Rustie Blue,
Chip Chip
(Center Stage, 2004)

Rustie Blue's roots are in the 1960s and '70s, when artists like Lynn Anderson, Connie Smith, Billie Jo Spears, Melba Montgomery and other tough, sexy and now sadly forgotten or marginalized female artists reigned as queens and princesses over country radio, jukebox and concert audience. The arrangements on Chip Chip are, it is true, up to early 21st-century requirements, punched up by rock rhythms and shiny with studio gloss, but still there could be no mistaking where this style of music hails from.

The Ohio-based Blue is a two-fisted, soulful singer whose modern take on traditional country makes for gratifying listening if your tastes run to anthems of heartbreakin', drinkin', partyin', cheatin' and one-night standin'. I have fed my hillbilly soul on a regular diet of that stuff all of my days, and as far as I am concerned, the world is a smaller, colder place because women like this aren't household-name honkytonk heroines anymore. Lord knows it's not because Blue lacks the chops. It's just the vagaries of the entertainment business, where too seldom the deserving get their reward and where a sound may be just behind whatever curve a popular-music genre is supposed to be rounding, according to the suits and the fickle fans, at any given moment.

The promotional material is endearing, replete with exclamation points and attestations to love of bowling and the cornball popcorn movie Ghost. Blue, who indisputably is, doesn't have to pretend to be a country girl, though in prosaic otherwise she is a grown woman past the age when stardom in Nashville, with its dismal youth obsession, looms as a realistic career prospect. But she is damn good, and I'll bet that she's one fireball of a live entertainer. If you like it country, that's what you get, and in all the spades you'd want in that -- to steal the title of an old country song -- deck of cards.

I know I've heard the title tune, which -- if not always reliable memory serves -- was a minor country hit years ago, but it is a delight to hear it again, especially in such a (pardon the expression) chipper version. With uncontainable energy and contagious good humor, Blue belts it out with Nashville legend (and notably more vocally challenged) Bill Anderson, who co-wrote it with the above-mentioned Melba Montgomery. Chip Chip -- the phrase is from the song's chorus and killer hook "Chip chip chip chip/Chippin' away chippin' away at our love" -- lets us know that Nashville, with every bad intention in the world, hasn't succeeded yet in killing country music. It's live and kicking out there where its true home is and ought to be: on the bandstands in the barrooms of the American heartland. God bless ya, Rustie, and keep on keepin' it country.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 9 July 2005

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