No Fences

Over the course of her nine-year, nine-album recording career, Trisha Yearwood has gradually and gracefully broadened her stylistic sweep from budding country songstress to her current status as a contemporary country-pop diva — with a growing emphasis on pop. Her latest, Real Live Woman, finds her striving to slightly deepen the hues of her mostly middle-of-the-road-hugging musical palette, with some blues "lite" and soft-rock touches, and the result is a superbly executed, earnestly introspective collection that sounds chock-full of radio hits — and will probably sell like hotcakes.

A good example of the album's overall tone can be found on Yearwood's stunning cover of Bruce Springsteen's bittersweet "Sad Eyes," as she gets right to the heart of the song's theme of romantic ambivalence. (The trilling, yearning falsetto she unleashes in the chorus just about makes your heart stop.) She conveys similarly thoughtful, understated clarity and forthrightness in her plaintive rendition of Tia Sillers and Mark Selby's introspective "Some Days" and Spady Brannan and John Nance Sharp's sadder-but-wiser "I Did." Yearwood brilliantly turns the lemons of heartbreak into the lemonade of triumphant survival on Matraca Berg's and Al Anderson's clever "I'm Still Alive," and for a (here) relatively rare countrified change of pace, she gets down home and sassy on Paul Craft's and Cadillac Holmes' jaunty country-rocker, "Too Bad You're No Good."

Just about the only thing that might make you second-guess this collection is the light, shimmering quality with which Yearwood imbues even the saddest of songs. If this gifted vocalist has a musical Achilles' heel, it's her bright, suburban-soulful way of making things sound just a tad too smooth and sweet. This tendency becomes most obvious when she pays either direct or indirect homage to influences such as Linda Ronstadt (a less than memorable cover of Ronstadt's "Try Me Again") and Bonnie Raitt (via the too soft gospel- and R&B-tinged "One Love"). Her tender interpretations of these songs tend more to lightly glide across the wistful surface of things than really cut to the bone, and they probably could have benefited from a little more rough-edged musical heft and raw emotion.

Still, credit is due Yearwood and her co-producer/longtime collaborator Garth Fundis for the daringly lean and compelling arrangements they bring to these songs — and to the masterfully eclectic results to be found on this mostly satisfying album.