Jamie O'Neal's latest disc, only her third, is a surprise. First and most important is the music itself, which is comprised of country classics except for the closing song. One would not have expected that from a singer considered part of the pop country school.
Second, O'Neal is one of those singers who seemingly disappeared for good after early success. She scored two number ones right out of the chute in 2000 with the poppy "There is No Arizona" and "When I Think About Angels." Almost five years later, she had a hit with "Somebody's Hero" off her second disc, but she has not been heard from all that much since thanks to a few singles not making an impact and Capitol Nashville canning her finished CD. "Eternal" is her first album in nine years.
Now, O'Neal doesn't need to answer to anyone else, but herself, as she formed her own label.
Choosing some of the 11 songs was in and of itself a challenge no doubt for O'Neal, who co-produced with her husband Rodney Good. "Golden Ring" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night" are so well known that she had better be on the top of her game or else suffer the consequences. With Andy Griggs, himself a former hit maker, on soulful vocals, the pair turn in a most worthy reading of "Golden Ring," the song, of course, first made famous by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
O'Neal isn't afraid to get down and deep early and often. You get the feeling that the Aussie knows her way around some of these songs, particularly when she belts it out at the end of "Don't Come A Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," made famous by Loretta Lynn, and "Rock Me (In the Cradle of Love)," the Debbie Allen hit.
O'Neal also goes back to "Just One Time" a 1960 hit by Don Gibson with a lot of piano and pedal steel accentuating the music, and "Leavin' on Your Mind," a Patsy Cline hit in 1963, where O'Neal shows her vocal prowess.
Credit also goes to Good and O'Neal for not only accentuating her vocal skills, but also not being afraid to let the traditional country sounds filter throughout.
While it would have been easy for O'Neal to turn in a by-the-numbers rote reprise of these hits, that also would have sunk the album because she would have nothing new to add to the canon of worthy covers. Instead, O'Neal adds her voice to the material.