Prime Cuts: Gentle on My Mind, Colors of the Wind, Coat of Many Colors
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
The word "Americana" is a genre-trawling word these days. It can be used to encompass anything from country to alternative rock to folk to rock to bluegrass to old time Gospel music. And this is how the Nelons are giving definition to this nebulous word here too. "The Americana Sessions" is a hotchpotch of 9 cross-genre covers ranging from Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind" to Vanessa Williams' "Colors of the Wind" to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" to Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" to Sonya Isaacs' oft forgotten gem "Battlefield." And to satisfy those who prefer original songs, producer Jason Clark, Reba Rambo-McGuire and Donny McGuire have crafted the new song "Daddy and Sons."
Lest one thinks that this is a karaoke album, the Nelons are to be congratulated for re-imagining some of these covers with forethought and creativity. Most amazing is the Nelons' take of Vanessa Williams' "Colors of the Wind." Despite being one of Disney's most kaleidoscopic songs, "Colors of the Wind" encompasses a sober message of the dangers of being xenophobic towards people of other cultures. While Williams' original was soft and frail, the Nelons capitalize on the need to unite by offering us a full-bodied harmonized read of the song. They also add an urgent passion to Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind" lacking in the original. While Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" get a rare threadbare read so appropriate to the song's lyrical content.
But some originals are so definitive that it's difficult to run away from their shadows. The Nelons' take of Anne Murray's "You Needed Me" and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Home" are so close to the originals that you can hear Murray's and Denver's cadences all over the songs. But so what if the Nelons don't deviate too much from the originals? "You Needed Me" is easily one of the most heartfelt love songs because it draws upon simple but often overlooked gestures of love that we often take for granted: "I cried a tear, you wiped it dry/I was confused, you cleared my mind/I sold my soul, you bought it back for me."
Nevertheless, the Nelons' Southern Gospel fan base may be asking: "Is this entirely a secular album with absolutely zero Gospel content?" The answer is not quite. Vince Gill and Sonya Isaacs have written "Battlefield;" this is is one of the most poignant songs about dying for Jesus that is a must-hear in our comfort seeking culture. Calling to mind George Strait's "Love with End, Amen," "Daddy and Sons" draws parallels between a relationship between a father and his prodigal son and our relationship with God. After gracing us with two original albums last year, it is a nice recess that the Nelons are enjoying in delving in these familiar tunes with a few surprises thrown in.