in general. For me, the weakest part of it is some of the production as the song goes on and her vocals, which sounds quite unengaged to me.

  3. luckyoldsun
    September 7, 2010 at 8:53 am

    She sounds so much like Patty Loveless.
    But I’ll take Patty.

  4. Dana M
    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

    I’ve always liked Sara Evan’s voice even if I don’t particularly like her songs. Maybe it’s just my perception but I can hear Hillary Scott’s influence on this song which is unfortunate no matter how much I like Lady Antebellum.

  5. Matt Bjorke
    September 7, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Hillary sings background vocals on the song.

  6. Ben Foster
    September 7, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I admit my opinion on this song has changed a few times. At first I thought the vocal sounded a bit unengaged (a thought that was reflected in some of my comments on Country Universe), but after a few closer listens, I decided her performance was a more low-key interpretation, but still believable. She doesn’t necessary have to belt like Carrie or Martina for it to be believable.

  7. cody
    September 7, 2010 at 10:11 am

    this song can be desribed with just one word…..AMAZING.

  8. Rick
    September 7, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I appreciate the red flag warnings in the comments “Evans carries this single, even through the unnecessary percussion that builds as she approaches each chorus.” and “Just when a rush of electric guitars threatens to rob the song of all its emotion during the final act,…”.

    I am just so weary of this loud and in your face bombastic production approach with pounding drums and soaring electric guitars whether it fits a song or not. Labels and producers know this trademark “sound” and style makes a song/single more acceptable to country radio, but I’ve become allergic to it. The poor taste preferences of AirHead Country Radio strike again!

  9. Blake Boldt
    September 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Despite a few uneven live performances, I’ve always believed in the sound of Sara Evans’ voice. This is not her best song or best vocal, but I appreciated the diversity in the arrangement and in her singing. As stated in the last paragraph, this is a “qualified success,” meaning this is partly successful, but I’m expecting (and hoping) for more. This lands almost smack dab on the line between up/down, but I went with my initial reaction.

  10. Fizz
    September 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

    A semiautobiographical circle-time song for jilted chicks. You go, girl!

    Dancing With The Has-Beens is the kiss of death!

  11. Ben Foster
    September 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    The bombastic production has gotten to be a problem lately. I think this track could have been toned back a bit, but it’s still not as overblown as what’s heard on Carrie Underwood’s records. For the most part, I think the arrangement still allows Sara to take center stage. Sara is a strong enough vocalist to avoid being drowned out, and I agree that she is “worthy of a second act on the airwaves.” Even though her success may have been de-railed by her divorce, I would love to see country radio re-embrace Sara Evans.

  12. Nicolas
    September 7, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    This song is great. I’m not hearing an overblown production though. In fact, the majority of the song is pretty low-key, and even when the production builds in the chorus, its still pretty restrained.

    I def. see this as being the song to re-instate Sara Evans w/ country radio again. There’s a lot of buzz going around about it and w/ the music video already shot and this song being on the upcoming Tim McGraw/Gwyneth Paltrow movie soundtrack, this has the potential to become a big hit. Seems to me that RCA Records is doing everything possible to make it happen.

  13. Kyle
    September 8, 2010 at 3:15 am

    It’s always interesting for me to see who the “hot” songwriters are at a given time, and how their style affects what’s being put out. Right now, everyone and their mother seems to want a Akins/Hayslip/Davidson song, and everyone and their mother wants a Hilary Scott/Lady A song. Unfortunately, I think that’s resulting in a lot of hooky but production-driven, inconsequential, simple songs that you get the feeling will be quickly forgotten.

    I don’t have anything against Hilary – I think she’s a great writer for her age – but I don’t think she’s good enough to be in that genre-defining position, nor do I think those other three are. Hopefully somebody who packs a little more punch steps in and gets hot soon.

  14. Thomas
    September 8, 2010 at 8:18 am

    …probably the perfect song to play for the people on hold, when you are a help-line.

  15. WAYNOE
    September 8, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Nothing particularly captivating about this song. Typical loud and popish (Rick-youa re correct). No particular melodic form that arrest one’s attention. Surprised by the “UP” on this one.

    Mr. Boldt,

    A few uneven live performances? I think it’s been more than a few. Matter of fact, she is known for them.

    Also wondering why you believe she in particular deserves a second change on the airwaves. Maybe you gave this an “UP” because you hope for something better for her. At least that is what you appear to say in your review. Do you do that for all other artists? Is thata new criteria?

    Mr. Foster,

    Agree with your statement about the divoirce. But remember, it is her that brought it out in public. She tried to preempt public opinion and it derservedy backfired. She did a terrible thing to her children.

