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Olivia Lane

Olivia Lane – 2016 (Big Spark)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Olivia Lane

Ladies first, as the saying goes, and country music is following suit. There's a crop of female artists out now who are fusing songwriter chops with a new generation's ideals. And they just happen to be running rings around a lot of the male competition. Count newcomer and Houston native Olivia Lane among them. She sounds a lot like Sara Evans and looks a little like Barbara Streisand from the ingénue days. As with her fellow "young" ladies (Maren Morris is 26, not a teen), she's got more life experience than you might guess at a glance - Lane holds a degree from USC and has logged in quite a few hours on the club circuit.

Optimism is all over Lane's debut EP, and nowhere on better display than in the stellar opener "Lightning." It's pop/country at its infectious best - if you don't feel ready to take on the world after hearing it, get help. "Make My Own Sunshine" is the single making the rounds and keeps the positivity party going. There's some reflective time, too, such as "Quarter Life Crisis" with the snappy line "real's a little bit too real." It's a winning idea for Lane to vulnerably acknowledge what she doesn't have at this stage of life. But she proves she knows how to dream ahead ("There's a Guy" is a ready-made anthem for relationship goals).

It's hard to find a dud in the sharp hooks of the original EP, which consist of the first seven tracks. The bonus two on the "Deluxe" edition brings in some trouble - "Ghosted" is a melodramatic mess. And things are rounded out by a wholly unnecessary "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree." It must be aimed at holiday shoppers. But it's a path so worn at this point, the spirit of Patsy Cline couldn't revive it. Hopefully the marketing stunts (isn't a supersized EP like jumbo shrimp?) don't overshadow a career in the making.

Note that some of these "new" songs have percolated for a couple of years. Some appeared on a highly-polished acoustic (and currently-free downloadable) album from 2015, "Heart Unlocked." Tip to country fans too shy to take the plunge on this record - try that value sampler. For an "official" first effort, this definitely earns its welcome amongst some other very talented ladies in the country marketplace. And as an intrepid reporter named Clark Kent once said, nice to meet you Miss Lane. We're looking forward to hearing what you do next.