One of the best hard country singers left in Nashville, Sara Evans also happens to be cursed with one of the most maddeningly inconsistent ears for quality material, a problem that keeps her fifth album, Real Fine Place, from being the sure-fire statement that would allow Evans to dethrone the lesser talents at the top of country’s A-list. Each of her previous albums has offered at least one phenomenal single, but, like so much of mainstream country’s output, those records were largely characterized by middling quality songs that, great a singer as she might be, Evans couldn’t disguise as anything more than filler.
Her Missouri drawl is far too thick to ever give her the crossover appeal of a Faith Hill or a Martina McBride, so Evans is at her best when she embraces a more traditional country production, as on 2004’s brilliant “Suds In The Bucket” or 2000’s “Born To Fly.” Lead single “A Real Fine Place To Start,” unfortunately, illustrates exactly how ill-fitting a pop-country arrangement is with Evans’s natural twang. Singing about “sparks [lighting] in the dark,” Evans sounds bored out of her skull, though the nearly monotone melody of the chorus could play a major role in that. Its run to #1 on the country radio charts seems to have been the result of sheer momentum, since “Suds In The Bucket” is still a staple recurrent for the format and Evans has been regarded as overdue for that star-making breakthrough for at least three albums now.
And if Real Fine Place doesn’t offer such a guarantee, likely singles “Cheatin’” and “Coalmine,” which sounds like a Dixie Chicks song in both production and content (the hook in the chorus, “Can’t wait to get him home/Ain’t gonna have nothin’ but the supper on,” should get some attention), continue to prove that Evans does the undiluted twang and fiddle style of country better than just about anyone. The album as a whole sounds strident, then, because otherwise decent tracks like “Momma’s Night Out” and “Supernatural” are pushed in a bland, adult contemporary direction that simply doesn’t play to Evans’ strengths, and the remainder of the songs (half of which Evans co-wrote, which doesn’t bode well) are simply forgettable.
So long as she remembers to include the title tracks to her first two albums in addition to her bigger radio hits, Evans is going to have one hell of a greatest hits CD a few albums down the road, but Real Fine Place, like the rest of her studio albums, is less than essential.