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Various Artists

She Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool: A Tribute to Barbara Mandrell – 2006 (BNA)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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Barbara Mandrell had 50 top 40 singles, she was the first person (and still the only female) to ever win Entertainer of the Year two years in a row, she hosted a popular TV show with her sisters Louise and Irlene that is still fondly-remembered. Heck, she even has a Grammy for best Gospel performance.

No doubt she's cool. But country? Her career took off in the late 70's and early 80's during the infamous "Urban Cowboy" era, when country became more polished, more produced, more "pop." Mandrell covered the themes of country like cheating ("If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right," "The Midnight Oil") and heartache ("I Wish I Could Fall in Love Today"), and she never completely lost her Texas twang, but it's safe to say no one ever confused her with Loretta Lynn.

Some heavy hitters come out to pay tribute to the former Miss Oceanside California on this CD, and while some of them do almost note-for-note covers (Terri Clark's "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed" and Lorrie Morgan's "That's What Friends Are For") more often they uncover the roughness in the diamond as Dierks Bentley does with "Fast Lanes and Country Roads" and Gretchen Wilson on "The Midnight Oil."

And all that can be said about the soulful duet of Willie Nelson and Shelby Lynne on "This Time I Almost Made It" is that it's easily worth more than the price of the CD on its own.