Sara Evans has a big voice, and Restless has a stack of big songs to match. Co-produced again with Paul Worley, the album sees her teaming up with some of the best songwriters on the Nashville circuit to produce a suitably powerful follow up to 2000's Born To Fly.
Every track has a lot going on, whether it's the sweeping sound of the Nashville String Machine, the accordions on ''To Be Happy'' or the warm backing vocals and horn section on r 'n' b tinged ''Big Cry''. The rootsy instruments that dominated Evans' sound at the start of her now four album career are still there, plus harmonicas, penny whistles, bouzoukis, bongos and all sorts. As such the arrangements can verge on feeling cluttered, for example on opening track ''Rockin' Horse'', with its equally chaotic rhyming couplets ('The rocking horse came/ From an old oak tree/ Just missed the house/ When it was hit by lightning').
But her voice manages to rise above all this and sound completely natural. There's some deliberately poppy moments, like Perfect, but its on ballads like ''I Give In'' or AOR songwriter Diane Warren's contribution, ''Need To Be Next To You'', that Evans really hits her stride. ''Tonight'' is a real killer, a slow and measured heartbreaker that takes its time from start to the lushly fading out finish.
The whole venture projects a happy image of contentment, as any republican politician's wife worth her salt would be intent on creating, but she's not afraid to explore unconventional subject matter. First single ''Backseat Of A Greyhound Bus'' tells the story of a young girl who flees town after falling pregnant and ends up giving birth on the bus, while ''Suds In The Bucket'' puts a more amusing slant on the coming of age tale, with the heroine upping and leaving the minute a prince pulled up - in a white pick-up truck.
It's been a productive year for the women in modern country music, and by the time November rolls around Sara Evans should be up there with Faith Hill, Shania Twain and Lee Ann Womack in the tussle to steal Martina McBride's CMA Female Vocalist crown. Straight country Restless may not be, but compared to the competition she's not doing badly at all. --Sue Keogh
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