She was, indeed, born to fly, and this is the year she spreads her wings.
When RCA recording artist Sara Evans released Three Chords and the Truth as her debut album in 1997, it wound up on music critics’ “best of” lists for the year. When she issued No Place That Far as her second collection in 1998, she scored her first No. 1 hit and earned a Gold Record. Now comes Born to Fly, an album that takes her into a whole new realm as an artist, a songwriter, a producer, a performer . . . and star in the making.
“Things are different,” says the widely admired vocalist. “You can just feel it. There’s something here that just hasn’t been here in the past. A lot of it has to do with this new music. And a whole lot of it has to do with my confidence level. I am really pumped. I feel like this is the one that is really going to take my career to where it needs to go.”
Her faith in the project is well placed. Born to Fly is one of the freshest sounding records to emerge from Music Row in years. A dazzling blend of acoustic instruments, rootsy rhythms and production polish, it places her heart-in-throat vocals and vivid lyrics in audio settings that are a joy to the ear.
Beneath Sara Evans’ soaring vocal, the title tune scampers with fiddle lines. Jerry Douglas tosses in a dobro solo. Ricky Skaggs contributes harmony. The band eases into a song-ending jam session. And that sets the stage for a program full of mind-tickling musical textures. The layered artistry of “Saints and Angels,” the achingly sad waltz “I Learned That From You” and the rolling highway groove of “Four Thirty” are equally enthralling. Whether bouncy and tongue-in-cheek on “I Keep Lookin’” or atmospheric and contemplative on “Show Me the Way to Your Heart” and “Why Should I Care,” Evans is consistently compelling.
At times there is punchy drumming, as in “Let’s Dance.” At other times sighing string sections underscore ballads, as in her version of Edwin McCain’s pop hit, “I Could Not Ask for More.” Evans is in command on both powerfully emotive material like “You Don’t” and uptempo kickers like her cover of Bruce Hornsby’s “Every Little Kiss.”
“This is the most important record I’ll ever make,” she says. “This wasn’t some two-day album. We worked on it for more than six months. I felt that it was important to take as long as it needed to for it to be a creative statement.”
Evans co-wrote half of the album’s songs. She co-produced it with Paul Worley. A self-described “control freak,” she remained at the studio for every moment of her album’s creation, even when her voice wasn’t required. Since she is a new mother, baby son Avery accompanied her to the sessions. In fact, you can hear him gurgling on “I Keep Lookin.’”
He’s not the only family member involved. Many of the harmonies were sung by her sisters Ashley Evans Simpson and Lesley Evans Lyons. Sister-in-law Melody Ann Schelske also sings on the project. Evans drew from throughout the music community for her album’s cast – in addition to Skaggs and Douglas, such respected figures as Kim Richey, Randy Scruggs, Aubrey Haynie, Conni Ellisor, Kris Wilkinson, Bruce Hornsby and Jerry McPherson are on board. Underscoring all the tracks is the brilliant percussion work of Matt Chamberlain, a veteran of sessions for artists as diverse as The Wallflowers, Macy Gray, Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam and Tori Amos.
“Almost every musician told me that this was one of their favorite albums they’d played on in the last 10 years,” Evans says proudly. “I was kind of worried — because of the baby, I’ve been away for awhile. It’s been more than a year since ‘No Place That Far’ and ‘Fool I’m a Woman.’ But when I went out on the promotional tour and people heard it, their response to the music blew me away.”
Although this is only her third RCA project, Sara Evans has been preparing for this disc literally all her life. Born to a rural Missouri family of seven children, she was performing in the family’s bluegrass band by age 4. Evans was earning $50 a night before she reached her teens. She even sang from a wheelchair at age 8 while recuperating from an accident in which she was struck by a car. She plugged a Foxfire Records single while attending Fan Fair at age 11. After a series of junior-high bands, the 16-year-old began singing at The Country Stampede, a big dancehall near Columbia, MO.
She was 20 when she moved to Nashville in 1991. While honing her skills as a songwriter in her free time, Evans was employed as a waitress at the Briley Parkway Holiday Inn. There she met fellow Holiday Inn employee Craig Schelske, and later joined his family band, which enjoyed regional stardom in Oregon. In the Pacific Northwest, she spent 1992-95 opening for such country artists as Willie Nelson, Clay Walker and Tim McGraw. She married Schelske in 1993; and the couple moved back to Music City for another try in the fall of 1995.
Songwriting legend Harlan Howard heard her recording his classic “Tiger By the Tail” late that year and began urging others to listen to her big country voice. His persistence paid off with an RCA contract for her in 1996.
Evans made headlines immediately by enlisting Dwight Yoakam’s producer Pete Anderson for her 1997 label debut. It earned her a “Top New Female Vocalist” nomination from the Academy of Country Music. Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon took the reigns for No Place That Far, which featured a stellar cast including Martina McBride, Alison Krauss, George Jones and Vince Gill.
In addition to scoring a No. 1 single and video hit in 1999, Evans contributed “I Don’t Wanna Play House” to the Tammy Wynette Remembered album and costarred with McBride, Mindy McCready and Lorrie Morgan in the Girls Night Out album and CMT: Country Music Television national television special. The hit “No Place That Far” earned her several industry nods. Then on August 21st she capped an extraordinary year by giving birth to her first child, Avery.
Evan’s nominations to date include the Country Music Association’s “Horizon Award” and “Vocal Event of the Year” (“No Place That Far” with Vince Gill), Academy of Country Music’s “Top New Female,” American Music Awards’ “Best New Country Artist” and the Country Weekly Presents: The TNN Music Awards’ “Collaborative Event of the Year” (“No Place That Far” with Vince Gill).