  16. Fizz
    September 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    If you have the same small group of people writing most of the hits, then SURPRISE! they’re going to sound pretty similar. For real! Of course, folks could always write their own damn songs, but I guess that’s just me attempting to apply rock aesthetics to country music again.

  17. Jon
    September 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    It is. Well, that and ignorance about who was writing the songs back in the good old olden days. Ever heard of Harlan Howard? Bill Anderson? Dallas Frazier?

  18. Fizz
    September 8, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I know all that, but it doesn’t change my point.

  19. Jon
    September 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    So your point is that country music present and past all sounds pretty similar? Because *my* point is that the same factor was at play – a small number of writers being responsible for a lot of the hits – back then, too.

    Maybe you just don’t much like country music?

  20. Kyle
    September 8, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    The problem isn’t the fact that there are “hot country writers”, it’s the fact that those writers happen to be Hilary Scott and Dallas Davidson instead of Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock at the moment…

  21. Jon
    September 9, 2010 at 6:58 am

    The problem isn’t the fact that there are “hot country writers”, it’s the fact that those writers happen to be Hilary Scott and Dallas Davidson instead of Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock at the moment…

    That’s a better argument.

  22. Fizz
    September 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

    No, my point is pretty self-evident: greater diversity would come from a larger pool of songwriters.

  23. Fizz
    September 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

    And I’ll throw producers in there as well. A producer’s job is to help bring out the best in an artist, not to have a “signature sound’ that he makes all his projects sound like.

  24. Jon
    September 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Why is greater diversity intrinsically preferable? If fabulous results can be produced by small pools of songwriters (like, for instance, back in the 50s and 60s), then why is having a small pool of songwriters a bad thing? Greater diversity sure hasn’t produced stellar results on a song-by-song basis, like when you have 5 or 6 or 7 names on a song, has it?

    Plus which, where does your expertise on what a producer’s job is come from, and why do you think it can only be done one way? Seems to me that a producer’s job is something that’s negotiated between the producer and whoever’s hiring him or her, and might therefore vary somewhat from job to job.

  25. Fizz
    September 10, 2010 at 9:09 am

    When I said “a larger pool of writers,” I didn’t mean all on the same song, and you know it. Five, six or seven names all on one song smacks of “too many cooks.” And by “fabulous success,” are we talking about quality or quantity? Good songs, or forgettable pap that makes a bunch of money for a few months? Artistic development or a quick buck?

    Now here we go again with your “state your credentials” BS. It may come as a shock to you, so you may want to stay away from any open windows, but you aren’t the only one qualified to give an opinion. When the producer/production IS the star, rather than helping the artist be the star, that signals to me ou don’t have much of an artist.

  26. Jon
    September 10, 2010 at 9:19 am

    When I said “a larger pool of writers,” I didn’t mean all on the same song, and you know it.

    I’d imagine you didn’t mean it, but the “logic” you’re dishing up doesn’t really admit for any distinctions between different kinds of diversity.

    And by “fabulous success,” are we talking about quality or quantity? Good songs, or forgettable pap that makes a bunch of money for a few months?

    First of all, I said fabulous results, not fabulous success. Second, I gave examples, like Harlan Howard. So let me ask you: when guys like Howard and Frazier and Nelson and Miller and Anderson were writing a percentage of the chart hits every bit as high as current teams, were they writing forgettable pap?

    When the producer/production IS the star, rather than helping the artist be the star, that signals to me ou don’t have much of an artist.

    In the first place, I’m trying to think of how this fits into country music, past or present – or is this another one of your arguments about rock music dressed up in country music overalls? Who are the “star” producers in country music these days? Furthermore, the question of how you know what a producer’s job is or is supposed to be is certainly a relevant one. How *do* you know, Fizz? Why isn’t that a matter to be decided by the producer and those hiring him or her?

  27. Fizz
    September 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Of course there was forgettable pap in those days as well. I’m not sitting here pining on some good-old-days trip, even though I tend to prefer older country music. The point I’ve been trying to make all along is that, fromthe standpoint of somebody (and you see it every day on this site) always carping about “more of the same” and “every song sounds alike,’ a greater number of “go-to” songwriters might just create some much-needed diversity in sound.

    It’s a similar deal with production. All I was getting at, before you took every word literally and this thing whirled off into the thicket, is that the songs/artists should speak louder than the production.

    It is certainly up to the artist (or his/her handlers) and the producer what that producer’s job should be. I’m just saying, from my perspective, music that relies heavily on production points to an artist and/or songs that aren’t all that great and need to be doctored up. And I like to think that goes for all types of music. As I’ve said, especially today, I’m not seeing country music as bein gthis separate universe that requires arguments to be tailored for it.

