Chely Wright wasn't the only female country vocalist to straddle the line between neo-traditional country and slick modern country-pop, but she was one of the best of her kind, thanks in large part to her earthy tenor, which gave even the poppiest songs a rooting in real country. In 1999 she had a breakthrough with Single White Female, whose title ...
Chely Wright wasn't the only female country vocalist to straddle the line between neo-traditional country and slick modern country-pop, but she was one of the best of her kind, thanks in large part to her earthy tenor, which gave even the poppiest songs a rooting in real country. In 1999 she had a breakthrough with Single White Female, whose title track not only topped the country charts but cracked the pop Top 40, but she had a hard time capitalizing on its success, stumbling with its 2001 sequel, Never Love You Enough, which may have charted higher than its predecessor, but that was only due to momentum. It not only didn't produce a big hit, it led to a separation from her major label, MCA. When she re-emerged nearly four years later on the indie Dualtone, she was part of a wave of artists from the '90s who turned toward indies after being abandoned by the majors, a movement that resulted in a bunch of interesting records that found artists who played the Nashville game for the better part of ten years finding their true voice nearly a decade into their career. Sometimes the results were uneven, but they were always interesting and often were quite good, sometimes resulting in the riskiest and best work of an artist's career, as is the case with Wright's 2005 album, The Metropolitan Hotel. For the first time, Wright wrote or co-wrote the majority of the material -- eight of the 12 songs bear a writing credit for her -- and produced the entire record herself (five songs were co-produced with Jeff Huskins, one was co-produced with Stephony Smith). While she hasn't completely abandoned the sound of contemporary country-pop -- many of the songs could comfortably slip onto the radio -- the sound is stripped-back and direct, as is the emotion, which gives The Metropolitan Hotel an affecting immediacy. Not that all of it works -- the cloying "The Bumper of My S.U.V." is well-intentioned but is one of the more awkward Iraqi war songs -- but those missteps only enhance the feeling that this album is a personal work for Wright, and that she's willing to make mistakes along the way. Even if this is riskier than her previous albums, this album is still a hybrid of melodic, catchy contemporary country and the gutsy spirit of such '70s trailblazers as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and for every confessional like "Between a Mother and a Child" there are two or three engaging open-ended tales of love. And that's what makes The Metropolitan Hotel such a success -- it's the sound of a professional musician finding the right blend of personal of universal in her writing and the right blend of country and pop in her production, resulting in a record that's fully realized and multi-dimensional, easily her best and most complete album to date. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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