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Kathy Mattea

The Innocent Years – 2000 (Mercury Nashville)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Kathy Mattea

Although Kathy Mattea continues to explore contemporary pop stylings, the lack of overt twang doesn't dim the power of her creations. Setting herself chiefly among ballads, supported by pianos, whistling organs and acoustic guitars, she imbues her music with a spirit bordering on spirituality. Like Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless, Mattea provides emotional renderings that are at once highly personal and inviting to a listener's interpretation.

For the most part, Mattea's folk and bluegrass roots, heard in the tin whistle of "Trust Me" and the wonderful acoustic novelty "BFD," give way to highly-polished adult-contemporary productions. Throughout, her voice remains the focal point, from the faux-reggae remake of Juice Newton's "Trouble With Angels" to the gospel-tinged "Why Can't We."

Her songs (co-written with husband Jon Vezner), and those of others explore the heightened maturity (in Mattea's case born of a parent's illness) and expanding wisdom of middle-age. She voices an expansive understanding of love on songs like "Prove That By Me," "I Have Always Loved You" and "That's the Deal."

Though the smooth sound and heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics may not be for the country roots fan (nor the cynically-minded, for that matter), Mattea's superb voice and mature readings are clearly the work of an accomplished artist chasing her musical muse.