    And your last question is a relevant one … only for a pompous, self-important know-it-all like yourself.

  28. Jon
    September 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Of course there was forgettable pap in those days as well.

    Exactly – and it was the result of that “greater diversity” you’re pining for, while the good, lasting stuff was mostly coming from a small pool of writers. Quality is a good thing, whether it comes from 1 writer or 100.

    the songs/artists should speak louder than the production.

    Why? Isn’t that up to the artist and the producer? Why do you have all these rules, and where do they come from? Why not just listen to the music and decide whether you like it or not instead of prejudging it by some laundry list of rules that you pull out of your…well, wherever you pull them out of?

    As I’ve said, especially today, I’m not seeing country music as bein gthis separate universe that requires arguments to be tailored for it.

    Would you use the same criteria in evaluating 1) a Mozart concerto performance; 2) an Ewe ensemble performance; 3) a Sex Pistols song performance; 4) a gender wayang performance; 5) a Muddy Waters performance? I would hope that you’re smart enough to see that, despite the fact that they’re all music performances, meaningful and sensible evaluations of them will require using different standards and different criteria. Get it?

  29. Fizz
    September 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    You just named five WILDLY different forms of music, of course different criteria apply. But where today’s “radio country” is concerned, I’m not hearing nearly the degree of distinction between it and the pop and rock music whose audience is being courted.

    I see your point on the producer issue, but at the same time, as an artist, I wouldn’t want to put everything in a producer’s hands. Some artists need that, and what does that say about them as artists? And as a listener, there’s such a thing as lipstick on a pig.

  30. Jon
    September 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    But where today’s “radio country” is concerned, I’m not hearing nearly the degree of distinction between it and the pop and rock music whose audience is being courted.

    Well, at least we agree on the principle that you can’t use the same criteria to evaluate every different kind of music. And instead of getting off on a tangent about today’s “radio country,” let’s stick to the subject that got us to this point: hit songwriting. What is there in country music history that justifies the proposition that having a small pool of writers providing a good chunk of the hits is intrinsically bad, or that having a big pool of writers doing the same is necessarily good?

    as an artist, I wouldn’t want to put everything in a producer’s hands.

    Whoa, I must have missed something. You’re an artist?!

    Some artists need that, and what does that say about them as artists?

    How do you know they "need" it as opposed to "want" it? Or is there, in your view, no difference between the two?

  31. Nicolas
    September 10, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Waynoe: “A few uneven live performances? I think it’s been more than a few. Matter of fact, she is known for them.”

    Only in your mind is she known for them. I’ve seen her live, and seen multiple videos on YouTube as well, that suggest otherwise. She’s a very good live performer.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcCiBrG0K-4

  32. AMR
    September 18, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Couple of comments: I seen Sara live several times. Her performances are consistently good. To me, how good an artist is on the road is the ultimate test. For live TV, she has some pitch problems, which I attribute to her nerves. Country radio is going to play the songs that make them money. So, they want to appeal to a mass audience, which only encourages blandness, unfortunately. If you want an example of music that used the same group of songwriters, created its own sound and, yet, developed a signature sound for each artist, I suggest you look at the Motown model. It was a money making machine, yet I would not call any of its music bland.

  33. Ben Foster
    October 12, 2010 at 10:19 am

    “Agree with your statement about the divoirce. But remember, it is her that brought it out in public. She tried to preempt public opinion and it derservedy backfired. She did a terrible thing to her children.”

    On the contrary, Sara requested privacy in the matter. She never offered media comments, rather the media gained access to court documents, which included charged she had leveled against her husband. The hoopla was media-fueled – it was not Sara’s doing.

  34. Chaz
    October 18, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    When is the real vocal queen ( Trisha Yearwood ) going to be putting something out ? This stuff coming from these other ladies “reba turn on the radio ” sara evans…carrie….its horrible !

  35. norman
    December 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I think she’s AMAZING. This song is amazing and her voice is incredible. She has that perfect country voice/twang. I love every second of this song. Def going to buy this CD!

  36. Code
    January 31, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    This song is amazing!!!!

  37. samantha flanagan
    March 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Well me personally I love this song and its got a really good meaning to it she has an amazing voice

  38. lindsey
    March 24, 2011 at 10:20 am

    i love this song its help me get through my last break up i was with him for a year and a half and i listen to ur song and helped bunches

  39. Erica
    May 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    #1 Smash Hit! The 9513 got it right!

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