“Everything has changed,” says the Gold-selling artist. “I’ve changed, the music’s changed; I’ve grown up a lot.
“I had not thought of co-producing at all. I never even mentioned it to Paul, because I have so much respect for him. But he called my manager and asked to have that credit put on there because of all the work I put in on this. That was a big surprise.
“I feel that I’m growing as an artist,” continues Evans. “I really care about this album – and feel my signature is written all over it.”
“It’s not necessarily a traditional country album, but it’s not pop either. It’s just me.”
Sara Evans set some clear goals for her sophomore album No Place That Far : “Pick tip notch songs and be a little more daring vocally,” is how she states them. She manages to achieve both of these with a little help from some friends-Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Grammy winner Alison Krauss and the legendary George Jones. It was the perfect strategy for Evans who had a lot to live up to. Her debut album, Three Chords And The Truth made the 1997 Top 10 lists of The Washington Post, Billboard, Dallas Morning News, Request, Country Music People and American Country. Billboard called Evans “so good she’s scary… A preserver of the best of country’s history and a progressive writer and singer forging a timeless contemporary sound, she invites favorable comparisons to the best country divas.
“All that and more is apparent on No Place That Far. Working with producers Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson, they forged a sound which retains the heart of country music while making it easily identifiable as the sound of the late ‘90s. Wilson’s credits include producing Charley Pride and Tammy Wynette as well as writing one of the first and biggest country crossover hits in history, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Together, Cannon and Wilson discovered Shania Twain and have produced Kenny Chesney, George Jones and Sammy Kershaw.
No Place That Far shines on such songs as the title track, a romantic, heartfelt piano ballad featuring Vince Gill on background vocals, which is one of the five songs on the album co-written by Evans. She collaborated with Matraca Berg on “Fool, I’m A Woman,” a catchy, uptempo tune that Evans describes as a “fun, sassy girls’ song.” When she was writing the plaintive “These Days” with frequent collaborator Billy Yates, she could hear Alison Krauss harmonizing with her to dramatize the song’s heartbreak. Evans, Phil Barnhart and James House (who co-wrote Martina Mcbride’s “A Broken Wing” and Dwight Yoakum’s ” I Ain’t That Lonely Yet”) fulfill a fantasy about hitting the road in the opening track, “The Great Unknown,” inspired by Jo-El Sonnier’s ‘Tear Stained Letter.”
The recording closes with “There’s Only One,” an inspirational piece Evans composed with one of her favorite Nashville songwriters Leslie Satcher. “Last year when we bought our home and remodeled it, I was thanking God that we were able to do it and I decided to write a gospel tune for this record,” Evans says. “And what really made this song special is that it’s the first recording featuring both of my sisters Lesley and Ashley singing with me.
“Addressing the wide range of music on No Place That Far Evans says, “It just varies every time you write with somebody. ‘Fool, I’m A Woman’ is like a tough woman’s song, but it’s not, because it’s making fun of us. The songs that I love are really sad, the tear-your-heart-out country, Tammy Wynette-type songs like ‘These Days’.”
Evans used the same standards she set for her own songwriting when she carefully chose songs by other writers to complete the album. She picked the beautiful Beth Nielsen Chapman-Howard Harlan lament, “Time Won’t Tell”, the wishful “I Thought I’d See Your Face Again” by Marv Green and Rick Orozco, and the mid-tempo ballad, “Love, Don’t be A Stranger” by Bill Rice and Sharon Vaughan. Although Evans claims she loves “sad, old fashioned country songs, the `victim’ songs where the woman is not so strong,” she was drawn to the declarations of independence in Jamie O’Hara’s “Cryin’ Game” and “The knot Comes Untied” by Sam Hogin, Ron Harbin and Ed Hill. The rollicking “Cupid” by Kostas and RCA label mate Keith Gattis was simply irresistible.
Evans summing up the album says: “It’s got some poppy kind of fun, country flavors, a waltz and a huge ballad. There is a cross-section of women, women being powerful, yet vulnerable. I did not want to record two or three singles and have the rest of the songs be just okay. I didn’t do that on my first record either. I wanted 11 singles. I hope when they hear it, people are going to say, `Man, every song is great, every song is exciting and every song is interesting vocally.
“Born in New Franklin, Missouri (pop. 1200), Evans grew up on a tobacco farm and started singing at age four. She moved to Nashville when she was 20 where she supported herself as a waitress while she worked on her music. Songwriter Harlan Howard heard her singing on a demo tape and brought her to the attention of RCA Records in 1995. Her 1997 album, Three Chords And The Truth, earned her an Academy of Country Music Nomination for “Top New Female Vocalist.” The video for the title track was nominated for “Country Video of the Year” by the 1998 Music Video Awards. In addition, Evans was named one of Country America’s “Ten To Watch in 1998/Top 10 New Stars Of 1998.”
Since her debut, Evans has sung on albums by Vince Gill and Martina McBride, and was the first new country artist chosen by Coca Cola to write and perform a commercial. Evans has also recorded a song for the film Clay Pigeons starring Joaquin Phoenix, Janeane Garofalo and Vince Vaughan and she is the youngest artist to be featured on the just released Tammy Wynette tribute album.
The critical acclaim her debut album received encouraged Evans to continue developing her true voice as an artist on No Place That Far. She explains: “On No Place That Far, I decided I was just going to sing how I feel. I’m really glad I did.”
Listeners will be too.