LIVE at the Alhambra: Pam Tillis

January 23, 2016 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Alhambra Theatre
517 S Main St
Hopkinsville, KY 42240
(270) 887-4295

Rhinestoned says it all.

No other word, real or invented for the occasion, sums up as well where Pam Tillis stands now. She is, after all, a superstar as well as a survivor. A child of Music City royalty and a former rebel, she was determined to find her own way as a singer and songwriter-and she succeeded. A CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, she has written songs for some of the top singers in and beyond Nashville, including more than a few of her own hits.

From her website:

Rhinestoned marks the first album to be released on Stellar Cat, Pam’s own imprint. With total creative control, she let her heart lead the way toward material that she could perform honestly and emotionally. “This is an A&R-free zone,” she says, smiling. “But it is, first of all, real country. It’s a bookend to the Dad album, except it has all new songs. It’s like a bridge between the present and the past.”

How past is this particular past? “If you look at my record collection circa 1974,” Pam answers, “you’d see Emmylou, Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, Don Williams, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young. Flying Burrito Brothers — hippie country I call it — that was some of the best music that ever came out of this town. Maybe it wasn’t happening on country radio at the time but it sold records and built careers. It was the vibrant scene on the fringes of country, which was very cool — just as it is today.”

The Rhinestoned sessions started in 2004. Pam and Matt whittled 20 songs down to ten, which they cut and set aside, like bottles of wine allowed to mature. A few months later they repeated the process. And then, after reflecting for a while on what she had accomplished, Pam decided something wasn’t right. She talked about it with her trusted friend and writing partner Gary Nicholson and reached a critical decision.

“It needed to be more country ” she sums up. “I played what we had for Gary, brought him into the picture, and suddenly it felt like we weren’t wandering in the woods anymore. Then when I found the song “Band in the Window,” suddenly I could see and hear the whole project in my mind right down to the t-shirts, Tillis laughs.

With that, the final round of recording began. All of it, aside from backing vocals, was cut the old-fashioned way: live, just the way those bands still play in the windows along Lower Broadway. Many of Pam’s performances were actually guide vocals, laid down in real time with the instrumental tracks but too strong in the end to throw away. Overdubs and fixes were kept to a bare minimum.

The rollicking reverence she brings to “Band in the Window,” the affection that radiates between her and John Anderson on “Life Sure Has Changed Us Around,” the goofball humor of “Crazy By Myself,” the insight of her recitation on “Bettin’ Money on Love”: All of the up-tempo moments on Rhinestoned emit a sense of freedom that’s impossible for Pam to suppress or for any listener to miss.

Even the ballads and deeper performances — the languorous sway of “Something Burning Out,” the wounded wisdom of “Train Without a Whistle,” the almost whispered yearning of “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” and the recklessness of “Down by the Water” — carry a quality that’s become sadly unfamiliar in much of today’s music.

It’s that feeling of delight that comes from singing exactly what you were meant to sing at that moment. It’s almost like a kind of ecstasy, which goes a long way when delivered by the incomparable Pam Tillis, without compromise or apology.

You might call it joy, but there’s a better word than that for this state of creative exhilaration.

We’d call it Rhinestoned.