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Jill King

Jillbilly – 2003 (Blue Diamond)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Jill King

Newcomer Jill King's debut is one of the year's first real surprises. King's been a Monday night regular at Tootsie's for more than a year, and the demands of weekly live performance has schooled her in the inner-strength of Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire and the sassy delivery of Wynonna Judd. King also takes in the sophisticated retro sounds of Dwight Yoakam and The Mavericks, but, much like Patty Loveless, combines these influences into a sound that is modern, but without the usual Nashville pop homogenization.

The opener, "98.6," surely would have been a king-sized hit back when country radio actually played country music. The close-harmony a capella intro and steel-and-fiddle driven twang reach right down through the listener's ears to set one's feet tapping out a honky-tonk beat. It's a sweet coda to the career of the song's co-writer, Harlan Howard. Other delights include the two-stepping bluesy rock 'n' roll of the first single, "One Mississippi," the boogie-woogie fueled "After All," and the reverb-guitar croon "Three Months, Two Weeks, One Day."

The ballad selections, "Not Knowing Anymore" and "The Part I Don't Understand," provide King a chance to show off her vocal talents, but the productions sound pedestrian next to the up-tempo tracks. A minor point, really, given the riches of well-selected honky-tonk, country-blues and rock-tinged tunes packed onto this impressive debut.