Country mainstay Pam Tillis hits her stride on Looking for a FeelingSalem Collo-Julinon May 1, 2020 at 8:00 pm

If you’re going to put out your first solo album in 13 years, you’ll probably want to make sure it includes a few songs that will appeal to your longtime fans. What country audiences want is obviously a moving target–country has been shifting toward including independently minded crossover pop artists such as Kacey Musgraves, so that it’s harder to define what a “true” country star should sound like–but Pam Tillis has a long history of gently pushing the envelope without alienating mainstream listeners. As a second-generation member of the Grand Ole Opry (her father is country legend Mel Tillis) with two CMAs under her belt, Tillis has unimpeachable country cred, but her music career hasn’t been confined to one genre. She got her start in the 70s as a songwriter working mainly with jazz, rock, and R&B groups, and her album debut, 1983’s Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutey (Warner Brothers) is a pop romp in the vein of Cyndi Lauper. She first hit the country charts with 1984’s “Goodbye Highway,” and by the early 90s she’d found a niche (and commercial success) tweaking country’s mainstream formula; her 1994 album, Sweetheart’s Dance, hit number six on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart thanks in part to the Tejano-flavored swing-pop of “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life).” Tillis’s new album, Looking for a Feeling, released this month on her own Stellar Cat label, features tracks that highlight her roots in soul and rock as well as appearances from her country-musician friends. Though ballads such as “Last Summer’s Wine,” which Tillis wrote with longtime Nashville hit maker Bobby Tomberlin, could easily fit on country-with-a-capital-C radio, the album’s highest points are when Tillis allows her rocker side to shine. “The Scheme of Things” has a soulful feel that makes her alto seem like it’s in a broken-hearted duet with the bent notes of the lead guitar, and the beautiful “Better Friends” would be at home on an indie folk rocker’s playlist. I’m a little disappointed with her cover of “Dark Turn of Mind,” but only because Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’s 2011 original has a slow, subtle weirdness that seems lost in this version’s Texas shuffle. Still, Looking for a Feeling is a strong and personal set of songs that showcases who Tillis is at her core; it’s a great album from an artist who could easily be resting on her laurels and playing to the 90s retro-country circuit. v

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