Miranda Lambert's seven-time run nothwithstanding, winning an ACM Vocalist of the Year award is a not a lifetime appointment. Consider Sylvia Hutton (the winner in 1982), who legions of fans knew best on a first-name basis. Her smash "Nobody" that year was inescapable. Listening to it now, it's surprising how very '80s pop it was, chock full of synthesizer and Sheena Easton delivery. (Plus, who sees the Other Woman as a challenge to defeat anymore? The guy in the song today is much more likely to get a Louisville Slugger to both headlights.)
Sylvia's success didn't dry up all at once, but her career did gently fall back to earth. When the record contract ended with the '80s, there was a long break from music. She even worked as a life coach - and a good deal of that impulse to impart wisdom is on this latest record. It's her first in 14 years, and the emotional well has filled deep.
This is an album that tries to capture all the joys and heartaches associated with what we simply call family. Sylvia covers the whole tree, from the hopeful foreigner coming to a new land ("Immigrant Shoes") right up a modern reflection on all that's gone before ("A Right Turn"). There are nicely-crafted moments, including the sweet groove of "Leave the Past in the Past," the elegiac "Do Not Cry for Me" and a call for human connection in "Somebody's Daughter." Straightforward bluegrass like "Every Time a Train Goes By" falls flat - Sylvia's voice has a bell-choir sweetness and needs more grit for that kind of tune.
Back in the singer/songwriter era, there was a genre called Easy Listening music. It was precisely enunciated singing from pleasant voices and occasional instrumentals. Despite the occasional banjo and fiddle, that's what this record really is. It would not be unwelcome as a sound bed to a glass of wine, a chat with an old friend or a tub soak. But if the idea of a song introduced by birds chirping ("Cumberland Rose") frightens you, please make a note. For those that hang around and listen, though, this experienced coach has a few lessons she can pleasingly deliver.