Sheri Lee,
More Than Words
(Tricropolis, 1998)

I wish I had something more dramatic to say about Sheri Lee's More Than Words. I've been racking my brain for juicy hyperbole and spun the CD eight times in search of some instrumental peculiarity to focus on. But there's no getting around it: this is just a strong, powerful dose of folk-flavored country, with no apologies or distractions.

In too many ways, More Than Words is a living, singing example of its genre. Lee has a gift for creating complex stories with simple lyrics and balancing the plain attitude of country music with layered, deceptively simple arrangements. "Where Will I Go" echoes a dozen spirituals, with its rolling vocal harmonies and unvarnished guitar. The obvious and expected displays of faith in the hymnlike "May He Be the Power" or the romantic "More Than Words Could Ever Say" are simple and heartfelt enough to avoid the deadly taint of preachiness. And faith is a necessary trick for surviving the hard world of these songs. "Coat and Hat," an observation of a woman lost after her husband's death, is too painful for frequent listening, despite Sara Watkins' fiddle hesitantly offering comfort around the raw edges of the lyrics.

There's a fair share of lovelorn songs, from the self-recriminating "Out of the Blue" to the tragic reminiscing of "White River," delivered on contradictingly bright melodies and driven by Lee's straightforward guitar and achingly earnest vocals. If anything on this album begs for flowery descriptives, it's Lee's voice, a powerful instrument that equals Linda Ronstadt or Dolly Parton on their better albums. She can wail out pleas for love or revel in the welcome of a dear hometown with equal sincerity, and convince the listener that the emotion of the song is the way they wanted to feel from the start.

Despite a few minor stumbles, like the sometimes too precious title song and slightly oversweetened vocals of "Darling Come Back to Me," this album has a surprising number of standout songs. I've been humming "Lark in the Morning" all day, and "Where Will I Go" would make a regular churchgoer out of me if I thought the songs would be half that good. It's tempting to make up a claim of genre-busting gimmicks to lure in audiences that might foolishly dismiss Sheri Lee's work for being "too country." And indeed it is country -- honest, straightforward and plainly beautiful country music. Pick it up and hear what a folk poet can do with More Than Words.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 3 January 2004