Sarah Buxton’s career has been a rather convoluted one for someone who has only been working at it for five years. With two modestly-charting singles behind her (and a guest appearance on Cowboy Troy’s superb “If You Don’t Wanna Love Me”) and a writer’s credit on Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy,” she released a five-song EP which later got upped to six songs after her third single tanked. The fourth single has spent more than 30 weeks on the charts, and could easily inch its way to 40. But finally, Buxton has a full album out. Five of the EP’s six tracks are along for the ride; “Love Is a Trip” didn’t make the cut.
At first glance, the album could be dismissed as sorely lacking in identity. Although Buxton’s name is on all but one song, there are nearly fifteen different co-writers, as well as five producers: Buxton herself, along with overproducer extraordinaire Dann Huff and three songwriters — Bob DiPiero, Craig Wiseman and Blair Daly — with little to no production experience among them. Even with such a circuitous history, the album manages to retain some sense of coherence and a great deal of promise.
Buxton’s strong suit is her voice, which blends the earthy rasp of Tanya Tucker with the sweet coo of Pam Tillis. Those are markedly different ranges, but she’s able to move between the two extremes with considerable ease. On “For Real” and the anthemic, autobiographical “American Daughters,” she is emphatic and lucid, easily playing the role of the girl who’s tender when she wants to be. At the other end is “Space,” one of the strongest cuts both lyrically and sonically. “How does it feel not to need anyone / You say you want space / Well, I’ll give you space,” she sings, barely rising a breathy whisper but still making it clear that her man’s getting an epic kiss-off.
Current single “Outside My Window” is overstuffed with bright and fluffy images of singing birds, rainbows and all the (saccharine) little things that money can’t buy. Buxton admits that she’s “dreaming like a child,” and indeed, she sells the song with a wide-eyed, childlike energy. That same imagery, butterflies and all, shows up in the too-slick “Love Like Heaven,” but once again, her delivery reins in the song.
“Innocence” also has a slightly childlike feel, stirring the same evocative memories of childhood love in much the same way as Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.” It’s almost as effective as Deana’s song (and that says a lot), thanks in no small part to her sweet and, well, innocent delivery. On “That Kind of Day,” her tone is conversational, discussing all manner of feminine traumas that are eased by putting on her fat jeans, inhaling some ice cream and hitting the mall.
While Keith Urban’s excellent version of “Stupid Boy” painted a picture of a man who’s kicking himself over not realizing how controlling he was, Buxton watches the crumbling relationship from an outsider’s perspective and just wants to help. Like Urban, however, she dwells too long on the song’s instrumental coda, but not enough to detract from the song’s emotions.
Another Australian, Jedd Hughes, joins in on three separate tracks. First among those three is the bouncy “Radio Love,” an ode to that special song that gets you up and dancing. “Wings” rehashes the overused theme of one’s lover helping her through the most vaguely-defined of struggles (also known as “Martina McBride Template #3″), and even with Jedd carrying some of the weight, Buxton’s distinct voice just gets lost in the wall of sound Dann built around her. The bluegrass-y “Big Blue Sky,” which closes off the album, is a surprisingly subdued closer to the album. It uses the aforementioned template far more effectively, sounding almost as if it came off a Buddy & Julie Miller album. As well-written and -sung as it is, it’s really more of a Jedd Hughes song than a Sarah Buxton one (indeed, it’s the only song Sarah didn’t co-write), and it doesn’t really fit in thematically or sonically with the rest of the album. On the upside, it should easily draw a few more listeners into Jedd’s music.
Even though it’s in sharper focus on some songs than others, Buxton has considerable talent both as a singer and a songwriter. Her lyrics are optimistic and often cliché-free; her melodies, catchy; her vocals, strong and distinctive. With her career finally on steady footing, she should have no trouble at all r
efining what she already has. As I have said many times before, country radio seems to be growing increasingly accepting to female artists, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see so many finally getting that big break.
Check out our interview with Sarah Buxton by clicking here.