NASHVILLE Hitting a home run your first time at bat is all very well and good, but what do you do for an encore?
Such is the sophomore curse, a unique set of pressures known to anyone who's tasted early success. Among those who intend to dodge that dubious legacy are twin-sister country duo Heather and Jennifer Kinley, who took extra time in making The Kinleys II, which hit stores July 18.
"A lot of people were asking, 'Where is it? What's taking so long?' " Jennifer said. "We didn't so much take our time," she noted, "as take the time necessary" to create a finished product they could be proud of.
It's been three years since their debut, Just Between You and Me, which scored a top 10 country hit with "Please" (RealAudio excerpt) and earned the Kinleys an Academy of Country Music nod for Best New Duo. Little wonder that when it came time to release their second CD, all concerned preferred to proceed judiciously rather than impatiently rush the follow-up.
"We cut 10 sides with our first producers and thought we had an album, but then we sat back and thought, 'This isn't the best that we can do,' " Heather said.
Taking A Chance On Producer
Their label, Sony, apparently agreed and asked them to cut additional songs with a different producer. "They wanted another perspective," explained Bill Simmons, the Kinleys' manager.
Instead of choosing a proven Music Row hitmaker, the Kinleys aimed a little left of center and picked Radney Foster, a songwriter and recording artist who is long on the hip quotient but short on producer credits. Foster is also managed by Simmons.
"Radney came in and played us a song he had cut on his alternative album," Heather said. "We were blown away by the song, and by the direction, and said, 'We want to go there; we want to do that.' "
Indeed, they were so blown away by "I'm In" (RealAudio excerpt), which Foster also co-wrote, the tune appears on the new release.
Retooling an album until it's just right is nothing new, but working with multiple producers is a little different for the country arena. Russ Zavitson and Tony Haselden, the team behind Just Between You and Me, produced six cuts on The Kinleys II, while Foster did the remaining six.
"I know that it was probably a stretch for Sony to let Radney [produce], because he hasn't produced too many other people besides himself," Simmons said. "They were just going to cut three sides, but everybody loved what he did so much that they went ahead and did six. It made it a better album."
"He did things just a little bit differently, which shook us up a bit and made us want to work harder," Heather said. "He was exactly what we needed he added that spark, by pulling out good vocal performances and with his animation."
The Other Edge Of The Sword
Now that The Kinleys II is out, there's another issue to tackle: The three-year gap since the Kinleys' debut is an unusually long one a problem that can be the kiss of death for an artist. Fortunately, however, that period hasn't been a dry spell. The Kinleys scored a hit with "Somebody's Out There Watching" (RealAudio excerpt), off the multiplatinum "Touched by an Angel" soundtrack. The song cracked the Billboard top 20 and yielded a hit video as well. The song also appears as a bonus track on The Kinleys II.
Heather admitted that the long time frame was a concern, but, she added, "We were also worried about putting out an album and it not being the best we thought it could be. We had grown so much in the last couple of years. I remember cutting that first album and the insecurities I had, and the fear. Now I'm past all that; I wanted this CD to reflect that."
Indications are that the Kinleys weren't forgotten: The new album's first single, "She Ain't the Girl for You," is #34 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.