blending genres and advancing

Sweetheart's Dance (Arista)
Pam Tillis

By Allen Howie

Along with contemporaries like Rosanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis is part of country music's new generation, women raised on both traditional country and rock and roll. Part of Tillis' charm is her ability to draw from the best of both without sounding calculated or contrived.

Her latest album, Sweetheart's Dance, is Tillis at her hybrid best. The very first cut, "Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)," kicks off with echoes of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," slips south of the border into some Tex-Mex, then finally settles into a brisk country shuffle. What's surprising is how smoothly she makes the transition from one form to another.

Nowhere does Tillis combine these elements to greater effect than on "Calico Plains," a poignant tale of two friends whose childhood plans take unexpected turns, and possibly Tillis' strongest vocal performance to date.

"Calico Plains" highlights another of Tillis' gifts: her ability to coax the characters in a song to life, something she also does to heart-tugging effect in the single, "Spilled Perfume," and the gorgeous plain-spoken waltz, "In Between Dances."

There's plenty more to recommend Sweetheart's Dance, from the two-stepping title track and a spunky reworking of Jackie De Shannon's "When You Walk in the Room" to "They Don't Break 'em Like They Used To," with Vince Gill harmonizing, and "'Till All the Lonely's Gone," a family reunion with daddy Mel and all four of Tillis' siblings.

Be forewarned; take a few turns with these ten songs, and you may find yourself drawn over and over into Tillis' Sweetheart's Dance.